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The horrors of Holocaust in the view of literary translation. The mechanisms and principles of literary translation in "The Pianist" by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Akademische Arbeit 2018 49 Seiten

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Chapter One: Persecution of the Jewish nationality and the ghetto presented in The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman

Chapter Two: Mechanisms of Literary Translation

Chapter Three: Analysis of translation methods of Władysław




Performing of every art – whether it is acting, singing, dancing or playing an instrument, places the performer on a stage in front of an audience. Every one, that is, except literary translation, the performing of a literary work in a different language. Every performing art has hundreds of books about the people who do it, about its history, its pains and its joys. Every one, that is, except literary translation.

Literary translation is an odd art. It consists of a person sitting at a desk, writing literature that is not his, that has someone else’s name on it, that has already been written. The translator’s work appears to define derivativeness. Would anyone write a book about people who sit in a museum copying paintings? Copiers are not artists, they are students or forgers, wannabes or crooks. Yet literary translation is an art. What makes it so odd an art is that physically a translator does exactly the same thing as a writer.

Like a musician, a literary translator takes someone else’s composition and performs it in his own special way. Just as a musician embodies someone else’s notes by moving his body or throat, a translator embodies someone else’s thoughts and images by writing in another language.

Although it is practically invisible, the translator’s art is the more problematic one. And it is also the more responsible one, because while every musician knows that his performance is simply one of many, often one of thousands, by that musician and by others, the translator knows that his performance may be the only one, at least the only one of his generation, and that he will not have the opportunity either to improve on it or to try a different approach.

And while the translator takes over this responsibility and forces literary works into new, no one can see his difficult performance. Except where he slips up. In fact, he is praised primarily for not being seen.

We tend to think of the literary translator as someone who’s good with languages. Which is like saying a musician is someone who’s good with notes. However, there is much more behind that – a translator has to be able to read as well as a critic and write as well as a writer. John Dryden said it best back in the seventeenth century: “the true reason why we have so few versions which are tolerable [is that] there are so few who have all the talents which are requisite for translation, and that there is so little praise and so small encouragement for so considerable a part of learning” (as qtd. in Wechsler 1998: 6).

Translation gives us access to the literature of the world. It allows us to enter the minds of people from other times and places. And it enriches not only our personal knowledge and artistic sense, but also our culture’s literature, language, and thought.

The primary aim of the following thesis is to present the art of literary translation through the perspective of one particular book – the book written by and depicting the life of the musician. This musician is Władysław Szpilman – the survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, the period in Polish history, shadowed by the horrors of mass murders both on Polish and Jewish nations.

Therefore, the thesis consists of three chapters, devoted to the separate aspects. As the title of the first Chapter Persecution of the Jewish nationality and the ghetto presented in The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman suggests, the narration focuses on the history of the most tragic events that fell on the time of the second World War. It also presents the main character – Władysław Szpilman and his life in Warsaw Ghetto. Following, Chapter Two shifts to the main aspect of the thesis and is devoted to presenting the translation studies from various perspectives. The final Chapter Three is the interpretation of the author’s findings, regarding the techniques and translation methods which were used when Szpilman’s book was translated into English.

Chapter One: Persecution of the Jewish nationality and the ghetto presented in The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman

There is now an enormous literature attesting to the magnitude of the Holocaust. From the beleaguered witnesses writing in the ghettos and the concentration camps, to the émigré survivors committed to remembering the dead, countless attempts have been made not only to document the atrocities but to retrieve some meaning from what the Jews were forced to endure. Increasingly, historians, philosophers, and theologians are being left to confront this daunting task. As they inherit the diaries and other documents written by those who knew they would not survive, or the memoirs produced by those who have dedicated their lives to educating future generations, they have to decide how these testimonies should be comprehended and represented. (Waxman 2006: 1).

For a half-century since the Second World War, Poles and Jews remained bitterly divided over the events that transpired during the German occupation. With little physical contact between the two peoples in the aftermath of the War, and the spreading Communist ideology within Poland, any consideration regarding the war time was rather impossible. Therefore, knowledge about the Holocaust in post-war Poland was largely restricted to oral histories and rare official narratives that emphasized shared Polish-Jewish suffering and Polish aid extended to Jews. Jewish perceptions during this time were similarly shaped by survivor testimonies that often spoke of alleged widespread Polish anti-Semitism and indifference to the fate of European Jewry during the period of Holocaust.

