Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Pageboy Interpreter

Non-professional, untrained bilinguals have sometimes been called on to translate at important events and negotiations above their normal status. Here's a little story about one of them.

The Peninsula hotel is a luxury establishment on the Avenue Kléber in central Paris. It used to be called the Hotel Majestic until it was bought by its present owners, who didn't respect its history. When the original building was put up in 1864 it had connections with the Spanish royal family. Much later, in the 1920s, it was the site of a famous dinner party that was attended by Diaghilev, Picasso, Joyce, Proust and other luminaries of the artistic world. Then in 1940 it was taken over by the Nazi conquerors and for the rest of the occupation of Paris it served as one of their headquarters. The rest of its distinguished history can be read in the Wikipedia article referenced below.

In August 1944 the Free French forces and their allies arrived to retake Paris.

"The final battle for The Majestic took place on 25 August in the afternoon as Jaques Massu and Colonel Paul de Langlande of the 2nd Armored Division (France) moved their troops from the Champs-Élysées to the heavily fortified and barricaded Avenue Kleber. One of Massu's officers worked his way around the rear of The Majestic on Rue la Perouse, which was protected by a blockhouse that could only be subdued by a bazooka, but the Germans inside the hotel said they would be willing to surrender to regular soldiers, rather than men of the Resistance. A German spokesman was brought to Massu under a white flag and with Langland'e approval, Massu went to The Majestic accompanied by Senior Sergeant Dannic. As they approached Dannic was shot dead by a sniper firing from the hotel's rooftop. Despite this, Massu continued up the hotel's steps and entered The Majestic's lobby to find fifty German officers and 300 other ranks. The Germans surrendered to Massu without further resistance, using a bilingual bell-boy from the hotel as their interpreter."

The Peninsula Paris. Wikipedia, 2019. Emphasis added.

German officers held prisoner in the Majestic.