Tanya Josefowitz, "I Remember" read in terms of Oscar Wilde


Leer, 7th March 2019

Dear readers of my blog,

while teaching writing various text types to my students – no matter whether in English, French, or German – I consider writing myself quite a challenge since it means to negotiate between what I regard as essential for adolescents who need to write for “marks” or “credits” and what I feel imperative to do once writing needs to pass the “reality test”. In writing a blog, I am glad to notice that not all bloggers keep addressing their audience throughout the entry, and that there are also quite sober ways of talking to the readers on the Internet.

Today I begin by publishing a poem based on a research into the words following that of “translator” in an English dictionary which I wrote when I was still recovering from two years of immersion into the world of Oscar Wilde. Here it is:

Multiplying one’s personality


rewriter in another’s mother tongue;


dealer in words deemed second-best;


smuggler of forbidden words;


teacher passing on oddities;


walker lagging behind in alien territory;


author of Freudian slips;


copyist with tongue in cheek;


salesman of linguistic software;


trespasser in no-man’s land beyond grammatical bounds;


passenger to India portside out starboard-side home;


producer of a new work;


huntsman in uncharted linguistic territory;


caller at many ports;


fisherman catching rarities;


minister of ancient words and folklore;


bird of passage cutting across the countryside;


deceiver of self and others;


informer infringing two contracts;


whoever cares for several writers;


fireman alerted at short notice;


reliable worker at words;


absentee at all book launches;


caretaker manager of someone else’s words abroad.

Münster, 21 & 22 May 2001

The first part of this poem is going to be reprinted as part of the afterword to Tanya Josefowitz’s memoir I Remember. Only when I was repeatedly asked what the hell – excuse this deviation from a sober diction! ‒ this meant in the context of the afterword did I recall the occasion that urged me to write it. With hindsight, it was too obvious for me to have thought of it in the first place! Oscar Wilde himself who liked to talk about “multiplying one’s personality”. Only after first publishing this post did I rediscover two passages where Wilde mentioned the phrase. He did so in his essay “The Critic as Artist”: “What is mind but motion in the intellectual sphere? The essence of thought, as the essence of life, is growth. What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our personalities.” Slightly later, in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, he made his protagonist ask: “Is insincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities.” (both quoted from Oscariana. Epigrams. Privately Printed by Arthur Humphreys. 1895. Facsimile, London: Head of Zeus, 2018, p. 30; p. 65) Translators who are also often chastised for being traitors – traduttore traditore as it is said in Italian – need to change identities as often as they change authors and or languages in order to survive. With Wilde, they need not be considered “insincere”. Indeed, they are multiplying their identities, just as all artists in whatever genre or specialty do.

So it may have taken me some time to understand why Tanya Josefowitz’ memoir appealed to me so much – not least by means of the very quality of the book I was sent when asked to translate her memoir. Both in terms of binding, paper, and typesetting, I Remember in its original edition, privately printed in London in 1999, would also have appealed to Oscar Wilde with his weakness for the best materials, the best bookbinder etc. etc. He was right. That is why not only the books as items to be forever reprinted have survived to this day. Also the manuscripts and typescripts he prepared himself or had done by typists have come down to us more or less unscathed. He was a conservative in the sense that he sought to preserve things while he was still committed to living a daily life when “I Remember” was not on the agenda. He only remembered when it was too late – in prison and after having been released. Here are the bibliographical data of the book which is soon going to be issued:

Tanya Josefowitz, I Remember / Ich denke an. . ., edited and annotated with an afterword by / herausgegeben, übersetzt, mit Anmerkungen und einem Nachwort versehen von Jörg W. Rademacher, Coesfeld: Elsinor, 2019, 132 pp.

Once it is ready for sale, I will not hesitate to post it, be assured, with ISBN and retail price and tell you how and where to order it!

While reading the proofs – at the moment I am studying the 17th PDF, today, the 18th has been dispatched to publisher, typesetter, and initiator! – all sorts of questions arose from the text that could not be answered in providing notes and comments but which would possibly help readers to explore the multiple aspects this very short memoir contains. Over several weeks, I was thus able to compile a list of “Subjects for further studies” which should not, however, be considered exhaustive. One case in point is the chapter “Once on the moving train” which you will find indexed below. It is the “Flight chapter” and as such contains the most exciting and, indeed, traumatic scenes. This is why I thought it could be explored by an arts class. The photographs in the book show how Tanya, her brother Vladimir and her mother looked at the time, so that there are models that could be varied when going through the text.