Therefore, for almost forty-five years after the Holocaust, the literature on wartime Polish-Jewish relations was divided into two mutually exclusive camps, that of apologetics and the other who was condemning. When referring to Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War, historians in the apologetics camp described Polish aid to Jews as well as Polish passivity due to Nazi reprisals as the principal Polish responses to the Nazi genocide carried out on Polish soil (Bartoszewski and Lewin 1969: 1-2). In a huge contrast to the negative image of wartime Polish behaviour abroad, a widely respected Polish historian maintained, in a 1979 scholarly monograph that:

The murder of Jews in Poland deeply shocked the Polish public, which condemned it in no uncertain terms. On this matter both the underground parties and individual persons expressed their feeling. …The Polish public was not satisfied with expressing its fury, but hastened, as much as its very modest opportunities allowed, to help the Jewish population in various ways, despite the danger involved. …Only a few individuals, from society's dregs, agreed to collaborate, that is, only totally corrupt members of the underworld. The Polish public looked upon this with total abhorrence and disgust (Łuczak 1993: 205).

Historians of the apologetics camp also argued that the Jewish characterization of Polish indifference, passivity, and even satisfaction in the face of Nazi genocidal policies constituted not history but merely the dissemination of anti-Polish stereotypes. By failing to inform readers of the severity of Polish suffering under German and Soviet rule, the annihilation of close to three million Catholic Poles during the war, or the enormous risks involved in aiding Jews, Jewish historians did not manage to be above their passions and present the facts impartially. As the British historian Norman Davies concluded in his 1982 study:

Some Jewish writers …have spread the view that the Poles actually rejoiced at the fate of the Jews or at best were indifferent “bystanders.”… [Such views] overlook the realities of life under the Nazi Terror, which was so much fiercer and more protracted in Poland than anywhere in Europe. …In a world where immediate death awaited anyone who contravened Nazi regulations, the Nazis could always exact a measure of cooperation from the terrified populace. The Polish slave doctor in Auschwitz, the Polish partisan in the woods, the Polish peasant fearful of reprisals, cannot be judged by the morality of free men in normal times (Davies 1982: 263).

It is also worth remembering that many people who helped Jews did not belong to any of the above mentioned categories, however. Their motives were purely humanitarian, and they extended their help indiscriminately to all Jews in danger. Humanitarian concerns were clearly manifested in the attempts to save the Jewish child – a rescue operation considered of top priority and carried out with great zeal by both individuals and by organizations, with no regard to party affiliation or political orientation. While some adult Jews managed to save their own lives largely through their initiative, courage, and ingenuity, the majority of rescued Jewish children owed their lives primarily to the help rendered by noble gentiles, individually or in groups (church or secular, charitable, educational, or political).

The fact is that during the same period, which saw a tremendous growth in Holocaust studies and Holocaust awareness in the West, historians in the condemnatory camp accused the Poles of diminishing the impact of anti-Semitism and the wartime Polish attitudes and behaviour, of falsifying the historical record by exaggerating the aid extended to Jews, and of failing to acknowledge any moral complicity for the widespread reported indifference of Poles as bystanders, or, even worse, as collaborators, in the mass extermination of Jews in occupied Polish soil. In their 1986 monograph on the subject, Israeli historians Israel Gutman and Shmuel Krakowski came to the following conclusion: “The over-all balance between the acts of crime and acts of help, as described in the available sources, is disproportionately negative. To a significant extent, this negative balance is to be accounted for by the hostility towards the Jews on the part of large segments of the Polish underground, and, even more importantly, by the involvement of some armed units of that underground in murders of Jews” (Gutman and Krakowski 1986: 246).

The last two decades, however, have seen a rapid breakdown of this divorce of Polish and Jewish memory. Several developments in the 1980s led to a greater spirit of reconciliation and openness in scholarly circles, and to a shift in Polish perceptions of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture. These included a succession of international conferences on Polish-Jewish studies, most notably in Oxford (1984), Boston (1986), and Jerusalem (1988).

There is no doubt that any planned and carried out extermination of one nation by the other is inexplicable and cannot be forgotten. Nevertheless, the history is created by people and people differ. The best example can be drawn from the real history as depicted by Władysław Szpilman in his book The Pianist. As it will be further discussed – the story told from the perspective of a little boy shows how people can differ and how they can surprise by their actions. It is a deeply moving story of humanity during inhumane times.

