lost in translation

Google and me, together we are translating roughly 58 pages of densely-typed German.

Turns out a human translator charges $15 a page, which would bring the grand total to something more than $800 dollars. After all these years, all this research, the papers are finally here, and I am in despair. That’s when Jon mentions Google Translate.

I arrange the page dated 1963 somewhere to the left of the monitor, I type the first mysterious ten-syllable words into the window. It’s hard work; I can’t tell if a word is misspelled, and when I lose my place, it’s hard to find it again. Still, I recognize this word and that, the language is similar to the Yiddish I heard growing up, lots of words ending in acht and ung.

Beneath the window, English words appear on the screen as if a ghost is trying to communicate with me. They scramble and recombine as I finish typing a syllable, a word, a sentence, the sentence after that. Line after line, the long indecipherable German sentences unspool into English. The hairs rise on the back of my neck. It is the eeriest thing in the world.

Long-ago horrors committed by long-dead monsters unmask themselves in shaggy paragraphs in the white space below the window. As my kids watch the Olympics on the bed behind me, startlingly vivid first-person accounts of massacres form upon my monitor. As Alpine skiers race down mountains white with snow, I am typing words that translate into shooting and burning and mass burials.

In the fog and confusion of war, good men do bad things. Ordinary men become monsters. Criminals become heroes.

With my heart in my throat, I look to see who ordered the mass murder at Adampol. The information in the book I read was wrong, Selinger is innocent. He was under house arrest during the Aktzia, because he was known to be a little too close to the Jews.

My son asks me why I’m doing this. I tell him that if wasn’t for this man’s actions, none of us would be here. Anybody with the courage to resist this regime was a hero, I think, and I begin to wonder what it takes to start the process to have someone declared a righteous gentile.

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