Review: The Bitch of Buchenwald(Don HARLOW)

The Bitch of Buchenwald

by Julius Balbin

English translation by Charlz Rizzuto

Merrick: Cross-Cultural Communications, 1986. 48p.

reviewed by Don Harlow

   This little volume, listed as "Holocaust Series Chapbook 1," is an extension and expansion of Julius Balbin's earlier Strangolitaj Krioj / Strangled Cries, and follows much the same format: original Esperanto versions of poems on the lefthand pages, their English translations on the right. The theme is a personal memory of the Holocaust.

   Balbis is a very competent poet who, if I remember correctly, first came to the attention of the Esperanto world with a prize-winning translation of Yevgenniy Yevtushenko's poem Babiy Yar, back in the days of Khrushchev's short-lived attempt at liberalization in the Soviet Union. As an East European Jew with strong personal memories of the Holocaust period, Balbin has obviously put his heart into these poems, and it shows. At least in the originals...

   Charlz Rizzuto's translations, though also competent, lack some of the verbe of the originals. Sometimes this is the fault of the language; Esperanto's agglutinative nature gives it opportunities lacking in English. Faced with "...diseĥanta / la plorveojn..." (p. 8) for instance, what is a translator to do? (Rizzuto's answer: "...that rings / with the screams...") On the other hand, he often makes significant and unnecessary changes in meaning. In Gettoj (p.6), Balbin creates a "temporal bracket" of "...Mezepoka Eŭropo..." and "...Moderna Usono..." to put the Ghettoes of Warsaw, Vilnius, Lodz and Krakow into context; Rizzuto changes the latter expression to "...America's Promised Land..." thus losing the temporal significance. Similarly, Balgin speaks of "...tiu tago / kiam ni estis / disigitaj" (p. 8), implying compulsion with the -IG- suffix; Rizzuto reduces this to "...of that day / we parted," reducing the separation to voluntariness.

   Worse, there appear to be one or two instances of blatant censorship in the English translations. Most obvious of these is Nia sola posedaĵo. Balbin does not hesitate to expound on the need for the physical side of love under the conditions prevailing in Hitler's slaughterhouses; Rizzuto reduces this atmosphere to the level of a Harlequin romance. "...;hontis / pri niaj nudaj korpoj..." (p. 36) becomes "...blushing in each other's gaze..."; "...nia ardo / ignories barierojn..." (p. 36) is reduced to "...we knew no barriers..."; "...ĝis kie la flustro de mia amata / gvidis min al la plej supra priĉo / kie ŝi atendis nuda..." (p. 36) is rendered (appropriate word!) as "...led by her whisper / to our yearning..." And on p. 37, a complete eight-line verse describing the physical act of love is simply omitted from the English translation.

   In one place, the English version is superior to the Esperanto, and that is in the title of the poem that gives its name to the book; the Esperanto hundulino definitely does not carry with it the pejorative connotations of the metaphorical use of "bitch" in English, any more than the English "camel" can be used as an insult in the same way as the French chameau. La putino de Buchenwald, perhaps?

   Several of the poems have notes appended at the end, apparently by Rizzuto, as they appear only in English; this is regrettable, as the non-English-speaking reader will not find out what finally became of the lady in the title. On the other hand, the non-Esperanto-speaking reader will probably not know who the "kapos" were, as this term is only clarified by comparison with the Esperanto original.

   Recommended -- at least the left-hand pages.

Sendu demandojn kaj proponojn al

Don Harlow <>