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Dr Hans Schneider talks about his life and favorite books – Page 2

Dr Hans Schneider’s life in Chile…

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you get out of the country when you fled Germany in 1939?

HANS SCHNEIDER: Jews in Germany in 1938 were in a catch-22 situation: to obtain exit permits you needed not only a visa from another country but also transport that was almost impossible to obtain in mid-1939; the Nazi authorities also required large payments which drained many people of the necessary money to emigrate.

We left on an Italian steamer, I believe on its second last trip before the war.

My last memory of Germany was to be thrown out of the dining car on the train to Genoa “Jews are not allowed!”.

RV: Was it difficult adjusting to life in Chile?

HS: The first years in Chile were not easy but I soon spoke Spanish fluently and after the first 4-5 years, my friends were mainly Chileans.

I did not like the attitude of the older generation of migrants who found everything wrong with their new country, stuck together and never learned properly neither language nor customs although many were hard-working and educated people who soon managed to make a decent living.

I had been fumbling around with radio sets for a few years and done a short course in repairs so I started to work full-time at 14 a few months after arriving in Santiago. With World War II, people wanted to listen to overseas stations and I helped to tune up their sets and install rooftop antennas in my spare time.

Eventually, I worked for a few years in a small outfit that serviced about every type of electrical devices, from radios and 8/16mm movie projectors to medical equipment; when the owner left Chile, it became mine.

RV: How did you start studying geography?

HS: In the early 1960s, I had become dissatisfied with the life of a businessman.

My workshop had long been sold, I had been living on my own for a number of years, and I was running a large sporting goods company that involved heavy work and responsibilities.

I had never finished my secondary education so the first step was to get the certificate that would allow me to sit for admission to University.

With the help of my girlfriend whom I married a little later, I managed to get through better than I had thought and so, at 35, I consulted with friends what to study.

For somebody like myself, with a broad range of interests but little specialised knowledge, Geography seemed a good idea.

RV: What were you doing when you were working in China?

HS: I worked in China (1963-4) for the Foreign Language Press, translating articles and books from English (not Chinese!) to Spanish.

My main work was with “China Pictorial” a glossy Life-size magazine mainly publishing articles about travel, culture and history in China.

RV: How did you come to work in China?

HS: After fleeing from Germany in 1939, I worked in Chile as an electronics and radio repairer, business manager and at 35, went back to University to study Geography.

Through my work with the Peace movement, I met and served as an interpreter for the first Chinese delegation to visit South America and Chile in the 1950s.

I had an invitation to come to China then but the turmoil of the Great Leap Forward and ensuing famine prevented the Chinese for several years to accept new arrivals.

RV: How long were you in China for?

HS: With my wife, we stayed in Beijing for one year.

Although we were offered a renewal of our contracts, we had decided to go back to Chile.

I must stress that we were exceedingly well treated, invited as honoured guests to major events and had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with, among others, Chou En-lai who gave me a card of thanks for our work.

RV: What difficulties did you face when translating?

HS: Translation difficulties arose mainly because of lack of agreement between the original source in Chinese, the master translations to English and Russian done by the Chinese themselves, and the final copy.

Myself and other colleagues working in other languages (German, Italian, French, Arabic etc.) tried to make the magazine more readable to the general public.

Our Chinese co-workers vastly outnumbered us – in my case one to eight – and tried to make the translation as literal as possible.

They were also probably scared that to allow us foreigners too much liberty could get them into trouble, something that was not really much in my mind but which in the light of the events of the Cultural Revolution and its disastrous consequences now makes me sorry about my insensibility.

In any case, work with China Pictorial, Radio Beijing or ‘China Reconstructs’ (directed by Mme. Soong Ching-Ling, Sun Yat-sen’s widow) was considerably less stressful than translating the works of Mao Ze-dong.

The latter involved endless haggling over the most minute differences in opinion and it was not uncommon that several translators would be called in separately to check on one another.