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Translation and Censorship in European Environments

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Antonia KeratsaIntroduction

Studying translation in the shadow of censorship means investigating the manipulatory mechanisms used as an assault on original texts in order to alter their meaning and exclude the reader from the choices made in the Source Language. In strong nationalistic European environments, censorship in translation has been used as a powerful tool in order to help safeguard the nations' cultures from outside influences and promote the regimes' ideologies. The purpose of this essay is to examine the translation industry in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Franco's Spain, and provide short examples of manipulatory processes that translations have been subjected to, due to the imposition of strict censorship measures.

Part 1—Translation and Censorship in Fascist Italy

Mussolini's true and seductive motives under his mask of innocence can easily be discerned. His government's aim was to be popular and impose its ideology on Italian society. Mussolini wished to convince the Italian people that he would lead them into an era of cultural prosperity and national achievements. On the other hand, he wanted to avoid any kind of criticism from his people or abroad concerning his government's tactics. Thus, he established control over all forms of mass communication, such as the radio, cinema, theatre, press and books.

During the 1920's there was no centralized censor for books, no distinction was made between Italian and foreign literature, and there were no specific criteria for censoring translations. However, during the 1930's Italy published more translations, mostly of English and American popular fiction, than any other European country. It was, however, obvious that "the regime did not want Italy to appear too receptive to foreign influences since excessive receptivity would imply a failure on the part of the fascist revolution to create a culture of its own" (Rundle, 1999:428). This fact along with the regime's wish to promote Italian culture led the Ministry of Popular Culture (Ministerio di Cultura Popolare) to enact strict preventive laws concerning translations.

Thus, publishers were forced to notify the Ministry and seek permission before publishing any translations of foreign books. Moreover, translations of all fictional works and works of entertainment had to be limited or at least carefully and discretely "edited'—a euphemism for censored, as Peter Fawcett (1995:184) claims—since fascists were too sensitive to their image and the world opinion that they did not want their propaganda tactics to be revealed. Publishers were also obliged to resort to pre-publication self-censorship, since banning of a work after publication could cause them great financial losses or even force them into bankruptcy.

A typical example of the regime's xenophobic hostility and preventive control exercised on translations is Americana (Rundle, 2000:76), a two-volume anthology of contemporary American literature translated by a number of Italian writers and edited by Elio Vittorini. The publication of the anthology was banned twice, since the regime did not wish to "perform acts of courtesy towards America, not even literary ones" (Rundle, 2000:79), and when it was finally authorized, several of its parts had to be removed so as to conform to the regime's ideology.

Another act against Americanisation concerned children's comics and adventure stories. Franco's government wished to protect and provide guidance to newer generations. Thus, as Rundle (2000:81) states, all "harmful" characters such as Buffalo Bill and Mandrake had to be removed from children's books and made more Italian to the extent that the characters with Anglo-Saxon physiognomies were drastically eliminated.

It is evident that Mussolini's manipulatory tactics and severe measures aimed at consolidating his regime's power, exalting fascist values and isolating the Italian culture from foreign influences. However, the Italian people were very receptive to foreign cultures and therefore the regime did not succeed in organizing an effective system of censorship against the invasion of foreign elements and the creation of a translation industry.

Part 2—Translation and Censorship in Nazi Germany

In Nazi Germany, translators were viewed as enemies of the domestic culture. Nazi journals referred to translation as a threat to the authenticity and integrity of German society and a danger to its cultural production Thus the regime wished to reduce the invasion of foreign elements by promoting pro-Nazi literature and banning all publications that were against the Nazi ideology. "The approved book would express the German soul, working with elements like race, health, purity, leadership, manliness/womanliness, rural life in conflict with a demonized city" (Sturge, 1999:137). Therefore, censorship was considered essential in order to preserve all consonant elements with the Nazi ideology and protect the people from influences of "insidious" nature.

