17 August 2018

Ella Lingens-Reiner — Prisoners of Fear

The Austrian doctor Ella Lingens-Reiner (short biography here) spent 26 months in Nazi captivity, mostly in the Women's Concentration Camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. (For a more detailed chronology, see the end of this post.) Immediately after the war she wrote an impressive account of her experiences and Prisoners of Fear was published in London in 1948. I found it on the internet and read the pdf file. Having done so, I recommended it to my friends and relatives, especially the doctors among them. As the book was not available for loan where I live, I bought one of the extant copies on eBay (which I'll leave to the University Library) and read it again. Need I say I was very impressed with the book?

As with other books that impress me, I wanted to know all about its genesis. For one thing, I was convinced from the very beginning that Prisoners of Fear, with its perfect eloquent language and British units (yards, miles, Fahrenheit, stone), was a professional translation, and not by the author. This sparked my desire to find and read the original. After all, I never read a translated book if the original is written in a language that I understand, German for instance. Digging up the original took a lot of time and effort, and to make the complete history of the book more or less clear, I had to gather information from two national libraries (Austria and, yes, Australia) and two university libraries (Oxford and Warwick).

We will consider successively
  1. Gefangene der Furcht, 1947 (German typescript, unpublished)
  2. Prisoners of Fear, 1948 (English translation of 1)
  3. Prisoners of Fear, 1958 (paperback re-edition of 2)
  4. Gefangene der Angst, 2003 (German adaptation of 1 and 2)

1. Gefangene der Furcht, 1948

The German typescript was photocopied in 1990, and the photocopies bound in one volume: item # 1,368.922-C of the Austrian National Library (file card here). The very first section (Vorwort der Autorin, Author’s Preface) is typographically different from the rest of the typescript. It has in pencil the mention Rückübersetzt aus dem Englischen (re-translated from English) and so was inserted later, when the translation had already been made. The original five-page German Vorwort (Preface) is among Ilsa Barea’s papers in the Barea Archives of the Bodleian Library.

Many chapters have Roman numerals, some with the letter K (Kapitel, Chapter), but most of these intended chapter numbers are crossed out and none have been used. The author numbered the pages of each chapter independently of the other chapters, each time starting with 1. In two chapters she accidentally jumped a number. Below, we give her page numbers in parentheses.

Not counting the title page, and using the original Preface, the typescript must have contained 300 pages. We have ourselves numbered the pages of the typescript from 001 to 300. 

Gefangene der Furcht: title page, probably not from the typoscript

p001—Vorwort (1-6)
p007—Die Vorgeschichte (1-6)
p013—Verhör und Gefängnis (1-12)
p025—Vorbereitung aufs Lager und Fahrt nach Auschwitz (1-11)
p036—Die ersten Eindrücke (1-23)
p059—Das Frauenkonzentrationslager Birkenau bei Auschwitz (1-25)
p084—Das Krankenrevier im Frauenkonzentrationslager Birkenau bei Auschwitz (1-24)
p108—Das Inferno (1-28)
p136—Die Häftlinge. Die Deutschen. (1-39)
p175—Die Polinnen (1-10)
p185—Die Russinnen (1-7, number 3 accidentally jumped by the author)
p191—Die Jüdinnen (1-18, number 6 accidentally jumped by the author)
p208—Die Waffen SS (1-38)
p246—Zwischenspiel (1-10)
p256—Im Frauen-Aussenkommando ‘Agfa-Camera-Werke’ des KZ Dachau (1-22)
p278—Die letzten Wochen (1-14)
p292—Das Ende (1-9)
p300—last page.

2. Prisoners of Fear, 1948

The archives of the publishing company Victor Gollancz Ltd. are held at the Modern Records Centre of the University of Warwick Library (here). Among the documents we find a Contract Ledger (here) of which MSS.318/2/2/2 folio 88 contains Contract details, Sep 1947-Feb 1953 including

'Prisoners of fear' by Ella Lingens-Reiner, translated by Ilsa Barea

A lot can be inferred from the contract details rendered below.

Gollancz must have received the manuscript before 9 May 1947, this being the oldest date mentioned. A first cheque was paid on 30 May 1947 and a second one, passing proofs, on 21 November 1947. The Author’s Preface, dated December 1947, was written shortly afterwards and Prisoners of Fear was published on 6 May 1948. In Gollancz’s Left Book Club it was the monthly choice for April 1948; the books were restricted to club members because of their low price.

