Xoán Manuel Garrido Vilariño (Universidad de Vigo) Did Is das ein

Xoán Manuel Garrido Vilariño (Universidad de Vigo)
Did Is das ein Mensch? Ein autobiographischer Bericht, mean a reconciliation of
Primo Levi with the German people and their language?
The publishing in 1961 of the German translation of Se questo è un uomo implied the
beginning of the dialogue between a victim of the Genocide and the language of the
perpetrators. The process of translation was marked by the mistrust the author had of the
possible ideology of the translator and how this would reflect on the text itself. This
distrust proved to be wrong in end as different scholars showed in many studies about
the reception of this book in Germany (West Germany and DDR) and Austria with the
only exception of the problems they had with the translation the Lager German and the
This paper tries to establish that when the survivors first started to write their memoirs
of the Holocaust, they were quite unable to put into words the magnitude of the horror
they had lived through. They lacked words and this also happened with the translators,
who, however, had a wider knowledge and had been influenced by historical events
such as the Nuremberg Trials (1945-1946) and the Adolf Eichmann Trial (1961),
processes which had provided them with a more accurate language to describe what had
really happened in Auschwitz
This research is based on a corpus comparing the Italian original of Se questo è un uomo
(1947) with its translation into English, German and the two French versions (1961 and
1987) in order to prove how the memory policies of each country had a clear influence
on each of the translated texts. The conclusion I’ve reached is that the German
translation can be considered the least manipulated of the four, partly due to the strict
control and prejudice of Levi against the possibility of the German translator’s Nazi
ideology and also due to the interest this same translator had to contribute with his job
to the process of democratization in post-war Germany, as he himself had been and
opponent to the Nazi regime and a member of the Resistance.
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