Hugh Wolfe Frank (1913-‐1988), who was the Chief Interpreter at the Nuremberg International Trials of Nazi war criminals and a pioneer of simultaneous interpretation, will receive belated, but permanent, recognition as from 1 October 2021. At 2 pm that afternoon a Blue Plaque, conferred by Salisbury Civic Society, recording Frank’s achievements and services at ‘the greatest trial in history’ will be unveiled on the façade of his former home – The Malt House, Castle Street, Mere, Wiltshire – where he completed his memoirs, which then remained hidden in an attic in Gillingham for over a quarter of a century.
Gillingham author Paul Hooley’s two titles ‘Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom’ and ‘The Undercover Nazi Hunter’ then ultimately led to the awarding of this belated honour.
Exactly 75 years earlier, on the 1st October 1946, a world-‐wide radio audience of 400 million heard Wolfe announce to the most prominent leaders of the Third Reich the sentences imposed upon them by the International Military Tribunal (IMT). Following which the world’s media dubbed him ‘The Voice of Doom’.
Regarded by many historians and military personnel as being ‘The Last Battle of WWII’, the Nuremberg Trials were the military tribunals put in place by the Allies (Britain, USA, France and the Soviet Union) after the Second World War to prosecute prominent members of the political, military, judicial and economic leadership of Nazi Germany, who had planned, carried out, or otherwise participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes.
The first and best known of the trials was that of the major war criminals – including Hermann Goering, Commander of the Luftwaffe, Hitler’s designated deputy and architect of the Holocaust – It began on the 20th November 1945 and was conducted under international law and the laws of war. Of the twenty-‐four on trial nineteen were found guilty (twelve were sentenced to death by hanging), three were acquitted, one committed suicide and one was found to be unfit to stand trial.
Following the IMT the USA conducted a series of twelve further trials known as the Subsequent Trials or Subsequent Proceedings. These were held between December 1946 and April 1949 before U.S. military courts rather than an international court and are also collectively known as the Nuremberg Military Tribunals. In total almost 500 cases went to trial at the Subsequent Proceedings involving over 1,600 defendants of which 1,400 were found guilty. Fewer than 200 were executed and only 279 were sent to prison.
Wolfe Frank, who until now has been described as being ‘a wrongfully forgotten hero of the 20th Century’, was not only Chief Interpreter at the Subsequent Proceedings but also responsible for recruiting, appointing and training all interpreters and for arranging and organizing every other aspect concerning translations including interrogations.
Having fled Nazi Germany for Britain in 1937 – branded ‘an enemy of the State to be shot on sight’ and unable to speak English – by the time of the trials in 1945 Frank was considered to be the finest interpreter in the world. He spoke and understood German better than most Germans and he spoke English with the depth, clarity and diction of a highly educated British aristocrat. He was also the leading pioneer of simultaneous translation. First used at Nuremberg, the system is now routinely used all over the world – especially by bodies such as the UN and EU.
To put Frank’s involvement into context the IMT lasted ten months, during which time the interpreters spoke six million words – predominantly in English and German. Frank was directly involved in translating one third of everything spoken into English and a similar amount into German – including nine of the twelve hours Hermann Goering spent in the witness box. He was chosen to deliver both the opening statements and the judgements and sentences of the court. It is true to say that the first and last words the defendants heard in their own language were uttered by Wolfe Frank, a man they – like the judges, the prosecutors and their own counsels – trusted implicitly and for whom they had the highest possible regard.
‘We interpreters were, after all,’ records Frank in his memoirs, ‘involved in the writing of history and our contribution was of the greatest importance. None of the judges understood German and everything said in that courtroom to them by the defendants and witnesses passed through the ears, brains and mouths of we interpreters.’
Frank’s contributions at Nuremberg were considered to be major contributing factors in seeing that justice was fairly and meticulously interpreted and translated to all parties in a way that, it is said, shortened proceedings by an estimated three years.
Of those final, historic moments of 1st October 1946, renowned columnist of The Times, R W Cooper, wrote: ‘Tod durch den Strang! – Death by the Rope! – The words came to them in German through the headphones as each prisoner was brought up alone into the vast emptiness of the dock .
. . they were uttered in translation by Captain Wolfe Frank, himself of German origin, who before departing from his country had watched the torchlight procession in Munich that hailed Hitler’s coming to power. A strange turn of the wheel that he was now to utter the words that set the seal on Hitler’s little day.’
Following the trials Frank, who lived a very full, exciting and colourful life, became an intrepid undercover reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. During this ‘Cold-War’ period he risked his life again by going undercover as a German in occupied Germany and single-handedly apprehended, interrogated and took the confession of the Nazi General, ranked 4th on the Allies ‘most wanted’ list, who had been earmarked to head the SS in Great Britain if Germany had won the war.
The full story of Wolfe Frank’s astonishing life and achievements are recorded in two books based upon his memoirs – ‘Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom‘ and ‘he Undercover Nazi Hunter’ – which have been compiled, edited and expanded upon by author Paul Hooley and published by Pen & Sword Books.