1.1. Holocaust in History

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica the word ‘holocaust’ means:

The systematic state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. The Germans called this “the final solution to the Jewish question.” The word Holocaust is derived from the Greek holokauston, a translation of the Hebrew word ʿolah, meaning a burnt sacrifice offered whole to God. This word was chosen because in the ultimate manifestation of the Nazi killing program—the extermination camps—the bodies of the victims were consumed whole in crematoria and open fires (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010: PC version).

What is the most horrible, is that the Nazis even before they came to power in Germany, made no secret of their anti-Semitism. It was Adolf Hitler who in his book Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) developed the idea of the Jews as an evil race struggling for world domination. He gave the spark for the formation of the Nazi anti-Semitism which was rooted in religious anti- Semitism and enhanced by political anti-Semitism. To that, Germans added racial anti-Semitism and that ideology characterized the Jews as Untermenschen (from German: ‘subhumans’). The Nazis depicted Jews as a race and not a religious group and ultimately, the logic of that racial anti-Semitism led to annihilation.

During the 1930s Adolf Hitler sought to exclude Jews, Gypsies, and others he considered to be “racially inferior” from the German national community. As Niewyk and Nicosia point out, during the first two years of World War II, the Nazi state turned to genocide, starting with the German handicapped, then the Soviet Jews, and finally all European Jews and Gypsies (Niewyk and Nicosia 2000: 3). From late 1941 to late 1944 the concentration, deportation, enslavement, and extermination of Jews and Gypsies reached the peak. At the same time millions of Soviet prisoners of war and Slavic civilians were killed in less organized ways. During the last months of the war the Germans stopped the gassings, but they continued to exploit their victims as slave workers and tried to use them as a bargain in negotiations.

Sadly, following the Nazi defeat victims, perpetrators, and bystanders, at different times and in different ways, came to terms with the immediate legacies of the Holocaust.

1.1.1. Origins: anti-Semitism and scientific racism

In the last few years the study of the Holocaust has been profoundly transformed. This development may be seen as the next step in a trend which dates back to the 1970s, when the Nazi genocide of the Jews began to be perceived by both scholars and the general public as an historical event of major importance.

Omer Bartov, the author of Holocaust : Origins, Implementation, Aftermath Rewriting Histories states that:

The German destruction of the European Jews was a tour de force; the Jewish collapse under the German assault was a manifestation of failure. Both of these phenomena were the final product of an earlier age. Anti-Jewish policies and actions did not have their beginning in 1933. For many centuries, and in many countries, the Jews had been victims of destructive action (Bartov 2000: 23).

Some historians claim that expulsion was one of the anti-Jewish policies in history. In its origin, this policy presented itself only as an alternative – moreover, as an alternative that was left to the Jews. But long after the separation of church and state, long after the state ceased to carry out church policy, expulsion and exclusion remained the goal of anti-Jewish activity.

The anti-Semites of the nineteenth century, who separated themselves from religious aims, supported the emigration of the Jews. With such anti-Semitic hatred, the enemies of Jewry also took the idea that the Jews could not be changed, that they could not be converted, that they could not be assimilated, that they were inflexible in their ways, set in their notions, fixed in their beliefs (Hilberg 2000: 25-26).

The expulsion and exclusion policy was adopted by the Nazis and remained the goal of all anti-Jewish activity until 1941. That year marks a turning point in anti-Jewish history. In 1941 the Nazis found themselves in the midst of a total war. Several million Jews were incarcerated in ghettos. Emigration was impossible. A project to ship the Jews to the African island of Madagascar was abandoned. The so-called ‘Jewish problem’ had to be solved in some other way and at this crucial time, the idea of a ‘territorial solution’ grew in Germans’ minds. The European Jews were to be killed.

The psychological point of view is also worth reminding here that number of Nazis, including the chief of the German SS and Police Himmler, the jurist and Generalgouverneur of Poland Hans Frank, and others were proud to view that the Jews were a lower species of life, a kind of vermin, which could infect the German people with deadly diseases. Himmler once warned his SS generals not to tolerate the stealing of property that belonged to dead Jews: “Just because we exterminated a bacterium, we do not want, in the end, to be infected by that bacterium and die of it” (Bartov 2000: 36). Frank also often referred to the Jews as ‘lice’. When the Jews in his Polish domain were killed, he announced that now a sick Europe would become healthy again.