During the 1930's, control of books and translations was unregulated and unpredictable and this provoked fear and insecurity in the publishers. Self-censorship was therefore essential, as they could not afford the financial loss that potential banning of their works could bring about. After 1933, control over publications and especially translations became more regulated and pre-publication censorship was established. Censorship was exercised by Goebbels's propaganda Ministry and the Gestapo and it was invisible to the readers as "it worked via the (non-) availability of books for sale and in libraries" (Sturge, 1999:138).

Once the war began, all translations from enemy countries were severely censored or banned, so as to prove that foreign cultures were inferior and hostile to the German culture. Sturge (1999:139) describes the propaganda tactics exercised by the literary journal Bucherkund issued by the Nazi party's office for political education. The journal, published monthly between 1934 and 1944, consisted of a list of "recommended" and "not recommended" works, reviews of translations mostly from English and French, and other topics about contemporary literature. However, in later issues, the dominance of English and French translations was eliminated and replaced by translations from languages of other more "friendly" nations. Moreover, "translations into German were praised when the foreignness was reduced and the image of the foreign culture received by German readers was accurate in Nazi terms" (Itziar, 1999:43).

Sturge (1999:143) provides two examples concerning translations of French and English literature in German. In both cases the German versions had to be accurate in NS terms, thus aiming at indicating the inferiority of the source language cultures. In the first case, Julien Green's "Minuit" was translated in such a way that portrayed French people as morbid and nihilistic. Furthermore, the translation of AG MacDonnell's "Autobiography of a Cad" aimed at proving that English people were degenerate snobs.

It should be pointed here that the Nazi's repression was not only mirrored in translated literature but also in other artistic, translation-oriented activities, such as the theatre. "Germans regarded the stage as a forum for serious moral, ethical and political debate" (Meech, 2000:128). Therefore, since the regime wished to expurgate all alien and hostile elements from German theatre, the Ministry of Culture acted as a censor, exercising power and keeping control on foreign scripts destined for the stage.

Translation in Nazi Germany was viewed as a threat and dangerous tool that would facilitate contamination of the target culture from foreign invasions. As such, translations that did not conform to the regime's norms were expurgated or blacked out and translators or publishers often faced expulsion and murder.

Part 3—Translation and Censorship in Franco's Spain

'Cultural censorship played a vital role in Franco's regime. It was perhaps the most effective element of the dictatorship, without which Franco would not have been able to control Spanish society" (Itziar, 1999:54). Franco's aim was to preserve his regime's ideology and isolate Spanish culture from foreign influences. In order to achieve that, his censorship had to be concerted and it was thus carried out by three departments: the Book Censorship section, the Cinema and Theater Department and the Information and Censorship section.

All three departments were responsible for banning every artistic work that posed a threat to the regime's ideology. Sexual morality, politics, religion and the use of language were the main sensitive issues with regard to censorship. As far as books were concerned, not only was pre-publication censorship by the government established, but works were also subjected to self-censorship by the author or translator and editorial censorship by publishers. Only works that viewed the Spanish political situation positively were authorised and this fact led most Spanish Republican writers to become exiles for rejecting francoist tactics.

Translated literature in Spain was destined to fill in this gap. However, only translations of minor foreign authors were authorized for publication in Spain and those of important ones were either manipulated or banned. Thus, "translation in post-war Spain was more than a mere linguistic task. The intervention of the government was such that the translator almost had to forget his/her linguistic skills" (Itziar, 1999:83).

Itziar (1999:76) provides two examples of such manipulations. First of all in Ernest Hemingway's novel Across into the Trees, the word "Franco" was removed from the phrase "General Fat-Ass Franco" in all Spanish editions. Moreover, Hemingway's text for the film The Spanish Earth, produced to raise money for the Republicans during the war, was banned.

