Filip Müller (1922-2013) was one of the key witnesses at the trial of former Auschwitz guards, held in Frankfurt 1963-65. A Slovak Jew who was deported on one of the early transports to Auschwitz in April 1942, Müller was one of the few survivors of the 'Sonderkommandos' (special squads) who were forced to dispose of the bodies of prisoners who had been murdered in the gas chambers. After the end of the War, he gave testimony to trials in Czechosolovakia and West Germany, finally emigrating to West Germany in 1969. His testimony plays a prominent role in Claude Lanzmann's film 'Shoah' (1985) as well as providing important inspiration for László Nemes's 'Son of Saul' (2015).
This paper explores the role of translation in his witness testimony in Frankfurt. Speaking in imperfect German before the judge, and supported by the interpreter Otto Stegmann, Müller's testimony emerges in a process of collaboration and conflict between these three actors, all of whom, in their own ways, are engaged in translation activity. Making visible the effects of translation in this context gives us a clearer view of the conditions under which testimony is produced, and the different interests and perspectives that the agents involved bring to the process.
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Biography: Peter Davies is Professor of Modern German Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His current research concerns the ethical issues arising from the translation of Holocaust testimonies and literary works concerning the Holocaust, and the work of interpreters at the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. His most recent publications include The Witness between Languages: The Translation of Holocaust Testimonies in Context (Camden House, 2018), Translating Holocaust Lives (with Jean Boase-Beier, Andrea Hammel, Marion Winters; Bloomsbury, 2017), and essays on multilingualism in the Treblinka camp, Yitzhak Katzenelson, Tadeusz Borowski, Elie Wiesel, and Krystyna Zywulska.