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24 January 2009

The Quality of Hitler's Writing

Apparently some Jew named Ryback has just written a book that includes extensive criticism of Hitler as a writer.

Since I have read the first half of Mein Kampf, Eine Abrechnung, in German, I feel qualified to make some comments.

People think that Hitler was a terrible writer mainly because that is what Konrad Heiden wrote in the foreword to Ralph Mannheim's translation, which is certainly the most widely distributed translation of Mein Kampf in English. The newer foreword to the Mannheim translation by Abe Foxman parrots Heiden on this point.

You almost have to wonder if Heiden even bothered to read the book before he wrote his foreword. Heiden says for example that the title of the first half of Mein Kampf, Eine Abrechnung ( "A Reckoning," as Mannheim renders it) is unrelated to its content, supposedly because Hitler changed his mind about what he was going to write and didn't bother to change the title. This is total bullshit. 

Heiden has failed to grasp, first of all, that the title is a double entendre. Eine Abrechnung means recounting or payback. Hitler recounts the experiences that formed his political views and notes instances of payback for ignoring the principle of race. Variants of the word Abrechnung appear at key points in the text where these things occur (thus alluding back to the book's title).

The only place where Eine Abrechnung meanders a bit is in the last chapter, where Hitler apparently wanted to say some things that seemed important but didn't entirely fit into the rest of his narrative; this is understandable since Eine Abrechnung originally was the whole of Mein Kampf.

There are a few grammatical oddities (mostly regarding word order, which some other important German authors also did not always respect) and some unusual uses of words in Mein Kampf, but nothing to make you think that the writer is unintelligent. The overall quality of the writing is very good, even poetic at times.   

An English-speaking reader might well get the idea that Hitler was a terrible writer from the Mannheim translation, because it is a badly rendered translation, in this respect: a good translator doesn't translate German phrases word for word. That results in some very clunky expressions in English whereas the original German expression may have been entirely normal to a German reader.* A translator can easily make a German author look ridiculous that way, if he wishes. It doesn't even have to be deliberate; there are a lot of hard-to-read translations of German books around. It takes considerable talent to render a German text in English that will seem completely natural without any hint of foreignness. Where there is a lot of ill will toward a German author the probability that somebody with the requisite talent will make the effort to render a good, easy-to-read, and naturally flowing translation is rather small.  In Ralph Mannheim we were not so lucky.
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* The extreme case of such word-for-word translation is called Luebke English.

3 comments:

Organon said...
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Hadding said...

Zundel says that the Mannheim translation is "fairly good" in that it represents Hitler's ideas accurately.

What we are discussing here, what Ryback attacked, is the quality of Hitler's writing, not the content and whether it has been correctly understood. Mannheim's is on the whole an accurate translation -- I have found very little in it that did not accurately represent the meaning of what Hitler said -- but stylistically it is mediocre and does not do justice to Hitler's style, which is elegant. There are places where Mannheim's English renderings are too literal and consequently strange-sounding. The Mannheim translation speciously supports Heiden's claim that Hitler was a poor stylist.

Organon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.