What’s in a Translation? Atlanta School Reflects on ‘Mein Kampf’ Controversy
Students at a prestigious independent school in Atlanta are reaching the end of a hot summer embroiled in a controversy around Mein Kampf — the rambling political manifesto and memoir composed by the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler from his cell in Germany’s Landsberg prison in 1924.
Hitler’s book was among those selected by students at the Galloway School for their summer book club reading, as part of their efforts — as senior staff at the school told The Algemeiner — to understand the Holocaust, as well as the wider question of how modern political leaders present their ideas.
But earlier this month, leading Jewish bloggers reported that the summer book club’s website was hosting a summary publisher’s blurb of Mein Kampf that described Hitler’s worldview as “an interesting interpretation of politics, people, and foreign policy matters.”
The description – which was removed from the site once school staff were alerted to its content – also claimed that “Mein Kampf is often portrayed as nothing more than an Anti-Semitic (sic) work, however only 6% of it even talks about the Jews. The rest contains Hitler’s ideas and beliefs for a greater nation plus his plan on how to accomplish that goal.” Later on, it added, “Germany did not follow Hitler because he was a racist, they followed him because he promised a great future, and Mein Kampf is where he promised that great future.”
This very same description can be read on neo-Nazi sites, among them Stormfront, where it is used to promote a translation of Mein Kampf by Michael Ford — which bravely claims to be “the only accurate and complete English translation of Mein Kampf ever made.”
A website selling the Ford translation — hitler-library.org — is festooned with images of Hitler and Nazi flags, as well as a section devoted to the Nazi leaders’ paintings. While the site does not explicitly endorse Nazi ideology or racist organizations, it hosts a number of videos that present Hitler in a positive light, with one purporting to explain “why his words are still so powerful today.” There is no mention of Hitler’s crimes anywhere on the site.
The Algemeiner contacted the Galloway School last week to find out whether its students had been assigned the Ford translation. Establishing that this had indeed been the case, a conversation with senior staff at the Galloway School focused on two key questions: why the Ford translation had been selected over versions endorsed by scholars of the Holocaust — such as the translation by Ralph Mannheim, with an introduction by former National Director of the Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman — and what, if any, impact this particular translation had on the students in terms of their understanding of Hitler.
During the call — led by Suzanna Jemsby, the head of the Galloway School — the staff revealed that they had not been aware of the controversy over the Ford translation. Additionally, the school librarian Tara Vito explained that the modern American vernacular used in the Ford translation made it more accessible to school students.
As The Algemeiner can confirm, despite its popularity among neo-Nazis, a comparison of the Ford translation with academically acceptable translations of Mein Kampf does not demonstrate any attempt on Ford’s part to sanitize Hitler’s full-throated loathing of the Jews — the several passages in which Hitler flies into an antisemitic rage read similarly in the Ford and Mannheim translations.
Moreover, as Jemsby emphasized, none of the Galloway students arrived for an intensive discussion of the book armed with newfound admiration for Hitler.
“At our discussion, we were accompanied by representatives from the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and the ADL,” Jemsby said. “Everyone was really impressed and touched by the discussion. The kids came in for a lot of praise for their thoughtfulness and their understanding of detail.”
Jemsby said that if Mein Kampf was to appear on future summer reading lists, “we will do a much more thorough analysis of the translations available, and will explain to students the significance of specific translations and the power that individual translators hold.”
Jemsby added that the controversy had already inspired a further learning opportunity. This week, she said, the book club would meet again to compare “two different translations of a passage from the book, to see for themselves the role the translator plays.”