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Holocaust survivor testimony available in English for the first time thanks to university students

2 August 2023

A group of women looking at the camera and smiling.
Students from the School of Modern Languages and Jagiellonian University on a tour of Krakow along with the project researchers

Students from the School of Modern Languages have played their part in allowing a Holocaust survivor’s testimony to be available in English for the very first time, thanks to a recent research project.

The engagement project, which ran from July 2022 until May 2023, was a collaboration between Cardiff University and Jagiellonian University in Poland which saw three students from each institution work together to translate the testimony. They were Katarzyna Lesińska, Hanna Renke, Sophie DeNofrio, Bronwen Cruddas, Agnieszka Tomza and Ella Mayer.

Three researchers were also involved in the project, namely Dr Dorota Goluch from the School of Modern Languages, Dr Agnieszka Podpora from Jagiellonian University and Dr Sharon Deane-Cox, a consultant from the University of Strathclyde.

The testimony is held within the archives at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland and tells the life story of Lea Shinar, a Jewish woman who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The Museum partnered with the team, sharing expertise and access to unique historical materials.

The first stage of the work saw the students from Jagiellonian University translate the testimony from Polish into English in a literal way. Students from both universities then collaborated on reworking the translation to ensure it read well and captured the survivor’s rich and varied voice.

The project was funded by the Research Wales Innovation Fund through the Cardiff University Innovation for All programme. One of its aims was to aid Holocaust education, both by creating an English-language resource for educators and by enabling the team members to deepen their knowledge. Hanna Renke, a student team member, commented, “It was a history lesson like no other."

Image of a monument on the ground.
International monument to the victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp, located in the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau site

Having collaborated via virtual sessions, the students and researchers met in person in January 2023 during a 5-day trip to Poland. The group visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, where they gave a presentation on their translation to museum staff and tour guides. In addition, the group embarked on a tour in Krakow around the area in which Lea Shinar grew up.

A student is talking while giving a presentation. An academic is watching the student's presentation.
BA Translation student Sophie DoNofrio gives a presentation for Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum staff

Ella Mayer was one of the students from the School of Modern Languages who was involved in the project. She said: “I was really emotionally impacted by our visit to Auschwitz – and our guided tour in Krakow. The experience really helped give shape to how I connected with the image I had of Lea Shinar.”

Bronwen Cruddas, another student participant, noted: “Partaking in this project has had a hugely beneficial impact on my professional understanding of translation.”

Dr Goluch added: “It was a privilege to collaborate with students and colleagues on this project. Our translation process became an intimate act of remembering – I didn’t fully expect that.”

The second strand of the project is now underway. It involves interviewing staff and guides from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum about their experiences of translation.

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