The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Shofman Travels Back to Wetzelsdorf, Or: Reaching New Readers After One Hundred Years

In the past two decades, we witnessed an increasing interest in translating Hebrew literature written before the Second World War. Many Hebrew texts emerged in the German-speaking lands, and for them, this is the first time they are translated into the language that dominated the environment they were conceived in. One of the most intriguing cases is the one of Gershon Shofman. In 2017, 79 years after Shofman left Wetzelsdorf near Graz, the Literaturverlag Droschl, based in the Styrian capital, published a volume with translated short stories. To a certain extent, the translation of his stories can be read as an attempt to link the author to the readership of the region he once lived in. The fact that mostly the stories from the second volume of his collected works - five volumes published by Am Oved-, which are often set in Europe in general and Austria in particular, have been selected for translation contributes to the notion of a late reconnection with the Austrian audience.
This paper traces the encounters Shofman’s texts had with the Grazian, Styrian and Austrian public between 2017 and 2022, thereby discussing the potentials and limits of translation. Consequently, I analyze critiques in newspapers and other media and the coverage of events that introduced the Hebrew writing author to the academic and broader public. It will thus become clear to what extent the new generation plays a crucial role in the rediscovery of Shofman and other authors. Nevertheless, I will also address the fact that Hebrew literature reaches only a minority within the general German readership, even in the majority language.
In conclusion, I aim to compare Shofman’s reception to one of the other Hebrew authors in the German Sprachraum, thus addressing the extent to which his case is particularly connected to the local culture.