Last year Viera Rybarova, professor of English language and literature in Bratislava, Slovakia, undertook a formidable task. Having read my Holocaust memoirs, she decided to translate one of the books into Slovak, where there is still a shortage of literature on the tragic fate of the Jews seventy years ago.
“First of all, under Communism, very few non-Communist memoirs were published, the history was distorted, the Holocaust and the Jews were cleared away into silence,” Professor Rybarova recalls.“After [the fall of Communism in] 1989 this topic became very alive, I am almost inclined to say requested. Your book had to compete with several books with a similar topic and it has won because of its quality. Readers of your book told me they enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. It describes the post-Holocaust period, what is an almost unknown topic here. Your book can reach new readers, I believe.”
This is what prompted Professor Rybarova to embark on the mission of not only translating, but finding a reputable publisher to print and widely distribute the Slovak version of the book. She felt it was imperative to make Jewish reading material available for Slovak readers, young and old, to counter prejudice with facts.
“I believe your book, that tells the story of Slovak Jewry from the personal perspective of a survivor will reach out to Slovak readers and touch their minds and hearts,” Dr. Rybarova reinforces. “I believe Slovak readers, all readers, not only the ‘converted’ ones, will think about the issues woven in the book and they will be affected by them.”
“What made you so sensitive to the issue?” I ask Viera.
“Both my parents were concentration camps survivors,” she replies. “So were all their friends. From my childhood I remember when my parents and their friends met they always spoke about concentration camps. When I was a child I thought to become an adult meant to go to a concentration camp first!” she confides with an embarrassed chuckle.
Viera Horakova was born in Slovakia during “the period of hard Communism, but fortunately, after the death of Stalin [and Hitler]!” Viera speaks with affectionate pride about her family. Her father, who died of cancer at a young age, was a lawyer, with the reputation of a good and honest man. Viera’s mother, Medy Lustig, a handsome eighty-eight year old woman, lives on her own in Bratislava near her daughter’s home. Viera’s husband of thirty-four years, endocrinologist Dr. Martin Rybar, shares Viera’s concern for and care of her mother.
The Rybars are the parents of two grown sons – Marek, 33, an engineer who designs technology for water treatment plants, and Thomas, 26, a Ph.D candidate in theoretical physics. His wife Ela is a journalist, reporting for a leading Slovak daily in Bratislava.
Viera studied English and Russian at the University of Bratislava, and got her Ph.D. degree in literary theory, working at the Academy of Sciences as a literary theorist. Since 1991 she has been teaching English at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, her students being future filmmakers and musicians. In addition, Dr. Rybarova has done translations from English to Slovak of articles, leaflets and programs for the Theater Institute and correspondence for various other institutions.
“Your book is my first ‘creative’ translation,” Dr. Rybarova discloses to me. “Before I dared take this step, I showed the translation of a small part to people whom I trust and they encouraged me. They shared both my idea that this book should appear in Slovak, and my fervent hope that it will make a positive impact on the attitudes of Slovak readers.”
Professor Viera Rybarova’s project is a small step in the grand design of changing history. As a famed historian taught: History does not hop on one foot; it crawls on a thousand feet. May Viera Rybarova’s one small step be blessed with the accomplishment of its remarkable mission.