Functional equivalents of industrialised mass murder such as slave labour and death marches are also covered as are post-war concentration camps.
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Jensen and C-C. Szejnmann eds. Caplan and N. Wachsmann eds. Concentration Camps n.
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Dwork and R. Norton , —, — See also M. Spoerer and J. For an excellent typology see R. See also K. Sapere il tedesco era la vita: Bastava che mi guardassi intorno.
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Accordingly, many prisoners who did not understand the language of the perpetrators perished in the course of the first few weeks. Moreover, Sofsky claims that the total uncertainty to which the victims were exposed provided the basis of absolute power in the camps. Communication—and equally the lack of it—was therefore an important parameter in exercising and consolidating absolute power over the increasingly dehumanized prisoner population.
The exercise of power was both emphasized and subverted through the activity of interpreting in the camps. On the other hand, it is undeniable that in the midst of the camp society, the prisoners found themselves in a hermetically sealed microcosm. Absolute power necessarily targets social situations: it is only in the context of relationships that the power mechanisms at play are able to break resistance, to humiliate human beings, to destroy social ties, or to devastate human life : As such, language mediators clearly contributed to determining and structuring the conditions underlying the functioning of camp society.
Interpreting in the Nazi concentration camps is an under-researched field. These works share the premise that the social determinants in the lager , such as hunger, death, privilege, absolute power, solidarity, or resistance, are affected significantly by language and mediation. As Heidi Aschenberg : points out, linguistic studies on the concentration camps tend to concentrate on examining lagerszpracha see, e.
Other studies, mostly on the basis of survivor memoirs, emphasize communication structures in the camps see Taterka , or, in the context of Italian survivors of Mauthausen, Bandella and Kuon or Chiapponi One area of research which has gained momentum in recent years analyzes the Holocaust in conjunction with the translation of testimonial writing. Texts by victims and survivors of Nazi persecution have been produced, translated, rewritten, remediated, lost, recovered, and received in a bewildering variety of languages and cultural contexts, and have taken extraordinary border-crossing journeys.
Primo Levi was one of the main agents in this field. In this sense, Levi places the translator of Holocaust testimonies in a central and significant position, justified in his conviction that experiences of translation—in both the wider and the narrower sense—can also be conveyed, even if these experiences are considered untranslatable by other scholars see also Mendel and Alexander The issue of translating Holocaust writings has also been discussed with regard to English usage: although English was quite far removed from the Nazi concentration camps—it was neither a primary language of the persecutors nor of the victims—today it is undeniably the strongest vehicle for mediating, or the attempt toward mediating, the Holocaust experience.
It is undeniable that our understanding of the events has been at least partially shaped by the English language: studying the Holocaust and debates about its implications have predominantly taken place in English-speaking countries, and many conclusions have been drawn from texts read only in translation. This holds true for both primary mostly translated and secondary sources. The majority of the survivor memoirs that provide source material for most of the contributions in this volume were used by the authors in their original versions.
Thus, the volume also hopes to contribute to a profounder understanding of the multitude of aspects underlying the act of interpreting under conditions of extreme violence.
Devoted to Terror
In many survivor accounts, communication in the multilingual setting of larger concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, or Mauthausen was often correlated with the trope of the Tower of Babel. While Babel stood for the illustration of a variety of situations involving both negative and relatively positive aspects, the central feature described by the authors was the utmost brutality as a dominant characteristic of the interpreting activity in the concentration camps. As described above, violence and absolute power infiltrated daily life in the camps, penetrating far into the innermost thoughts and emotions of every single inmate.
The dynamics of the power exerted at every given moment were entirely arbitrary and utterly unpredictable. It is also worth noting that as interpreting is a socially regulated activity—even under the extreme conditions of a concentration camp—all interpreting events are subject to and involve relationships based on power and control. Ian Mason identifies three areas of disparities in power that affect interpreting situations: power relations between languages, institutional power, and interactional power Mason : As German was the only permitted language, questions of prestige were closely interwoven with the status assigned to the various nationalities in the camps.
