This documentary is about the life of one of the most important translators of Russian literature into German: Juri Elperin. He translated more than 100 essential works of Russian writers, including Anna Achmatowa, Marina Zwetajewa, Wladislaw Chodassewitsch, Wassilij Grossman, Anatoli Rybakov.
But Juri's life is also representative for the Europe in the 20th century. Born 1917 in Switzerland as son of wealthy Russian Jews, the family was severely impacted by the Russian Revolution and had to move to Berlin where Juri grows up and where Juri spent his forming years. Berlin is his city. Driven out by the Nazis in 1933, the family settled in Paris for two years but without a valid visa and financial funds was forced to emigrate to the USSR two years later. Juri Elperin becomes then a highly decorated officer in the Red Army intelligence service, interrogating captured German officers. However, the anti-cosmopolitan campaign of Stalin 1950 forced him out of the army and he settles in the literary village Peredelkino - becoming the most important and revered translator of Russian literature into German. His friends includes not only cultural giants in the USSR but also writers in Germany and Switzerland. After the fall of the wall, Juri Elperin finally gets his German citizenship.
Today, the nearly 100 year old Juri Elperin lives together with his wife in Berlin Charlottenburg and is still active in the literary field.
A film by Grigory Manyuk and Manfred Wiesner
Born in Swiss Davos in 1917 to a wealthy, intellectual Jewish family, ‘the Translator’ Juri Elperin revisits today his life story as he journeyed across Europe during the historical events of the 20th century.
Due to the Revolution in Russia, Juri spends his forming years with his family in the thriving city of Berlin during the Republic of Weimar. The pioneering theatre director Max Reinhardt, amongst other cultural friends of his parents, is an inspirational figure for the young boy. The Third Reich was firmly
established in 1933, and the family fled to Paris, where Juri attended High school, soon to move again to the USSR where they remained.
The WWII erupts, during which the 24 year old Juri interrogated German officials for the Russian intelligence service at the special camp of Krasnogorsk. Yearning for his tormented country, Juri found homeland in language:
‘Hitler’s regime has taken a lot from me, but not the language, which is to me the embodiment of
Germany; this, he could not take.’
With the end of the war, he started teaching German linguistics at the Moscow State Linguistic University.Stalin’s “rootless” anti-cosmopolitan campaign takes off, whereupon highly decorated Juri, together with other Jewish and western-oriented intellectuals, withdrew to the literary village of Peredelkino.
From this small village and having no other resources, Juri Elperin, close to 40 years old, started translating. Over 150 Russian modern and classical works find a German audience through the writings of Juri, gaining him the national prize and a great fame amongst literary circles.
The Elperins set up a lively home in Peredelkino, where the family grew in the company of their cultural, intellectual and cosmopolitan friends. Amongst them were ‘Dr. Schiwago’ writer Boris Pasternak and the feisty journalist Elfie Siegel, whom we meet later in the film. Juri’s daughter also admits: ‘Outside of this house, we always felt strangers in Russia’. When in 2000 the house was burned down the family left Russia to return to Berlin.
Old personal pictures are merged with readings from Juri Elperin’s translated work throughout the film. We follow his honorary visit to University Basel in 2010, and in working with his colleague on a new book. Anecdotal stories from the translator’s circles provide an insight into his working life.
As we see Juri drinking tea with his wife of many years, we come to realise that the film is finally about old age. It is a documentary about an old man, who looks back to his life in full and celebrates it. An inspirational story about a man who always looked forward and never stopped working. In the closing
of the film Juri confesses:
‘Only when you get older you learn to appreciate time; when it is already over.
But that doesn’t mean that one should not use the time that still remains. One should: every day and
every year. We should enjoy the light, enjoy life and that everything goes on and on…’