Returning to the ledger: apparently the title was Concentration Camp before being changed to Prisoners of Fear on 13 November 1947. In the column “Author and/or Proprietor” we find “(Dr. Lingens-Reiner)” above “Mrs. Ilsa Barea”, with the words “Agent/with(?)/Translator” added between the lines. In the book as it was published nothing indicates that it is a translation, and the Author’s Preface ending with “London, December 1947” adds to the illusion.

The translator's husband, Arturo Barea, signed the three-page Introduction. All his books were in Spanish, and it is well known that his wife Ilsa systematically translated them into English, with striking stylistic elegance. Ilse Pollak, also known as Ilse Kulcsar or Ilsa Barea, after her first and second husbands, had been born in Vienna but eventually went to live in Britain in 1939. (Relevant pages of a recent Ph.D. on Arturo and Ilsa Barea here.)

Comparison of the English text with the German original reveals that the translator has also done some editing; not infrequently, text has been moved, cut, modified, clarified or inserted. Cuts range from a single word to a chunk of two whole pages. Two cuts are indicated in the typescript by the handwritten mention, in pencil: (im englischen text) gestrichen (cut in the English text). Interestingly, some handwritten modifications in the typescript have been made after the translation was finished.

3. Prisoners of Fear, 1958

The last mention in the contract details of the ledger, in pencil, reads  

23/10/58 Rights reverted to author.

Not accidentally then the book got re-edited in 1958. The Bodleian Library of Oxford University has an Archive of Arturo and Ilsa Barea (catalogue here), which comprises

>  J. Ilsa Barea's correspondence 1940-1972  
> Ilsa Barea's correspondence with friends  
> Folder 6: 
Ella Lingens-Reiner, author of Prisoners of Fear translated by Ilsa Barea

There we find a letter, dated 18th March 1958, from Ilsa Barea to Frank Rudman, the pioneering British paperback publisher. It starts as follows

Apparently, the paperback edition of Ella Lingens-Reiner's Prisoners of War (sic) was going well by then. Nevertheless, this 1958 edition as Ace Book H184 is hardly ever mentioned and it proved very difficult worldwide to find a copy. Eventually, the National Library of Australia provided me with the following precious reproductions of their paperback Bib ID 2256476.

The whole ACE BOOKS series is cheap, in every way, but at least translator Ilsa Barea is given full credit. Perhaps she simply took it, because in her letter she refers to "the Gollancz protest", which shows that the parting with the first editor had not been a friendly one.

4. Gefangene der Angst, 2003

The German edition of 2003, when Ella Reiner was 95 years of age, is edited by her son Peter Michael Lingens. The original title has been slightly changed: "Furcht" is replaced with "Angst” which is more or less synonymous. In the preface (p.9, here) we learn that the new book was obtained from both the English edition and the German manuscript by omitting and adding material.


In her book Ella describes, not strictly chronologically, her life from October 1942 to June 1945. The following episodes can be distinguished, though for most of them the information is scattered. 

  1. Police prison in Vienna (October 13, 1942 - February 16, 1943, being 4 months): pp.2-15
  2. Transfer to Auschwitz/Birkenau (4 days): pp.16-19
  3. Concentration Camp Auschwitz/Birkenau (February 20, 1943-early December 1944, being 22 months) 
  4. Transfer to Dachau (early December 1944, five days): pp.159-162
  5. 'Notables' Prison Building of Concentration Camp Dachau (2 December 1944, three days): p.162-163
  6. Transfer to Munich: p.163
  7. Munich/Giesen working party in the Agfa factory of I.G. Farben (mid December 1944-mid February 1945, being two months): pp.163 and following
  8. Nervous breakdown and transfer to Dachau (mid-February 1945): p.179
  9. Women's hospital in Concentration Camp Dachau (mid-February 1945-April 29, 1945, two and a half months), first as a patient, then as a doctor: pp.180-189
  10. In the liberated former camp Dachau (April 29, 1945-mid June 1945, seven weeks): pp.189-195.
Her stay in Auschwitz/Birkenau (item 3) is further subdivided as follows:
  • a few days as an ordinary prisoner: p.20 and following, p.113
  • as a doctor in the German ward
  • as a doctor in the Polish ward, punished for not coping with the German prostitutes, p.107
  • as a typhus patient (13 days ill, then three weeks recovery, ending in August 1943: p.52, 58, 143) 
  • as a doctor in another Polish ward, p.109 
  • as a doctor for the agricultural working party in Babice 
  • as a doctor in the ward of the former Gypsy Family Camp (November 1944): p.54, p.157 
Thanks to the internet, many people whose names are not given in the book can be precisely identified. The experienced Jewish doctor who helps Ella professionally and with whom the personal friendship continued after the war is Lucie Adelsberger