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Lost in translation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

Rachel Schneider translates 29th German book as surprise for local WWII veteran

The lives of one concentration camp prisoner and one paratrooper have consumed the life of Rachel Schneider as she begins her summer break after her first year at Washington University.

These two fictional friends took two very different paths in WWII Germany, which set the stage for a historical account of a 1945 massacre in Gardelegen, Germany.

Schneider got lost in this emotional story during two long weeks of translating “Gardelegen Holocaust” from German to English.


Rachel Schneider, at right, surprises WWII veteran Elton Oltjenbruns with an English translation of “Gardelegen Holocaust,” a German novel about the 1945 massacre.


And her typewritten, bound copy of the book was an emotional surprise for WWII veteran Elton Oltjenbruns of Holyoke, who was actually a witness to the aftermath of that massacre in Gardelegen. In fact, his testimony aided German author Torsten Haarseim in the writing of this 340-page historical novel.

“The book has stuff I didn’t know anything about,” said Oltjenbruns, who expressed deep appreciation for the English translation from Schneider.

“It’s been quite an experience to be involved with the author,” he added. Oltjenbruns has been communicating with Haarseim for three years, and after receiving the German book in the mail some time ago, this is the first time he was able to read the account in English.

Even though it is a fictional novel, the emotions still ran deep for Oltjenbruns as he read the book given to him last Monday, June 16. It explained what some of the people in the war had to sacrifice, he said, and he needed to stop at times to process his personal memories and the accounts in the book.

Near the end of WWII, 1,016 prisoners died when they were deliberately burned alive in a barn outside of Gardelegen. Oltjenbruns’ battalion was the first to witness the site of the massacre.

Author Haarseim is from Gardelegen, and the memory of the atrocity lives on in his city. After several years of research, he can now present the account from the point of view of two fictional characters.

The two friends, Schneider explained, are made up, but everything else in the book incorporated details and characters true to history.

She had seen a copy of Elton’s German book, and she eventually ordered her own copy. This summer seemed like the right time to sit down and translate the book into English.

Schneider, who celebrated her 20th birthday on Monday, has become a self-taught German translating whiz.

She’s certainly translated her share of books. This is her 29th German book, in addition to three French books and one in Spanish.

The 340-page Gardelegen book was like a drop in the bucket compared to her biggest translation: 860 pages.

“It’s just one of those things I’ve been interested in,” said Schneider.

At 14 years old, she started the task of translating her first book, an Indiana Jones story by German author Wolfgang Hohlbein.

Having never taken any German classes, Schneider essentially taught herself the language by using an online translation tool and hand-writing all the English words above the German words.

By her second book, she was basically able to read the sentences in German, and now the words just come naturally to her.

Schneider has translated all eight of Hohlbein’s Indiana Jones books as well as some of his others. She said this fantasy/horror/science fiction author has written over 250 books, but only two have been published in English.

While Schneider started this hobby in junior high, she first became convinced that she would learn German in the fourth grade.

She took the Spanish classes offered in Holyoke for five years and even translated a Spanish book to prepare for her AP test in high school.

At Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., last year, Schneider had the opportunity to finally take a German class. Since she already knew how to read German, she’s now learning how to speak it, which is more difficult than reading and translating.

Schneider was briefly in Germany during an Austria/Hungary/Czech Republic trip as a 16-year-old with a Global Young Leaders Conference group.

On that trip she had the opportunity to experience a concentration camp near Prague, and last year she took a Holocaust studies class at the university.

“Gardelegen Holocaust” really stretched her translating skills because it used a lot of military and Nazi terms that aren’t used in everyday German language.

Schneider is a common German name and was actually the last name of one of the characters.

Even though it only took her two weeks to translate, Schneider devoted long days to the task and found herself getting quite caught up in the story. At one point, she said it was driving her insane, and she needed to take a long walk to clear her head.

The book brought up things she never thought about, said Schneider, and one of the things that hit her the hardest was the list of names of the victims of the massacre. The names of 711 people—out of 1,016—are still unknown.

“You can see a movie, but it doesn’t hit you the same way when you are translating,” she said.

“You see things in a totally different light because you see things from the other culture.”

Schneider made a copy of the book for Oltjenbruns and one to keep, even with a cover design to go with it. This is the first book that she has typed on the computer, with all her other translations being handwritten.

At this point, she knows she could simply read a book in the German version, but it wouldn’t be as much fun as translating.

“I do it because I enjoy it,” she said. “If it stopped being fun, I would stop doing it.”

Schneider is a 2013 HHS grad and the daughter of John and Lynn Schneider of Holyoke. She is studying archaeology at Washington University and is considering a second major or minor in German.



Holyoke Enterprise June 26, 2014