Philippe Sands QC has dealt with some tough nuts but seemed to meet his match last week in his cross-examination of Siegfried Ramler, an interpreter from the Nuremberg trials.
Ramler, 91, was interviewed by Sands at an event organised by the International Association of Conference Interpreters. The subject was Hans Frank, Hitler’s legal adviser, who went to the gallows in 1946 for his deeds in occupied Poland.
Ramler, who had escaped the Reich via the Kindertransport, was interpreter for the Butcher of Poland’s pre-trial interrogation. Nearly 70 years on, he retains impressive professionalism.
How, Sands asked, did Ramler ‘feel personally’ about being in the same room as Frank? Was it not hard to be impartial, faithful and honest having witnessed
‘I didn’t analyse my work in that way – I was preoccupied with doing a good job… with unfamiliar vocabulary,’ Ramler responded.
In translation ‘you have a discretion’, Sands insisted. What about ‘subconscious, negative feelings’ he asked, flashing a huge picture of Frank on the screen.
‘We realised from time to time there were mistakes,’ Ramler recalled. ‘We’d try to sort it out.’
What about when Frank told a clear lie? ‘We were not dealing with that kind of judgement.’
Last try by Sands – didn’t Ramler and all the people attached to the court share their feelings and views with one another, ‘sitting, talking, having a beer or a… schnapps at the grand hotel’? The notable hotel spectacle was the ‘imbibing of alcohol’ by Russian officers, Ramler recalled.
Obiter will be digging out the foreign language tapes this weekend – linguistic skill is obviously an excellent way of keeping one’s marbles in later life.