State Library of South Australia

Transcribing Tales: Bringing their voices to life

Date: 3 June 2015

Between 9 October 1914 and 17 August 1915 Torrens Island was used as an internment camp for some 350 'enemy nationals' of German or Austro-Hungarian descent. To improve morale, and because internees were not allowed access to newspapers, internee Walter Emde, edited and published three issues of their own newspaper in German in June 1915. The paper was called Der Kamerad: Wochenschrift der Kriegsgefangenen auf Torrens Island, S. Australien, or Comrades: weekly newspaper of the prisoners of war of Torrens Island, South Australia.

Der Kamerad newspaper of the Torrens Island internees 19 June 2015
Der Kamerad, newspaper of the Torrens Island internees, 19 June 2015

Fortunately, at least two sets of the newspaper survived to be donated to the Library in 1935, and Der Kamerad is now a significant piece of our World War One heritage. It has been displayed in the Treasures Wall on several occasions and loaned to other cultural institutions. But we have had little idea of its content, until our focus on the Centenary of Anzac provided the inspiration to get the newspaper translated.

This was made possible because one of our transcription volunteers, Rosemary Radden, is not only a former English teacher, but also an accomplished translator of French and German. She tackled the translation with enthusiasm mixed with trepidation, and it turned into a year's labour of love. Rosemary could be seen in the Library two days a week at her workstation surrounded by the tools of the translating trade - desk lamp, magnifying glass, original document, samples of German scripts, notepad, and two German dictionaries!

Transcribing tales
Transcription volunteer, Rosemary Radden, 2015.

In her preface, Rosemary highlights the difficulties posed for the translator working with writers from different backgrounds, languages, dialects and ethnic cultures, some of whom were highly educated, others with little formal education.

The workers on the Hamburg dockside, wharf side merchants and so on, would pronounce and speak very differently from the administrative and social classes. They would use local and current idioms and slang unknown even to some of the locals of their region. This adds to the difficulties of the translator without personal experience of the milieu. There is also the added problem of having to distinguish under such circumstances between truth, irony, humour and jokes. Add to this the historical and environmental background of the period and setting, and the sensitivity of the translator is challenged.

In the first issue of the newspaper, Walter Emde's editorial begins positively:

We begin the series of our weekly newspaper with strong conviction and good intention and, what is even more important, with an endless good will towards our readers. A few minutes cheerfulness and conversation for our comrades is what we aim to create. However, its ending reveals the internees' justifiable indignation at their plight: As a conclusion let it be said that hopefully what we all feel is that we are harmless.

Walter Emde's second editorial continues the theme:

We believe that we act in the name of all, when even in this place we give thanks for the loving care with which the Germans of Adelaide have thought of us. The articles of clothing were certainly welcome and we must be forever grateful to our compatriots that they have thought of us so abundantly in these difficult times when everyone is more or less involved.

Much of the newspaper's content is obscure to the modern-day reader, but it covered events in the camp, especially sport, serious items by the editor, and stories, poetry, cartoons and sketches by other internees. The poetry posed particular problems for Rosemary to capture not only the literal sense but also its poetical quality, for example:

There on the South Australian coast
Rumbling dully from the surging sea,
Where the rabbits live in the sand
and poisonous snakes nest,
Where God allows no flower to bloom,
Where only the seagulls gather.
That is Torrens Island,
desolate and empty,
And we were brought here
As prisoners by the Constables.

There were also ironic advertisements, for example:

Kaiser Café. Varied menu. High quality rooms, lighting and service. Cheap prices. All varieties of cakes delivered tastefully at short notice. Hot cocoa at all times. After several visits, we invite you to enjoy a Hamburger Willy.

For the drawing up of ships of all sorts and at the lowest prices I recommend myself. My shipyard especially recommended. Warships, dreadnoughts, battleships. F. Eckert. Tent J3

Some of these advertisements are for the photographer Paul Dubotzki who is represented in the Library in four striking images of the Torrens Island camp and its internees.

For those interested to read more about the Torrens Island internment camp, ask at your library for a new book, Interned: Torrens Island 1914-1915 by Peter Monteath, Mandy Paul and Rebecca Martin (Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2014). The Torrens Island camp also features in an exhibition at the Migration Museum until 16 August 2015.

And the great news at the State Library is that the catalogue record for Der Kamerad now gives access to a translation of 50 pages of the newspaper. It also links to the SA Memory website which has full sized PDF images of the newspaper, allowing interested people to read the text in German.

Danke schon to Rosemary for this magnificent piece of scholarship, which has brought the voices of a group of interned Germans to life after a hundred years.

Story by: Carolyn Spooner

Back to e-xtra Winter 2015 stories

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