Talk by Peter Davies

BCLT Research Seminar with Peter Davies – ‘Whose Words, Whose Voices? What Thinking about Translation Can Tell Us about the Holocaust’. This seminar took place online on 9th November 2022.

Almost everything we know about the Holocaust comes to us through translation; the Holocaust, as a multilingual event, is literally unthinkable without translation. For decades, thousands of translators, professional and non-professional, named and anonymous have made testimonies, documents, historical sources and works of art available and understandable in dozens of languages and for audiences across the world. So why is it that we talk so little about translation and translators? And why is it that translators only become visible when something goes wrong, accused of distortion, or worse, betrayal of the authentic voice of a witness?

This talk sets out the extent of our dependence on translation, discusses the ethics of translating, and pays tribute to the work of the translators who have made the Holocaust understandable for us. But it also suggests something perhaps more uncomfortable: that translators do not just transmit pre-existing knowledge about the Holocaust from one language to another, but they help to form that knowledge in the first place, and have had a profound effect on how the Holocaust is understood, interpreted and talked about.

Peter Davies is Professor of Modern German Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He has been researching at the interface between Translation Studies and Holocaust Studies since co-founding the AHRC-funded Holocaust and Translation Research Network in 2010. In 2014 he edited a special issue of the journal Translation and Literature devoted to “Holocaust Testimony and Translation”; in 2017 he co-edited the Bloomsbury volume Translating Holocaust Lives, and the following year published the monograph Witness Between Languages: The Translation of Holocaust Testimonies in Context with Camden House. He has recently begun a new two-year Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship with the project “How are Victims’ Voices Heard? Interpreting and Translation at a Holocaust Trial”. Peter is Vice-President of the Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland and a member of the Executive Committee of the British and Irish Association for Holocaust Studies.

My last published translation

Opposites attract in this historical romance.

What's next?

A tale of several quirky sisters who never thought they would attract husbands.