In Nazi concentration camps the prisoners were frequently of 30 to 40 different nationalities, and German and Polish Jews were in the majority. With German as the only official language in the lager, communication was vital for the prisoners’ survival. In the last few decades, there has been extensive research on the language inmates used (referred to as “lagerszpracha,” “lagerjargon,” or “Krematorium-Esperanto”); investigation, however, of the mediating role of interpreters between SS guards and prisoners, on the one hand, and among inmates, on the other, has been nearly inexistent. This paper claims that the different kinds of interpreting activities shaped the everyday life in concentration camps considerably. In what way has interpreting contributed to the survival of the deported? Did interpreting have an impact on the hierarchical order imposed on the prisoners? What metaphors can best describe the interpreting activity in order to convey the extreme terror the lager prisoners experienced? These questions will be explored through a series of survivor accounts.
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