Passing of a Translation Era: Ewald Osers Dies at 94

Ewald Osers, fellow Czech emigré, has been a great inspiration to me throughout my career as a translator. I had the honor of spending an evening with him and his wife in Paris at a FIT event in 2003, and we kept correspondence ever since. He will be missed by all who care about freedom, art, and love of life.
– Jiri Stejskal, President & CEO of CETRA Language Solutions

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Ewald Osers was born in Prague in May 1917 in a secular Jewish family. He studied chemistry in Prague and in London where he stayed after the Munich Agreement, working with the BBC until his retirement in 1977. Osers started translating poetry as soon as in 1937, mostly into his mother tongue German. In the UK he continued with the translation work, since 1942 exclusively into his “host” language English.

He translated dozens of non-fiction books from German, novels by Jiří Mucha, Arnošt Lustig, Ivan Klíma, Thomas Bernhard etc. but gradually became well-known for his poetry translations, first of all of Czech poets, such as Jaroslav Seifert, Vítězslav Nezval, Miroslav Holub, Jan Skácel but also of German poets (Rose Ausländer, Reiner Kunze, Hanns Cibulka and others), Bulgarian (Lubomir Levchev, Geo Milev and others) and Macedonian (Mateja Matevski), as well as poetry of the Silesian poet Ondra Lysohorsky. In the late 1980s Osers focused also on two major Slovak poets: Miroslav Válek (The Ground beneath our Feet, 1969) and Milan Rúfus (And That’s the Truth, 2006 – together with Viera and James Sutherland-Smith). In the 1990s he published poems by Štefan Strážay, Milan Richter, Margita Dobrovičová and others in British and US literary magazines and in the Slovak Literary Review in Bratislava. Recently Osers translated the famous autobiographical novel by Alfréd Wetzler, one of the Slovak Jewish escapees from Auschwitz, What Dante Didn’t See (under the title Escape from Hell) and two theatre plays on Kafka written by Milan Richter.

Ewald Osers published three volumes of his own poetry and a book of memoirs (The Snows of Yesteryears) which was translated also into Czech. He served as chairman of two British institutions (theTranslators Association and the Translators’ Guild) in the 1970s and 1980s and he was vice-president of the FIT (International Federation of Translators) for two terms. For his translations of around 150 books and promotion of national literatures in the English speaking world he received more than 25 prizes and honours.

By Nick Rosenthal