Ein Reichsdeutscher galt mehr als ein Volksdeutscher. Ein Ukrainer aus dem Generalgouvernement rangierte besser als sein polnischer Landsmann. Ein Ostarbeiter war schlechter angesehen als ein Italiener. As Michaela Wolf shows in her typology of interpreters and interpreting activities in the camp of Mauthausen Wolf, in this volume , so-called official interpreters exercised their duty by mediating between the SS staff and the prisoner-functionaries or general inmates.
The conditions under which interpreting took place in the camps seem in the first instance to reflect typical characteristics pertaining to institutional settings; yet, while the pressure exerted on the interpreting event was definitely prompted by an institution—the concentration camp system—the terms according to which the interpreting event occurred were far from institutionalized. Examples of both scenarios abound in most survivor accounts, and also in interviews with camp survivors. A further aspect of interpreting in the camps that arises in much of the testimonial writing under study is the question of the professionalism, or lack thereof, of the interpreters in the camps.
However, although the term is used today for most interpreting activities which are undertaken by people without any formal training and in ad hoc situations—such as child language brokering, or interpreting in religious services or in social networks on the Internet or blogosphere—the term is misleading for various reasons. The negative prefix implies a shortage or insufficiency and suggests that the activity is viewed as second-class. Levi argues that by adopting a discourse based on memory, the need to give the victims a voice in order to break through their silence that remains becomes particularly salient.
The contributions follow the call to go beyond a meticulous documentation of interpreting events in the lager by working in detail on the rich data available, drawing on material from various concentration camps see especially Kuon for a hermeneutic approach to addressing the question of sources and illustrating the significant role of language mediation in life-threatening situations and the daily struggle to survive, without, however, ignoring the impact of the insights gained from these analyses in more general, not necessarily linguistic, terms.
The chapters include various different levels of reflection, ranging from a detailed discussion about the social structure of the concentration camps Prenninger to the zones of language within this structure Alexander and Gramling, both of whom also draw on translation in a metaphorical sense and from the act of interpreting see the concrete 16 historical accounts in Aschenberg, Tryuk, Wolf, and Zaurov to the coercion under which the interpreting activity took place in the camps, which reveals the fundamental power mechanisms underlying the basic functioning of the realm of mediation.
No parallel can be drawn between the camps and the interpreting event in present times. At best, this book might trigger a discussion about and perhaps reassessment of well-established notions and concepts developed in interpreting and translation studies over the last few decades. Comparability has long been and will remain a topos in dealing with the history of the Holocaust.
Gordon ed. Towards a Visual Perspective , London : Routledge. Jochen August , Die Auschwitz-Hefte , 2 : — Kristin Schwamm , Frankfurt : Suhrkamp. Deportazione e discorso autobiografico [Narrating the Lager. Raymond Rosenthal , London : Abacus. Peck eds , The Holocaust and History. The Holocaust, Multilingualism and the Problem of English. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press. Find in Library Salama-Carr , Myriam , ed. The Concentration Camp, American Journal of Sociology , 6 , —9. Find in Library Shelley , Lore , ed.
My Italian companions did not understand it. Almost all, with the exception of a few from Trieste, were drowning one by one in the stormy see of not-understanding: they did not know what the orders meant, they received slaps and kicks without comprehending why.
The Order of Terror | Commonweal Magazine
Levi : Here and throughout, all translations are my own unless otherwise attributed. These and similar studies, however, do not take into consideration the communication structure in the camps and do not deal with questions of interpreting or translating as a communication technique. For this context, see also Alexander , and her chapter in this volume.
A Flemish Belgian was worth more than a Wallonian.
A Ukrainian from the Generalgouvernement [eastern Poland under Nazi occupation] ranked higher than his Polish countryman. An Ostarbeiter [forced worker from eastern Europe] was looked down on more than an Italian. But you are Jewish, my friend] his countryman replied matter-of-factly and without any hostility […]. Translation and interpreting activities clearly contribute to shaping the ways that certain conflicts unfold, and research in the last ten years has frequently focused on the involvement of interpreters and translators in situations of military and ideological conflict, emphasizing their roles in mediating and memorializing conflict.
Nevertheless, they are extremely important and valuable testimonies, without which our—necessarily fragmentary—view of the Holocaust would not exist in its current form.