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||Arnošt Lustig (1926-2011)|
Czech novelist and short story writer, who dealt in his work the horrors of World War II and especially the Holocaust. As a Jew, Lustig was sent to the camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Many of Lustig's works were based on his own experiences. His most famous books include the novellas Dita Saxová (1962) and Modlitba pro Katerinu Horovitzovou (1964, A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova). Lustig's style is unsentimental and sketchily, the emphasis is on the moral choices of his characters.
"A man had to cue himself as to when to take on a role with the curtain up: to say "yes" in one role, "no in another, and "maybe" in yet another. Sometimes he had to appear to play one role an talk as if he were playing a second, while in reality he was playing in a third." (in The House of Returned Echoes, tr. Josef Lustig, 2001)
Arnošt Lustig was born in Prague into a middle-class family, the son of Emil and Terese (Lowy) Lustig. He attended a junior technical school in Prague, but was denied the opportunity for further education after the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. In 1942, at the age of 16, he was sent with his family to the Theresienstadt "model ghetto" / concentration camp. From there his family was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Lustig's father was immediately murdered in the gas chamber because he wore glasses. Against all odds, Lustig's mother and sister survived. They were first sent to an aircraft factory in Freiburg and then to Mathausen, which was liberated by the Allied forces at the close of the war. Lustig himself escaped certain death in 1945. He jumped from a transport train headed for Dachau, when the train was hit by an American bomber plane. Lustig escaped to Prague, where he joined the resistance movement and took part in the May Uprising against the Nazi occupation.
After the war Lustig studied at the College of Political and Social Sciences in Prague, receiving his M.A. in 1951. In 1949 he married Vera Weislotzova, whom he had met in Irael; they had one son and one daughter. From 1948 to 1956 Lusting worked as a radio correspondent for the Czechoslovak radio in Europe, Asia, and North America. In 1948-49 he covered the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lustig's novel Milácek (1969, Darling), a love story, was set during the war of 1948. Later, against the official line of the government, he was on the side of Israel in the Six-Day War.
With his first collection of short stories, Noc a naděje (1957), depicting life in a ghetto, Lustig emerged as a leading writer of the Czech New Wave. It was followed by Démanty noci (1958, Diamonds of the Night), which originally contained nine short stories, and was conceived as a sequel to Noc a naděje. Jan Němec's film Diamonds of the Night was based on the story 'Tma nemá stín' (Darkness Casts No Shadow). He adapted it for the screen with Lustig; it was Němec's debut feature film. The story follows two young Jewish men, Danny and Manny, who have escaped from a Nazi transport train. A woman, whom they ask food and drink, reports them, and they are caught at gun-point by Sudeten German home guards, elderly men. There are two endings: the escapees are shot, but an alternative ending shows them walking away into the woods. Dialogue is reduced to minimum. The cinematographer Jaroslav Kucera often used a high-key lighting to create a sort of dream realism. In contrast, scenes in the pine forest are oppressively dark. After Diamonds, Kucera photographed a film for Ivan Passer (A Boring Afternoon, 1964), and a series of films based on Bohumil Hrabal's short stories. Tma nemá stín was separately published in 1991 in an enlarged version.
A perfectionist, Lustig rewrote his early stories and regrouped some of his short stories into newly arranged collections. 'Muj známý Vili Feld' from The Steet of Lost Brothers was later expanded into a novel. A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova was based on an actual event in Auschwitz. A young Polish actress kills, as a last act of revolt, a German officer at the doors of a gas chamber, while others await their fate passively.
For a period in the late 1960s, Lusting worked the as a
reporter and producer and from 1960 he was employed as a scriptwriter
by the Barandov Film Studios, the craddle of the Czech New Wave in
film, where he collaborated on film adaptations of his works. Like many
intellectuals in his country, Lustig supported the economical and
reforms Alexander Dubcek, first secretary of Czechoslovakia's Communist
Party. He was also a close friend of the playwright Václav Havel,
a cofounder of the human rights organization Charter 77.
Lustig himself had been a member of the Communist Party since the end
of the war. He was elected to the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak
Writers' Union in 1967-1968.
When the "Prague Spring" was crushed by the Soviet Invasion in 1968, Lustig was in Italy. His works were banned and he remained in exile. Feelings of spiritual and artistic death also drove away from the country writers such as Pavel Kohout, Milan Kundera, and Josef Škvorecký. Darling was the last of his books published in Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring. Lustig spent a short time on Kibbutz Hachotrim in Israel and then he moved to Yugoslavia. There he worked for the Jadran Film Studio in Zagreb, and eventually settled in the United States in 1970.
Nemilovaná: Z deníku sedmnáctileté Perly Sch. (1979) came out first in English translation. The story written in a form of a diary, was set in Terezin concentration camp, and told of a young Jewish woman, who is forced to prostitution. Like the female protagonist in Modlitba pro Katerinu Horovitzovou, she exercises freedom, when all hope is gone, in the act of choosing.
In his new home country Lustig joined the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa. He served as a guest lecturer at Nebraska State University and in 1973 he became a professor of literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Lustig also lectured and taught at several other universities. In 1995 Lustig was appointed editor in chief of the Czech-language version of Playboy magazine; he hold the post for two years. After the fall of communism, Lustig divided his time between Washington, D.C. and Prague, but in 2003 he settled permanently in his his native city. When NATO held a summit in Prague in 2002, Lustig assisted President Havel in the visit of President George W. Bush and was assigned to entertain the U.S. First Lady.
Lustig played himself in 2000 in Amir Bar-Lev's documentary film Fighter, in which he recalled his own family's fate during WW II. However, Lustig once said in an interview, that "I personally don't consider myself a Holocaust writer. I consider myself a writer about people under pressure." Lustig's numerous awards include the Mlada fronta publishing house prize in 1962, Locarno Film Festival Prize in 1963, the Monte Carlo Film Festival Prize in 1966, the Czechoslovak Radio Corporation Prize in 1966 and 1967, Gottwald Prize in 1967, the B'nai B'rith prize in 1974, the National Jewish Book award in 1980 for Dita Saxova and in 1986 for The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S., the Emmy award in 1986 for documentary Precious Legacy, and the Franz Kafka literary prize in 2008. He also shared the 1991 Publishers Weekly Award for best literary work with Norman Mailer and John Updike. Lustig died on February 26, 2011, in Prague. He had suffered from cancer for five years.
Fore further reading; Arnošt Lustig by Haman, Aleš (1995); 'Lustig, Arnost,' in World Authors 1985-1990, edited by Vineta Colby (1995); A 'A Conversation with Arnošt Lustig' by Rob Trucks and Arnošt Lustig, New England Review, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Fall, 1999); 'Lustig, Arnošt' by David Patterson, in Encyclopedia of Holocaust Literature, edited by David Patterson, Alan L. Berger, and Sarita Cargas (2002; 'Lustig, Arnošt' by Jeanie M. Tietjen, in The Routledge Encyclopedia of Jewish Writers of the Twentieth Century, edited by Sorrel Kerbel (2003) ); 'Arnošt Lustig,' in A Handbook of Czech Prose Writing, 1940-2005 by Bohuslava Bradbrook (2007); Arnošt Lustig zadním vchodem by František Cinger (2009); The Holocaust Novel by Efraim Sicher (2013); Forms of Exile in Jewish Literature and Thought: Twentieth-century Central Europe and Movement to America by Bronislava Volková (2021)