Solomon Konstantinowitsch Apt

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Solomon Konstantinowitsch Apt ( Russian Соломон Константинович Апт ; born September 9, 1921 in today's Ukrainian Kharkov ; † May 7, 2010 in Moscow , Russia ) was one of the most important Russian translators of classical German literature of the 20th century. His main work is the translation of the tetralogy of the novel Joseph and his brothers by Thomas Mann .

In addition to Thomas Mann, he has translated many works by Bertolt Brecht , Hermann Hesse , Franz Kafka and Robert Musil into Russian - but also Elias Canetti , Friedrich Dürrenmatt , Max Frisch , Günter Grass , Adalbert Stifter and the fairy tales by Wilhelm Hauff .


Apt came from a Jewish family. For four years he attended a German school in Kharkov whose teachers were Volga Germans . When the school was closed, he received private lessons from a German-speaking teacher. In 1929, when he was still at elementary school, the first five-year plan came into force in the Soviet Union . With the rise of Stalinism , his father's textile factory was confiscated and his father was arrested.

When the father after three months was released, the political authorities sent him to the correctional colony for young homeless people and criminals FE Dzerzhinsky in Kharkov, where he had to build a production facility, the known cameras of brand in today FED are made. The head of this colony was the pedagogue Anton Makarenko , whom the writer Maxim Gorky made world famous.

At the beginning of World War II , the colony was relocated to Siberia . In Tomsk , Apt's father became deputy colony head for production and reported directly to the Ministry of Interior. Probably for this reason, and because his son had weak eyesight, Solomon Apt was exempted from military service and instead works in a laboratory for spectral analysis .

When the Moscow State University (MGU) a department for 1944 classics newly instituted and was urgently seeking students to Solomon Apt wrote there for Latin and Greek one. He did his doctorate on the ancient Roman poet Juvenal and received job offers from MGU and today's Linguistic University.

Because of his Jewish origins, he had no chance of pursuing a scientific career as a classical philologist in Moscow . Twenty application letters from Minsk via the North Caucasus to Vladivostok were also unsuccessful. Instead, Solomon Apt translated from English for the director of the Moscow Botanical Garden , Charles Darwin . His name was not mentioned in the Russian translation, but the professor thanked him personally in the foreword of the edition.

He struggled through life for two years with occasional translations until he finally got a job as a Latin teacher at the Pedagogical University in the small town of Orechowo-Sujewo near Moscow. A number of well-known Jewish scholars work at the institute who have not been given a permit to move to Moscow. Solomon Apt taught Latin for five years until he was allowed to return to Moscow in 1956 because friends had given him the assignment to translate Aristophanes . This laid the foundation for the profession of translator.

Solomon Apt was married to the literary critic and publisher Yekaterina Starikova , whom he met in Moscow in 1944 as a student.


The main work of Solomon Apt is the translation of the tetralogy of the novel Joseph and his brothers by Thomas Mann . Apt had worked on the Joseph novel for seven years , his most difficult and important translation work.

After Stalin's death in 1953 there was enormous demand for books because previously only two or three literary translations were allowed to be published per year. Solomon Apt risked a translation of the Joseph novel together with Boris Suchkov, who became editor-in-chief of GosLitIsdat (“State Publishing House for Literature”) and later director of the Russian Institute for World Literature straight from Stalin's prison camps . There was much resistance to this: the state censors criticized the work as ideologically risky because of the story of the Jews it tells and the many motifs in the Bible. In addition, the Soviet leadership clearly sided with the Arabs in the Six Day War in the Middle East. The publication of the Joseph novel hung by a thread for a long time. But when the first edition appeared in 1968, the 50,000 copies were sold out in three days and traded dearly on the black market, as were later editions.



“Each work differs from the other through the uniqueness of the text, the uniqueness of the person of the author, the uniqueness of the time and the environment of a work. Tasks arise that you have to solve every time anew and at your own risk. Theory doesn't help. Translation is a kind of art. ”- Solomon Apt on the translator's job.

“There is the text and an abundance of impressions. The author has done everything, so there is no point in discussing with him what his work sounds like in Russian. He doesn't know. It's up to the translator. ”- Solomon Apt on the author's role in the translation.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Radetzkaja in the translator database of the VdÜ, 2019