The creators of the underground press Sought to correct injustices, and presented the Jewish public with a purpose and content for its existence. With the discovery of the "Oyneg Shabes" Archives and other sources, Yad Vashem experts began the arduous work of deciphering and cataloguing the underground press from the Warsaw ghetto. Dr. Tikva Fatal-Knaani, the Academic Editor of the research project "The Jewish Underground Press in Warsaw," gives us a fascinating overview of the project's history, goals and discoveries 75 years after the war ended.
Which newspapers are included in the volumes – from which movements and in which languages?
The journals were published in different languages – including Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew. As stated, every ideological movement printed some kind of publication, and many published more than one. We have identified an incredible 250 issues from 52 journals, a huge amount of content published over a relatively short time span. The most prominent journals in terms of the frequency of their publication, are included in the first three volumes. Biuletyn (Bulletin) and Yugnt-Shtime (Voice of the Youth) on behalf of the Bund; and Proletarisher Gedank (Proletarian Thought) by Poalei Zion Left. From the press of the youth movements, it is also worth mentioning Hashomer Hatzair's Neged Hazerem (Against the Current) and El Al (Upwards); Dror (Freedom) and Dror Wolność (Dror Liberty) of the Dror-Hechalutz movement; Gordonia's Słowo Młodych (The Call of the Youth); and the Zionist Youth's Shviv (Spark). Some of the publications of this press were distributed in many other ghettos, despite the inconceivable difficulties in smuggling them from place to place.
What kind of writings were published?
Much of the underground press expresses a critical attitude towards the Judenrat [the Jewish Council appointed by the German authorities for each ghetto] and all its institutions; an analysis of the course of the war and its character on the various fronts; references to the future of the Jewish people after the war; and information on the Yishuv [Jewish settlement] and relations with the Arab population in the Land of Israel. Overall, most of the journals had a more or less uniform format: The issue was opened by a programmatic article, which reflected the response of the particular political current to events in the international arena or in Jewish life. In the central part of the publication there were a number of ideological articles. This was usually followed by frontline news and policy assessments, as well as information on what was happening in other areas, such as deportations and news coming back from the concentration camps through various channels. The journals of the youth movements also brought rich sections on education and reviews of innovations in science, literature and about well-known personalities. At the end of the issue, a short chronicle of movement activities was presented. Poetic portions were also presented that reflected the writers' distress and hopes, and historical reviews were presented according to the ideological current of each newspaper.
What were the difficulties in translating the series into English?
By far the most challenging work was the effort to reflect the source with maximum accuracy: the spirit of the words, the atmosphere in which they were written, and special characteristics of the source language and their suitability for English, such as expressions from everyday life, satire and slang. Slang, which is a kind of spoken or street language, is based on improper use of words while importing words from another language or inventing new words and the translators had to find parallels as close as possible to English.
Another difficulty was that in every language there are multiple and varied tenses, and this had to be taken into account when translating from all of the languages utilized into English in a way that maintained as much loyalty as possible to the original text.
English is also a language with a great deal of vocabulary. Great care was taken when the word in the Hebrew text has several English translation options, and the most appropriate option needed to be chosen from the content. And do not forget the special difficulties of translating poetry. With all the difficulties involved in the translation process it should be noted that the translation of the first three volumes [so far] was executed faithfully, reliably and professionally. The translators were proficient in the languages in question and also had knowledge of the history of the countries discussed in the texts and what was happening in them, such as the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, Poland and, of course, Jewish history and Judaism.
The interview with Dr. Tikva Fatal-Knaani will continue with the final part of this series.
To purchase The Jewish Underground Press in Warsaw: Volume Two – February–June 1941, click here.