Back to the diaries

Translator's remarks

The following diary entries are from Alexandra Zapruder's book Salvaged Pages. Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust, published by Yale University Press in 2002. The book contains excerpts from 14 diaries written at different times during the period of the Holocaust. In these diary entries, we meet writers, most in their teens, trying to make sense of, and to record, the reality of their lives lived under duress.

For me, the translator, a text such as the Alice Ehrmann diary presents special issues, or perhaps hazards. These only suggested themselves after I had a chance to look at the final product, the published work. Upon reading Alice's diary on the printed page, I became convinced that I had never seen these words before, that I could not possibly have made this translation. I had no recollection of the material. I put the book away after reading two pages, determined not to read further. Nor did I dare to check my own manuscript for fear of what I might find. Finally, after hearing Alexandra read from the diary and discussing the matter with friends, I did look at the manuscript and found that with the exception of a word here and there and editorial changes needed to bring it into line with house style, this indeed was my translation.

When I translate personal material (letters, diaries, etc.), I quickly and without much effort seem to "seat" myself in the writer, identifying and conversing with him or her, becoming something like a channel. Often, I have an almost photographic sense of the original and the translation. That was not the case here. In reflecting on this phenomenon, I can only surmise that the myriad of successive images and feelings, often frightening, which Alice must have set down rapidly and with a constant sense of danger, short-circuited my usual method. Perhaps I translated on something like automatic pilot--and then repressed the memory. Or perhaps it just went through me and was gone.

In any case, rereading the diary now, I feel that I did capture something of the quality of danger and stress, of the breathlessness that characterizes the original. In putting together Salvaged Pages, Alexandra Zapruder has done a wonderful job of editing the diaries. Her introductions make clear what is significant in each diary, and comment on the larger context--something that the writers would not have been in a position to do. For readers looking for the immediacy of first-hand accounts (set down at the time and not subject to the vagaries of memory), Salvaged Pages is an excellent place to start.

To purchase Salvaged Pages, place your order at Yale University Press.

For the complete text of Alice Ehrmann's diary in German, go to the Institute for Theresienstadt Studies.

Back to the diaries