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Sarah Schnellbacher's picture

Ich, der Überlebende (I, the Survivor)


- Bertolt Brecht -

Ich, weiß natürlich : einzig durch Glück.
Habe ich so viele Freunde überlebt. Aber heute nacht im Traum.
Hörte ich diese Freunde von mir sagen : "Die Stärkeren überleben."
Und ich haßte mich.


I know of course; it's simply luck
That I've survived so many friends. But last night in a dream
I heard those friends say of me: "Survival of the fittest"*
And I hated myself.


(This line should say "I heard these friends of mine say 'the stronger survive", I don't quite agree with the translator's interpretation)


In class on Thursday Erin quoted this poem by Bertolt Brecht about the Holocaust. I don't quite agree with the translation of the third line by the translator's use of "those" instead of "these" describing friends and the superlative case in "Survival of the fittest". In the original German only the comparative is used. The original German also implies possesion "Freunde von mir" = "friends of mine" as opposed to address "say of me". These three alterations to the meaning of the poem create a distancing in the English translation that is not present in German and make the poem focus more on Darwinism than the original German suggests. These minor changes to meaning make me think of our discussion in class about why we only study English literature in classes at Bryn Mawr rather than translations when studying the evolution of literature as I feel that Brecht's "Ich, der Uberlebende" ironically is read more in English than in the original German. This aside, Brecht's "Ich, der Uberlebende" serves as a good tie to  Camus's "The Plague". The plague chooses its victims randomly from the citizens of Oran. Although some characters in the play (Othon for example) are changed by the plague, most of the citizens of Oran do not seem to display survivor's guilt and return to their normal lives as soon as the plague ends.


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