Swetlana Geier – biographic overview



Swetlana Geier, née Ivanova, is born as an only child to Russian parents on 26.4.1923 in Kiev. She attends a modest school but receives private tuition in German and French at her mother’s behest.


Her agronomist father is arrested as an enemy of the people during one of the rounds of Stalinist purges.


Death of the father soon after his release. He dies as a result of his ill treatment during his eighteen months of imprisonment.


Successfully completes her schooling. On the day of receiving a certificate to this effect, Hitler attacks the Soviet Union. In autumn the German army occupies Kiev. Between the 29th and 30th of September, her childhood friend Neta Tkatsch is killed by an SS special commando along with 30,000 other Jews at Babij Jar ravine near Kiev. Swetlana Michailovna Ivanova works as an interpreter at the Geological Institute of the Scientific Academy and at Dortmund Union Bridge-builders plc during the German occupation.


The Germany army retreats from Kiev after its defeat in Stalingrad. A large part of the population is deported, those remaining are subjected to the purges of Stalin’s NKVD. Swetlana and her mother leave Kiev. She is interned in a work camp for easterners in Dortmund.


In April, German well-wishers succeed in having her released and get her to Berlin, where, having taken a test, she is given a Humboldt bursary (and that, although she was a Soviet citizen!) She and her mother also receive resident alien passports, allowing them to travel to Freiburg in the Breisgau region where they settle. Their charitable treatment leads to a political purge of the ministry responsible for the occupied eastern zones, which is then made answerable to the Nazi Party. The official who stood up for her is sent to the Eastern Front.


After the end of the war she studies German Studies and Comparative Linguistics at Freiburg, marries Christmut Geier, whom she divorces in 1962, and becomes a mother to two children.


She begins translating Russian literature into German and starts lecturing at Karlsruhe University, a post she still holds today.


Lectorate for Russian at Freiburg’s Slavic faculty specialising in linguistic pedagogics, translation and literature of the 19th and 20th centuries.


Lecturing post at Herdecke University.


Begins to work with Egon Ammann, for whose publishing house she translates Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s five great novels: “Crime and Punishment, “The Idiot”, “The Devils”, “The Brothers Karamazov” and “The Raw Youth”.


An accident befalls her son Johannes. He is a handicrafts teacher and injures himself seriously during a lesson. He henceforth requires constant care.


First journey back to the Ukraine since 1943. In autumn her son dies as a consequence of his accident.


Begins working on a translation of Dostoyevsky’s “The Gambler” (to be published by Ammann publishing house in autumn 09).


Begins what she says is her last Dostoyevsky translation: “The House of the Dead”. She continues to lecture at Karlsruhe University and, more recently, back in Freiburg.

During the course of her career, Swetlana Geier has translated works by Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Platonov, Bely, Chukovskaja, Sinyavsky, Afanasyev, Voynovich, Katayev, Bunin, Bulgakov and Dostoyevsky into German. Her translations have been published by the Ammann, S. Fischer, Luchterhand, Reclam and Dörlemann publishing houses, amongst others.

She has received many awards for her excellent services to mediating Russian culture, history and literature, most recently one from the Leipzig book fair in 2007.

She is an honorary doctor at the universities of Basel and Freiburg (D).