Lt. Col. Ernest P. Uiberall, 95; Interpreter at Nuremberg War Trials

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ernest Peter Uiberall, 95, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who was an interpreter at the Nuremberg war crimes trials and during the early stages of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, died of congestive heart failure Aug. 26 at his home in Alexandria.

Col. Uiberall, who went by Peter, was born in Vienna. Part of the Viennese literary scene in his youth, he helped launch two magazines, studied at the University of Vienna and received a diploma in French language and literature from the University of Grenoble in France.

He worked at his family's import-export business and was living in Paris in 1938 when his parents warned him not to return home for fear of Nazi persecution of Jewish residents. He left Europe for the United States, where he found a job in the garment industry in New York.

After he became a naturalized citizen in 1944, he joined the Army and his wife entered the Women's Army Corps out of gratitude to their new country. Because of his linguistic skills, he was assigned to be a German-English interpreter in late 1945 at the war crimes trials of Nazi leaders in Nuremberg, Germany.

Judges, lawyers and defendants spoke German, English, Russian and French during the proceedings, making it necessary to devise a system that would instantly translate courtroom testimony. Col. Uiberall was part of a team of more than 100 interpreters and stenographers who provided immediate translations for the courtroom participants, who listened on headphones. Other interpreters were on call for witnesses who spoke Polish and Yiddish.

It was the first time simultaneous language interpretation had been used on such a scale. The method was later adopted by the United Nations.

In 1947, Col. Uiberall was named chief German interpreter at the trials, which continued until 1949. He visited several Nazi leaders in their cells, including Hermann Goering, one of Adolf Hitler's top deputies. Goering was condemned to death but swallowed poison and died in his cell Oct. 15, 1946, the day he was scheduled to be hanged.

In the early 1950s, Col. Uiberall returned to his native Austria as an interpreter for U.S. forces in Salzburg. After serving in Laos, he was sent to Vietnam in 1963 as the chief French-English interpreter for Gen. Paul D. Harkins, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Col. Uiberall was involved in direct discussions between Harkins and Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem before Diem was assassinated in a coup Nov. 1, 1963.

Col. Uiberall later worked as an intelligence officer and produced studies on the internal politics of Vietnam. He returned to Washington as deputy commander of the 116th Military Intelligence Group before retiring from the Army in the late 1960s.

In his retirement, Col. Uiberall was often interviewed about his experiences at the Nuremberg trials by reporters, historians and filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg.

His first wife, Erna Uiberall, died in 1972 after 36 years of marriage.

His second wife, Anna Grossmann Uiberall, died in 2003.

Survivors include a brother.

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