Meet the Translator: Renata Stein

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Renata Stein is an ATA-accredited German to English translator, museum curator and multi-media artist. A native of Berlin, she came to the US in 1983 as a visiting scholar after having finished her Master’s Degree in Germany. Her academic specialization was American, Russian and English literature and she wrote her thesis on autobiographies by Russian Jews who fled from Czarist Russia to the U.S.   

Renata joined the Circle in 1984. She recalls that a sizable portion of the membership at that time was comprised of older European refugees from Germany and Eastern Europe, many of whom had fled Nazi persecution. The Circle brought together like-minded individuals with various language skills and diverse technical backgrounds. She particularly recalls Helmut Leuffen, an experienced banker, and Philippe Jerome, a technical translator. The Circle’s monthly meetings were enjoyable social occasions which were held in various ethnic restaurants around the city; lectures were organized as well. She also remembers the summer picnics which were sometimes held at Laurie Treuhaft’s family home in New Jersey.  

Renata’s interest in literature initially set her career path as a translator in motion. Her translation assignments grew out of her diverse work experience, including her involvement in the arts. She worked as Art Director of a film company in NYC that specialized in educational and children’s films where she did subtitling and also narrated several children’s films.

Her position as curator of the Leo Baeck Institute, a partner organization of the Center for Jewish History in Chelsea dedicated to documenting the history and culture of German-speaking Jews, frequently required translating German archival documents into English.  During her 20-year tenure, she curated well over forty exhibitions on a wide range of topics, including Starting Over, on the impact of German Jews in America and Perils of Prominence, about Jews in the Weimar Republic. While at the Institute, she was also often called upon by scholars and historians to translate their publications.

Some of her other projects include:

  • The diaries of Wilhelm Hesse, father of noted sculptor Eva Hesse, depicting the childhood of his daughters Eva and Helen.
  • the translation of the autobiography of a prominent  German-Jewish banker written for his family.
  • work on the documentary, Lodz Ghetto: A Community Under Siege, (1989) by Alan Adelson and Robert Lapides, for which she translated historical documents and eye witness accounts of life in the ghetto.
  • translation of interviews with German-Jewish survivors of Nazi Germany used in the book version of We Were So Beloved: Autobiography of a German Jewish Community that was originally released as a documentary film by Manfred Kirchheimer (1985).

Renata’s current projects include the translation of a catalog for an exhibition at the Bröhan museum in Berlin on the influence of the Bauhaus movement on Nordic design. Her translation of Rachel Wischnitzer’s 1935 book Form and Symbols in Jewish Art will also be published before the end of 2019.

Acknowledging the difficulty of making a living from translation in today’s marketplace, Renata’s advice to fledgling translators is to find a niche for which they are uniquely qualified and “to go for it.” She also advocates reading widely and frequently to improve your own writing skills and, most importantly, to exchange information with colleagues.

Thank you, Renata, for sharing your translation experiences with the Circle. See to find out more about Renata’s mixed-media artworks.

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