Professor and student decipher Holocaust document
Last year, Associate Professor of German Tessa Lee and her then-student Shawn Peaslee ’12, a German studies major, got a rare chance to translate from German to English a historically significant document from the Holocaust. It was written by a female inmate of one of the concentration camps, and given to Lee by another Holocaust survivor, who had found this manuscript among the belongings of his deceased sister. Lee and Peaslee’s work is now in the archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. We asked the professor the story behind the translation.
Tell us about the project.
The project started as a request for translation by a Holocaust survivor, Michael Gruenbaum. In his possession is a 12-page manuscript that a woman named Selma from Vienna had written in 1941–1943, during her internment in Theresienstadt [Terezín], a concentration camp in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. He wanted to have it translated before turning it over to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Mr. Gruenbaum himself survived Theresienstadt as a 14-year-old through the efforts of his remarkable mother, who got him off the deportation list to Auschwitz four times. In this manuscript were a few lines that describe specifically how Mr. Gruenbaum’s father, a respected lawyer from Prague, had been murdered in Theresienstadt. He wanted the exact translation of that particular sentence since he was going to quote it in his biography (scheduled to be published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster).