Monday, January 23, 2023

Before and after Auschwitz (Liana Millu) Jan. 27, 2023

In writing a summary of the research I did during a short-term fellowship at the New York Public Library this year, I had to leave out some of the brilliant bits of information I uncovered because I think inhaled enough research for two or three or maybe even four summaries.

And yet they must be recorded and shared because they offer insight, in this case, into one of the greatest enigmas of the 20th century: the Holocaust. Thus I will share them here on my blog, which in fact began many years ago as my digital record of how I keep up my Italian so perhaps it's fitting.

I was at the Library to study the works of an Italian transnational writer whose work I've been translating. And as such, I consulted other works by women authors writing in Italian who survived the Holocaust.

One such writer was Liana Millu [1914-2005]. My old Bennington prof, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, translated her work Smoke Over Birkenau, which was one of the books I read at the Library.

Millu also published another book that hasn't been translated into English: Dopo il fumo: Sono il n. A 5384 di Auschwitz Birkenau [you can translate the title as: "After the Smoke: I Was Prisoner No. A-5384 in Auschwitz Birkenau"].

And in it she defines what it means to survive a concentration camp:

“Venne il funesto 1938 con le leggi razziali; poi la guerra, e con la guerra, uno spartiacque che da solo determina un “prima” e un “poi”: venne Auschwitz.”

Translation (or one way to translate this sentence):

"The grim year 1938 arrived with the racial laws; then the war, and with the war, a watershed moment that alone dictates a 'before' and an 'after': then came Auschwitz."

As I translate work by Italian transnational writer Edith Bruck (the purpose of my fellowship at the Library and the subject of my NEA fellowship in literature), I am galvanized despite the difficulty of placing work in translation in American journals or with American publishers. 

Because this testimony must be shared, disseminated and conserved for as long as humans roam the earth.

(I am posting this now for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27, 2023)


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