Wednesday, October 22, 2014

At the Gateway to Spain: Hitler, Franco, Pétain and their Interpreters

October 23 marks the anniversary of the famous meeting between Hitler and Franco in the railway station of the strategic French frontier town of Hendaye (Spanish Hendaya) in 1940. Hitler came as conqueror of most of Western Europe and most recently France. Franco was the victor in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Both were members of the alliance of fascist dictators called the Axis. Yet despite their initial cordiality and nine hours of talks, neither of them got what he'd come for.

There was a post on this blog about it in 2010. Since neither dictator spoke the other's language, the meeting could not have gone ahead without interpreters. Three interpreters were involved, two German (Gross and Schmidt) and one Spanish (the Barón de la Torres), but only Gross and the Spaniard actually interpreted that day. The single Professional Expert, Schmidt, was sidelined because he didn't work in Spanish, but he was there to supervise and observe. De las Torres was an Advanced Native Translator who had learnt German well as a foreign affairs official. As for Gross, we know about him only that he wasn't an Expert and was not really up to the task.

The post was well received; one comment described it as "like looking at a film." But 2010 is already a long time ago. So this year, with some additional information at my disposal, I've retrieved the post from where it's buried in the blog and worked it up into a full article. And for good measure, I've thrown in the post from 2012 about Hitler's subsequent meeting immediately afterwards with France's Pétain, likewise interpreter mediated.

So if you're interested in the history of diplomatic interpreting, or in Spain's ambivalent role in World War II, or in spying, get over to my page on (, or click here) and open or download the article At the Gateway to Spain.


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