New translation of 'Bambi' reveals allegory on anti-Semitism

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Walt Disney sketches two 12-week-old fawns that acted as the models for the hero and heroine of "Bambi," in Hollywood, California, United States, July 24, 1938.
AP PhotoWalt Disney sketches two 12-week-old fawns that acted as the models for the hero and heroine of "Bambi," in Hollywood, California, United States, July 24, 1938.

Considered today a children's classic, the story was banned by the Nazis in 1935 as Jewish propaganda

Disney's animated film "Bambi" has enchanted young and old alike since its release in 1942. 

But a new translation to be published in the United States in January reveals that the tale's author wrote it as an allegory on the precarious situation of Europe's Jews in the decades prior to the Holocaust.

Due to be published by Princeton University Press on January 18, 2022, the new edition aims to clarify the political and societal nuances of the original text, The Guardian reported on Saturday. 

The author, Felix Salten, grandson of a rabbi born in 1869 in Austria - then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - was a prolific writer who rubbed shoulders with the Viennese intellectuals of his time, including Sigmund Freud.

The book appeared in 1922 under the title "Bambi: a life in the woods."

Jack Zipes, a professor of German and comparative literature and the translator behind the new edition, explains that the original was "a book about survival in your own home.” Disney's adaptation washed out much of the original meaning, he said.

“All the animals have been persecuted. And I think what shakes the reader is that there are also some animals who are traitors, who help the hunters kill.”

In the book, Bambi does not suffer the same fate as in the Disney film. He ends up completely alone. In reality, it is a tragic story of the loneliness of Jews and other minority groups in early 20th century Europe. 

Salten, who worked as a journalist in Vienna, changed his birth name from Siegmund Salzmann during his teens to hide his Jewish identity. 

"I think he foresaw the Holocaust," Zipes said.

Today Jewish groups warn that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, North America and elsewhere in the world.