This, though, is just one example among many possible approaches to the text. If you do undertake any of these studies, please feel free to contact me, so that we could share this experience. Very soon, my own students will have compiled a list of questions to be answered in a video message by Tanya Josefowitz herself. This might be of interest for you as well. This is all for today.

Best regards,

JWR (revised Saturday, 9th March 2019)

And now have a look at:

Subjects for further studies:

accordion: p. 15, p. 18, p. 120 (German folk and “Nazi” songs of the time; sample; photo showing Vladimir Kagan with his accordion)

activities in New York: p. 36, p. 37, p. 38 (2), p. 40 (music: research, sample the songs), p. 41 (2)

age: p. 5, p. 37

American Dream: p. 37

Anne Frank: 102, 106, p. 111, p. 116, p. 119, p. 121

arts, the: p. 36, p. 38, p. 39, p. 40, p. 41, p. 96, p. 99, p. 100

Aufbau, a German-Jewish paper in New York, p. 39

bird’s eye’s view of Paris: p. 23

both children in one class: p. 35

brother and sister: p. 38

Catholic mass: p. 32

chronology: p. 5, p. 11, p. 12, p. 13, p. 20, p. 33, p. 35, p. 39

contexts: p. 24 (account by Yehudi Menuhin, Unfinished Journey, about departures for the USA from Le Have or Cherbourg, p. 156)

currency: p. 15, p. 37 (“From Rags to Riches”)

emigration: p. 124

expulsion conditions: p. 7

family in the US: p. 9

find and collect words and phrases showing Tanya’s well-being

flashback from 1999: p. 8

food: p. 15, p. 18, p. 21, p. 24, p. 25, p. 26, p. 29, p. 31, p. 32, p. 37, p. 38, p. 42

groups of refugees from Germany: p. 8

helper 1: pp. 16-21 (“guardian angel”), p. 42

helper 2: pp. 24-26 (“guardian angel”, “miracle”)

Jewish legend: p. 35 (city guides in Worms recount the story of the pregnant Jewish woman)

Kitty”, cat: p. 37, p. 40 (“Kitty” is also the fictitious person Anne Frank addresses her diary to)

language: p. 15 (emphasis), p. 17 (reported speech; subjunctive; infinitive), p. 25 (free indirect speech), p. 32 (sentence structure)

local colour: pp. 5/6, p. 17 (2), p. 23, p. 27, p. 29, p. 30 (2), p. 32 (2), p. 34, p. 37, p. 41

map: p. 9, p. 11 (2), p. 12, p. 21 (2), p. 22, p. 23, p. 24, p. 25, p. 27, p. 28, p. 31, p. 32, p. 41 (3)

message to the descendants, to the young: p. 42

miracle: p. 35, p. 42

money: p. 11, p. 36, p. 37, p. 38

Once on the moving train. . .” (pp. 13-22), the “Flight chapter”, sequence of drawing with captions to be chosen from the text itself: p. 13 (ll. 1-6, ll. 7-13, ll. 13-17); p. 14 (ll. 1-4; ll. 6-9; 18- p. 15, l. 3); p. 15 (ll. 5-8, ll. 15-17); p. 16 (l. 3; ll. 10-16; 19- p. 17, l. 5); p. 17 (ll. 6/7; ll. 10-13; ll. 15-17); p. 18 (ll. 12-15); p. 19 (ll. 1-3; ll. 5/6); p. 20 (ll. 1/2; ll. 5-10; ll. 12-14); p. 21 (ll. 1-3; ll. 6-10; ll. 15/15); p. 22 (ll. 8-11)

people in New York: p. 36

people to identify: p. 11, p. 32

popular culture: p. 38

refugee: p. 5, p. 8, p. 9, p. 10, p. 11, p. 12-21, p. 25, p. 27, p. 29, p. 30, p. 31, p. 36, p. 40, p. 42

restrictions, laws in Germany in the 1930s: p. 5, p. 34

scenes told by her mother: pp. 19/20

schedule: p. 12

social network in Worms: p. 9

Synagogue: pp. 34/35

trauma: p. 6, p. 13, p. 16, p. 17, p. 18, p. 19 (spelled out), p. 23, p. 26, p. 33 (2), p. 40

very exciting moment: p. 20






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