July 3, 2012

A Father’s Insights on Roosevelt Now Available in English Edition

Borough resident Marianne Farrin has worn many hats over the years: Stanford University alumna, wife, mother (raising her three children on several continents), psychotherapist, theologian. The list goes on, and has always, by the way, included sports like swimming, cycling (as in serious, days-long cycling commitments), and rowing. Her most recent role is translator; she has translated from German to English, Roosevelt: A Revolutionary with Common Sense, the book written in 1933 by her late father, Helmut Magers.

Magers’s book is a paean to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s swiftly-implemented accomplishments in the early 1930s. In 1930-1931, the German-born Magers spent a year as an Honorary Fellow at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Initial skepticism about Roosevelt’s plans to reinvigorate the country turned to admiration as Magers observed what he described as “’a top-down’ revolution that, in generosity and reasoning, surpasses any radical social change currently experienced elsewhere in the world.”

“Magers’s reflections on Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the daunting challenges to American society posed by the Great Depression provide a remarkably prescient, and hitherto overlooked contemporary German perspective on the relevance of the New Deal to a world in crisis,” said Rutgers University History Department Chair Michael Adas of the English edition prepared by Ms. Farrin.

Sadly, Magers’ dream that Germany and other strife-ridden countries would emulate some of the economic policies that were proving successful in the U.S. never happened. Instead, he was silenced for what was considered progressive writing and thinking by Hermann Göring, a high ranking Nazi official. Magers was ultimately sent to fight on the Russian front in 1944, a fate Ms. Farrin describes as “a death sentence.” An advice-filled letter to her written from her father, who was then stationed in the Crimea, suggests that he knew his fate.

It wasn’t until 1951 that the family received a letter from the Red Cross describing Magers as “missing in action.” In the interim, Ms. Farrin says, “The silence was devastating.” A soldier who remembered Magers later described how they were eventually taken to a camp called Mogilev in Belarus as prisoners of war by the Soviet Army. Mr. Magers died there of typhoid fever in the spring of 1945, at age 38. Magers apparently, never lost his admiration for this country; the former soldier described how Magers would entertain them at night with stories about America.

Ms. Farrin, who was born in 1938, escaped to Denmark with her mother and two siblings. Ten years later they immigrated to America, and eventually settled in California. Ms. Farrin reports that she was very self-conscious about being a German in this country, and that she grew up quickly as the eldest child and helpmate to her mother.

Ms. Farrin’s sense of purposefulness and determination were apparent early. Moved by the grandeur of the procession and ceremony she observed as a junior at Hollywood High School graduation, she determined that she would be next year’s valedictorian, and she was. She moved on to Stanford, where she met husband, Jim Farrin (Princeton University class of 1958), with a full scholarship.

Ms. Farrin says she has no idea how the German edition of the book was received in Germany when it was originally published. A copy of the first edition is in the Presidential Library at Hyde Park, and Mr. Magers’s inscription is reproduced in the new edition of the book: “To the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in profound admiration of his conception of a new economic order, and with devotion to his personality.” It is signed “The author, Berlin, Germany, November 9, 1933.”

Translating her father’s book was, Ms.Farrin says, nothing less than a labor of love. The translation is “absolutely literal,” she comments; “there was no other way to do it.” Reading aloud as she worked helped her soften some of the “very stilted German sentences.” A research trip to the Berlin Library, where she read newspaper accounts of Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, left her “very depressed.”  Although her memories of her father are “slight,” she says that she was very attached to him, and shares his “intellectual, introspective character.” She would like to visit the site of the Mogilev camp where he died.

Copies of Roosevelt: A Revolutionary with Common Sense are in both the Princeton Public Library and Princeton University’s Firestone Library. It is available for sale at Labyrinth Books, and online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.