Marion J. Faber, 76, of Swarthmore, a retired professor of German and the humanities at Swarthmore College, died April 30 of complications from pancreatic cancer at her home.
During a three-decade career ending in 2009, Dr. Faber was a prolific scholar, translator, and teacher. She was an expert in the Austrian composer Wolfgang Mozart and the German philosopher-poet Friedrich Nietzsche.
Dr. Faber introduced generations of students to German culture and language. “A gifted and enthusiastic teacher, she loved her students, and they adored her in return,” Swarthmore College president Val Smith said in a statement.
Born in Los Angeles, Dr. Faber was the daughter of immigrants from Russia and Romania. She played the piano as a child and later brought the same discipline used in mastering an instrument to her intellectual pursuits.
She went to Hanover, Germany, as a high school exchange student in 1960. She returned home eager to learn about its “castles, classical music, and sense of history,” she told family.
Dr. Faber returned to Europe twice to conduct scholarly work. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and a doctorate from Harvard University.
In 1979, she joined Swarthmore’s faculty as a teacher of German literature and culture. She developed interdisciplinary courses. During her tenure with the Swarthmore Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, it doubled in size and put a greater emphasis on cultural courses.
“I’m the luckiest person on earth to have landed at Swarthmore,” Faber said in the Spring 1990 Swarthmore College Bulletin, the school’s alumni magazine. “It fits me to a ‘T.’ I most appreciate the students — they give me energy. They’re intellectually enthusiastic and serious, witty, and a pleasure to teach.”
A large part of Dr. Faber’s contribution to her field came in the form of German-to-English translations.
Her 1982 translation of author Wolfgang Hildesheimer’s Mozart was a finalist for an American Book Award. She also translated the poet Sarah Kirsch’s The Panther Woman in 1989, and translated and edited Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil in 1998. The book was first published in 1886.
But it was a 1984 translation of another Nietzsche work that brought Dr. Faber acclaim. With the college’s then-humanities librarian Stephen Lehmann, she translated Human, All Too Human, a book of Nietzsche’s aphorisms on women, art, religion, and politics. The project took three years.
“Nietzsche has a bare, sparse manner that hadn’t been captured in [another 1907] translation,” Dr. Faber told the Phoenix, the college’s student newspaper. “We tried to be truer to the spirit of the original text.”
Besides her academic duties, Dr. Faber was associate college provost from 1989 to 1992. She helped create a new-faculty orientation program, co-chaired a committee on child-care for faculty and staff, and ran a program that pushed for a strong minority presence at liberal arts colleges.
In 1996, Dr. Faber wanted to know what it was about the German culture that enabled the Nazis to carry out the mass killing of Jews during World War II. “It finally became important for me as a Jew … [and] as a teacher of German,” she said, to “take the bull by the horns.”
She designed a multidisciplinary course in which she looked at Romanticism as a possible source of Nazi ideology, and raised a fundamental question: Could the Holocaust have happened anywhere else, and was there something unique to German culture that caused it?
“Teaching with Marion expanded my intellectual horizons; I still assign readings and materials to which she introduced me,” said Robert Weinberg, a Swarthmore professor of history and international relations.
Dr. Faber retired in 2009. Her final translation was the 2019 In This Hour: Heschel's Writings in Nazi Germany and London Exile, edited by Helen Plotkin.
She is survived by Stephen Hannaford, her husband of 44 years, daughters Rachel and Dinah Hannaford, and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be later.