Reflections on our Workshop: Translation, Mediation, and the Politics of Communication in the European Space, 1945-1960

The five papers presented in this workshop bring together perspectives from different German zones of occupation and their newly founded magazines, as well as on the travelling NATO-exhibition in the 1950s. A key theme running through this workshop was the influence of the occupying powers on the publishing world in post-war Germany, and how this can be linked to questions of agency, power, and ownership of information after a period of Nazi propaganda. Other important questions are how, through translations, specific audiences were targeted and how translations can work together with, or be replaced by, visual materials. Furthermore, the workshop reflected on the role of gender issues. Many translators were female, often overlooked, and rarely, if at all, credited beyond the mention of their name: women were agents within the magazines, as authors or translators, and gender inequalities therefore also became the subject of some of the published texts.

The first speaker, Anna Axtner-Borsutzky (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich) presented her talk “Beyond Borders through Literature: The Postwar Journal Die Wandlung (1945–1949)”. As the first journal in the American sector, Die Wandlung set out to be a new voice in the occupied territory for everyone inside and outside of Germany who could not communicate openly during the Nazi regime. The main aim was to bring people together by allowing them to talk to each other, not only through translations, but also by addressing international issues. The amount of reader’s letters to the Editor featuring in the magazine also illustrates this aim. Die Wandlung had a clear agenda of promoting the “American way of life” across Germany, but it was also a transatlantic project, not only in its history of creation, but also in its topics and large international network of contributors, many of whom where European émigrés now living in the US who addressed their feelings towards Germany and the topic of emigration. With regard to the translations published in the magazine, the number of female translators is particularly striking, most of whom were members of the academic circle in Heidelberg. Every issue included a list of contributors and translators.

The second speaker, Chris Knowles (King’s College, London) presented his research on Agents of Translation: The English Origins of Der Spiegel, Germany’s First News Magazine. Diese Woche was founded upon the idea that German newspapers during the war had shown their inability to tell facts from opinion and propaganda, and that Germany thus needed a medium after the image of British newspapers. Diese Woche was modelled directly on the British magazine Time. When Rudolf Augstein became editor in 1947, he changed the name from Diese Woche to Der Spiegel, distancing the magazine more clearly from the British occupying power and making it one of the most important German news magazines we still know today. The founding aim of separating objectively reported fact from opinion, however, was never fully achieved, as articles presented news in a way that should appeal to the readers and influence their opinions. While the magazine was very successful, peaking in the 1970s, its translators however, mainly women and German speaking Jewish exiles, remained mostly invisible.

Stefanie Siess (EHESS Paris/ University of Heidelberg) presented her paper Mediating Figures and Magazine Culture: Transcultural Communication in the French Zone of Occupation (1945-1955). As a first example, she talked about Alfred Döblin and Das Goldene Tor, a magazine founded with the aim of increasing international communication and re-education after the Nazi regime. Döblin would later be disappointed as he noticed a lack of discontinuation of German figures in the political, academic, and publishing world. The second example, Tami Oelfken, had been a reform pedagogue before and during WWI and founded her own school until the Nazi regime banned her from both her profession as a teacher and as a writer and prosecuted her during the war. She continued publishing texts under several pseudonyms which addressed issues of gender inequality in the household. The fact that she participated in East German publications in the aftermath of WWII contributed to the demise in her international reputation, which made her a largely ignored post-war writer. Lastly, La Révue des Forces Françaises de l’Est, was a magazine closely connected to the military forces and their political agenda, but also included useful information for everyday life, such as cinema programmes. An important subject of the magazine was the disappointment in the continuity of Nazi figures in post-war Germany during the Adenauer years. The magazine was published in French with very few examples of German voices.

The fourth speaker, Alison E. Martin (JGU Mainz/Germersheim), presented her paper Changing Tastes: Translation and Temporality in Neue Auslese. This magazine consisted of translations and articles from various sources: almost none of the texts were written specifically for it. It included mainly published essays, articles and stories from international books, magazines and newspapers with non-fictional prose being the core content. Neue Auslese created a synthesis of current and historical texts, and thus created a sense of continuity rather than rupture with the past. The magazine aimed to acquaint German readers with new international literature, but also lesser-known pre-war writers, including female voices. Some of its key themes were melancholy, nostalgia and regret for decisions but also allowed for an escape into a lighter, more humorous take on the world. The magazine was, however, not free from political bias. It addressed the notion of Britain as a nation undergoing change, the role of Europe in post-war reconstruction and women in society, with the objective to increase appreciation of cultural and scientific achievements, broaden the reader’s outlook on contemporary problems, develop understanding of Western democracy, counteract nationalism and militarism and correct misrepresentations in Germany and Austria.The translators working for Neue Auslese often remained anonymous but were mostly named when it comes to fictional prose. These translators were generally German and Austrian émigrés who were actively politically engaged.

The last contribution to the workshop came from Hilary Footitt (IMLR, London), who presented her paper Translating NATO in the 1950s. The travelling NATO exhibitions in the 1950s had the aim of reaching out to communities across Europe and inform them about the Alliance. There were two exhibitions, made up of a tent and four trailers, that toured at the same time, starting with Italy, later including countries like France, Greece and Turkey. The exhibitions were adapted throughout the time of their run. The issue of translation was largely circumvented by using mainly visual material, such as photos, graphics, and films, and little captions. This was also because translating large amounts of text represented a substantial financial challenge. With the US mainly feeding into the budget, questions of authority over information and translations arose.

Almut Kowalski

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