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Case Studies

Translating the Poetry of the Holocaust


Date: 10/01/2013
Funding Type: Research
Research Type: Fellowships

Poetry is an important way of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive; but how can such poetry be translated for readers far removed in time and place from the Holocaust?

Fiction ensures that the lived experience of the Holocaust can be shared by those who were not there and presents the appalling facts of the Holocaust in a way that can be more easily understood than mere numbers. More than prose fiction, poetry uses gaps, silences, fragments, ambiguities and suggestions to make the reader actively engage with the text, thereby affecting them profoundly.

But Holocaust poetry is usually written in languages other than English. Translators are very aware that with such poetry it is especially important to do justice to the original work, but this task is no easy one:  Holocaust poetry is often very personal, its references to the Holocaust are frequently oblique and the real essence of this poetry resides as much in what it does not say as in what it does.

The translator of Holocaust poetry also has to consider the implications of translating a piece of text for readers far removed from the culture and time of the author. Despite this, the translated poetry must enable the reader to connect with the feelings and events of the original poetry.

Professor Jean Boase-Beier aims to enable a better understanding of translated Holocaust poetry and make that understanding available to other researchers, translators and to readers of Holocaust poetry. Her Fellowship has three main strands:

• To research the cognitive effects of Holocaust poetry on the reader

• To develop guidelines for the translation of such poetry

• To raise awareness of translated Holocaust poetry

""The Fellowship will initially use cognitive poetics to develop a new understanding of the effects of original Holocaust poetry upon the reader and how these can be preserved in translation. It will question what characterises Holocaust poetry, what the stylistic features of such poetry are and how these affect the reader. The project will consider the problem of translating features such as ambiguity (e.g. the German ‘Reich’ can mean both ‘rich’ and ‘Reich’) and of making the poetry accessible in a new cultural and linguistic context. Through the consideration of such issues, it will examine to what extent the effects of Holocaust poetry are still present for readers of the translation.

This Fellowship hopes to ensure that translators continue to translate Holocaust poets, in order to preserve their testimony and make it accessible to a wider audience. As well as providing guidelines in her monograph, Professor Boase-Beier will host public workshops for practising and future translators on the specificities of translating Holocaust poetry.

The Fellowship will also encourage increased public engagement with the Holocaust. Professor Boase-Beier will collaborate with the Writers’ Centre Norwich and local bookshops to host discussions, workshops, readings and an exhibition on translated Holocaust poetry.

Written by Myriam Volk


Image Source: Archivio di Adolf Burger di Praga (Adolf Burger)

Image Provided by: Museum and Centre of Documentation of Deportation and Italian Resistance