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Who is Peter Less? September 20, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

Photo from the AIIC website

Just in case some of you aren’t familiar with his story I thought I’d share it.

Peter Less was an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials after WWII. He fled Germany at the age of 17 in 1938 and moved to Switzerland, but his family refused to follow. They all perished in Auschwitz during the war – his mother, father, sister, and grandmother. Less was trained at the Geneva School of Conference Interpretation and was chosen as one of the 30-40 interpreters at the trials. He was one of the interpreters at the major war criminals’ trial, that of Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess, Hans Frank, Ernst Kaltenbrunner and others. When asked in an interview by interpreter Tanya Gesse in 2005 how he could sit in the same room with the men responsible for death of his family, Less said, “It wasn’t easy. You were sitting in the same room with the people who probably killed your parents, but you could not let your feelings interfere with your job. You swore to interpret as faithfully as possible, to put the speaker’s idea into the listener’s head. So we did.” The embodiment of neutrality. I don’t know if I could maintain that level of neutrality. Less moved to Chicago in 1946, where he practiced family law for over 50 years.

His story as told to Tanya Gesse on the AICC (International Association of Conference Interpreters) website is a fascinating one. The article first appeared in the ATA Chronicle (American Translators Association), September 2004, Volume XXXIII Number 9. I highly recommend reading it.

As I said before, he is in hospice care, and an album is now being assembled for Peter to deliver to him—containing any letters, words of gratitude, and even a simple “thank you.” Learn how you can send him your message at the following link: http://www.natalykelly.com/#!peter/chzx



1. Ellen Gray - July 30, 2016

Nice article, Jill. I knew Peter as an acquaintance and talked to him a little bit about his experiences losing his family in the Holocaust and as a Nuremberg Trials translator. He told me he sat about 5 feet away from Goering… I asked him if he ever had the urge to jump over the table and strangle him, and he replied, “What for? It wasn’t going to bring back my family.”… I can’t even imagine the composure it took Peter to do his job without being affected by his feelings. Peter was a man of integrity, for sure.

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