In Memoriam: Peter Less 1920-2019
Remembering a former AIIC Member, Nuremberg interpreter, and ATA Alexander Gode Medal Laureate
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Peter Less, one of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world, was a young man when he escaped Nazi Germany and arrived in Switzerland in 1938. In Switzerland, he attended the Geneva School of Conference Interpretation, becoming one of its first graduates. His entire family who stayed in Germany to “wait out” the Nazis perished – his father, his mother, his sister and his grandmother. His father was an attorney, his mother a businesswoman, and, being educated people, they couldn’t imagine that the Nazi regime would take hold. They said “this will pass” and stayed in Germany. Peter Less never saw them again.
In Geneva the young interpreter Peter Less, then 25, was recruited to interpret at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946.
He provided English>German interpreting services to the very people responsible for the deaths of his entire family, for six months, from June to December 1946. He interpreted the proceedings simultaneously in the courtroom, and consecutively during depositions.
Hess, Goering and the other defendants heard Peter Less’ voice in their headphones, the voice delivering the court proceedings to them in German.
Peter also translated court documents, as well as the final Judgment. At the Nuremberg trials, Peter worked with English, German and French. Nuremberg was one of the first times simultaneous interpretation was ever used. To quote Mr. Less, without simultaneous interpretation from and into 4 languages (English, German, French and Russian), the Trials “…would be finishing today”.
Peter then moved to the US and lived in Chicago for over 50 years, practicing law. While still in Switzerland, he married his college sweetheart Meta, whom he continued to adore for the next 60 years, until she died in Chicago.
Peter Less generously gave his time to speak to audiences large and small. Notably, he spoke to the standing-room only audience at the American Translators Association (ATA) conference in Toronto, Canada, in 2004.
In 2006, Peter Less was awarded ATA’s most prestigious award, the Alexander Gode Medal for his immense and immeasurable contribution to the translation and interpretation profession.
In 2018, the AIIC USA Region held the Nuremberg-themed "One Trial, Four Languages" exhibition in San Francisco with a portion of the exhibit devoted to Peter Less. Peter was invited to speak but was unable to attend.
An interview with Peter Less was published on the AIIC website, and translated into German and Hebrew.
You can see and hear Peter speak about his life, his family, and his experiences in an interview recorded in the 1990s as part of the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive, which holds more than 54,000 video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide.
In 2008, Peter spoke briefly on camera about how he was able to maintain his neutrality as interpreter after losing his Mom, Dad, Grandma and sister to the Nazis.
On October 9, 2019, Peter died quietly in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, at the age of 99.
Peter leaves us heavy-hearted and proud.
Member AIIC, TAALS, ATA
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