Service Stories Archive: Translating Holocaust Documents (GERM 311)

Because of the upcoming introduction of a new University website design, existing Service Stories on the site are being migrated to our Service Learning Blog so that they will remain in our archive.

This article was originally published in the ’19-’20 academic year.



Introduction to German Translation (GERM 311) was taught for the first time in the history of our institution to eight students in Fall 2019. The focus of the course is on the essential goal of the translator, which is to transmit a living voice from one language, culture and moment to another. By using hands-on teaching techniques, students learn to develop effective strategies and techniques to translate a variety of texts from different subject areas and topics. Before translating original historic artifacts, students practice on typical problems that a translator encounters when faced with texts relating to technology, natural and social sciences, business, anthropology, history, literature, commerce, and advertising. Through practice exercises and assigned tasks, students learn how to use a variety of translation tools, software (CAT tools), dictionaries, glossaries, and handbooks that are useful for any type of translation task.

Dr. Alexander Lorenz, Assistant Professor of German, created the course for students to add these skills to their professional portfolio and make important documents accessible to those who are not able to read them in their original form. “I noticed that many documents that shaped the way we think about contemporary society are not available in the English language. I wanted to create an opportunity for our students to learn about Germany’s history, but at the same time give them an opportunity to create and publish high-quality translations”, said Lorenz. Students translated original handwritten documents from Nazi concentration camps, as well as Hitler Youth magazines and other documents related to Nazi Germany. Mr. Brad Lephew, a private collector of WWII documents, donated a digital version of his collection to the university. Lephew is impressed with the students’ translations saying, “I was astonished by the quality work that these German learners produced.” 

In collaboration with Ann Merryman, Coordinator of Archives and Special Collections at USC Upstate, these documents were scanned and will made available to the public in the comming months. In addition to these digital documents, student translations will be published in the South Carolina Digital Library for educational and research purposes. Again, Lephew is impressed, “I am very pleased that the translations of these important documents will now be available for public use.” In addition to publishing their own translations, each student in the course received a scholarship through the Dell Scholars Program. Lorenz hopes to see the translations available to the public by April, 2020.

A Student’s Voice:

Knowing (that work would be used for public scholarship) helped me realize that I really needed to remain unbiased and translate the true meaning of the text. There were some sentences that didn’t really make sense in English, but if I changed it around to make sense, it lost the original meaning. So there were a few times I had to keep confusing sentences in order to preserve the original context and meaning. This also made me work harder because I wanted people to actually be able to use these documents and appreciate the effort I put into translating them. <excerpted from an anonymous survey>

Sample Translation 
      (a letter written from Ravensbruck Concentration Camp)