In the Spanish film industry, dubbing was a prevalent element. It was used "as an ideological instrument for reinforcing nationalistic feeling through the imposition, unification and standardization of the national language" (qtd. In Itziar: 57). As such, original voices in films were erased and access to other languages was restricted. With this tool Franco's regime wanted to exclude foreign influences and create the illusion that the censored foreign film was produced in Spain with the standards of Franco's Spain.

Jeroen Vandaele (2002:267) states that "francoist censorship boards regulated the importation of comedy according to their own standards of humor" and gives two examples of francoist film censorship concerning Billy Wilder's comedies The Apartment and Some Like It Hot. Both films had been great commercial successes in America and Europe. However, many of the films' prevalent characteristics such as extramarital affairs, suicidal tendencies and alcoholism were considered taboo issues and had to be banned. Vandale states that much humour was deleted or changed because it was considered immoral or amoral and only a small number of fragments containing subversive material were kept. Thus both films were manipulated and substantially reshaped.

Hostility towards foreignness in Franco's Spain proves that "the cultural policy of the regime was more concerned about controlling the development of alternative cultures than the creation of an original culture of its own" (Itziar, 1999: 54). This is why Franco tried to establish a severe and restrictive system of censorship and regulate the intrusion of foreign elements into Spain. However, his measures were not sufficient or effective enough since influences from the West were so strong that Franco was finally forced to relax his suppressive laws and allow some freedom of expression. Thus, loss of power of Spanish censorship was gradually achieved and artistic revival started to emerge.


"Translation in all its forms is frequently the site of a variety of power plays between the actors involved. Some of these are quite deliberate manipulations of the original for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from the desire to save money to the desire to control behaviour, from the desire to follow perceived norms to the desire for cultural hegemony" (Fawcett, 1995:177). When translation is deprived of its air of innocence and influenced by acts of violence, such as censorship, cultural and ethical shocks are inevitably involved. The above is the case of translation in the nationalistic environments explored, where translation was viewed as a threat and censorship was supposed to provide guidance and protection from invasion and "pollution" by foreign elements.


  • Fawcett, Peter (1995) "Translation and Power Play" in Mona Baker (ed) The Translator. Studies in Intercultural Communication, Vol 1, No 2, Manchester: St Jerome publishing, 177-192.
  • Itziar, Crespo (1999) "Translating in a Nationalistic Context: Censorship in Translation under Franco" Diss. UMIST.
  • Meech, Antony (2000) "The Irrepressible in pursuit of the impossible. Translating in the Theatre of GDR" in Carole-Anne Upton (ed) Moving Target. Theatre Translation and Cultural Relocation, Manchester: St Jerome publishing, 127-137.
  • 'O Cuilleanain Cormac (1999) "Not in front of the Servants. Forms of Bowdlerism and Censorship in Translation" in Jean Boase-Beier and Michael Holman (ed) The Practices of Literary Translation. Constraints and Creativity, Manchester: St Jerome publishing, 71-80.
  • Rundle, Christopher (1999) "Publishing Translations in Mussolini's Italy: A case study of Arnoldo Mondadori" in Susan Bassnett, Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli and Margherita Ulrych (ed) Textus. English Studies in Italy, Vol XII, No 2, Genova: Tilgher, 427-442.
  • Rundle, Christopher (2000) " The Censorship of Translation in Fascist Italy" in Mona Baker (ed) The Translator. Studies in Intercultural Communication, Vol 6, No 1, Manchester: St Jerome publishing, 67-86.
  • Sturge, Kate (1999) "A Danger and a Veiled Attack. Translating into Nazi Germany" in Jean Boase-Beier and Michael Holman (ed) The Practices of Literary Translation. Constraints and Creativity, Manchester: St Jerome publishing, 135-146.
  • Vandaele, jeroen (2002) "Funny Fictions: Francoist Translation Censorship of Two Billy Wilder Films" in Mona Baker (ed) The Translator. Studies in Intercultural Communication, Vol 8, No 2, Manchester: St Jerome publishing, 267-302.


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