When Hitler managed to overtake power in 1933 as the head of a coalition government, his first target was to consolidate power and to eliminate any political opposition. According to Niewyk and Nicosia:

In fact, race stood at the very heart of Nazi ideology. Hitler called his political philosophy National Socialism — the official name of his party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi for short — by which he meant to suggest that he had reconciled the two great competing political ideas of the nineteenth century, nationalism and socialism. What made it possible for him to bring the two together was his belief that racial thinking would lead to national greatness and social justice (Niewyk and Nicosia 2000: 3).

The attacks against the Jews began on 1st April with a boycott of Jewish businesses. A week later the Nazis dismissed Jews from the civil service, and by the end of the month, the participation of Jews in German schools was restricted. On May 10, thousands of German students, together with many professors, raided university libraries and bookstores in numerous cities throughout Germany to remove tens of thousands of books written by non-Aryans and those opposed to Nazi ideology. The books were burned in massive bonfires in an effort to purify German culture of ‘un-Germanic’ writings. Heinrich Heine – a German poet of Jewish origin said almost century earlier: “Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010: PC version). In Nazi Germany, the time between the burning of Jewish books and the burning of Jews spanned only eight years.

The consequent move, The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 enabled the state to limit the rights of Jews as German citizens and banned marriage and sexual relations between Jews and Germans. Legal codicils later defined Jews as persons having more than two Jewish grandparents. Those with two Jewish grandparents were defined as Mischlinge (mixed breeds), and they were grouped with the Jews only if they were married to Jews or belonged to Jewish congregations. Later, in 1938, Hitler decided to create a special category of ‘privileged mixed marriages’ for interracial couples that were married before the Nuremberg Laws went into force. In making these exceptions Hitler showed that he wanted to minimize the number of Germans who would be hurt by his campaign against the Jews. Moreover:

Hitler’s preference for legal methods of isolating the Jews reflected his sensitivity to public opinion both at home and abroad. As Germany prepared to host the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the Nazis wanted nothing to stain their law-and-order image. This had the unintended result of sending mixed signals to the Jews. Nazi antisemitic policies were designed to demoralize the Jews and induce them to emigrate. In fact, emigration was the original Nazi solution to the “Jewish problem,” and it remained in force until 1941. Economically and psychologically devastated, some Jews had left the country already or else planned to go soon. And yet most Jews still hoped that conditions would not get worse and that they could ride out the storm (Niewyk and Nicosia 2000: 7).

When Hitler felt increasingly confident of his power prepare for war he wanted to cleanse Germany by speeding the Jews on their way. Pressures to take over Jewish businesses increased, and also acts of anti-Jewish violence. Radical pressures culminated in the ‘Crystal Night’ pogroms of November 9–10, 1938, in which Nazi Storm Troopers, following orders from Berlin, vandalized Jewish shops and homes and burned 267 synagogues. Twenty thousand Jews were sent to concentration camps, and at least ninety-one were actually murdered (The Columbia Encyclopedia 2009: 27191). What comes as a shock, the Jews were forced to pay for the demolition of the Troopers and most of them were forbidden to obtain any insurance.

In September 1941 Jews were required to display a yellow Star of David with the inscription Jude (Jew) sewn on the front of their clothing whenever they appeared in public. In October the SS began systematic deportations of German Jews to ghettos in Eastern Europe, where they were made to share the fate of the victims already there.

What is important to remember is that Jews were not the only ‘racially dangerous’ group targeted by the Nazis for exclusion. Poles themselves were victims of the Nazi plan for ‘human purification’. The Nazi invasion of Poland went far beyond mere military victory. Because the Poles were regarded as sub-humans, they were to be reduced to virtual slave status, accompanied by the total destruction of all cultural, political, and religious symbols that would provide them with any form of human identity. Some Nazi leaders, such as Himmler, Hitler, and Frank, entertained on occasion the idea of the eventual total annihilation of the Poles in a manner similar to the Jews. Adolf Hitler declared that the aim of the Nazi invasion of Poland was “not the arrival at a certain line, but the annihilation of living forces” (Curaczyński 1974: 17). Even prior to the actual invasion of Poland, Hitler had authorized on 22 August 1939 the killing “without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way,” he insisted, “can we obtain the living space we need” (qtd. in Zimmermann 2003: 107).



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Titel: The horrors of Holocaust in the view of literary translation. The mechanisms and principles of literary translation in "The Pianist" by Wladyslaw Szpilman