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Bor, Josef

BOR, Josef

Nationality: Czechoslovakian. Born: Josef Bondy, Ostrava, Austria-Hungary, 2 July 1906. Education: Graduate of the University of Brno, 1929. Family: First wife and two children killed in Terezín; married second wife (died) after World War II, two children. Career: Prisoner, Terezín and Buchenwald, World War II. Lawyer. Foreign minister, Czech government, after World War II. Traveled across Europe lecturing on the Holocaust. Died: 1979.

Publications

Memoir

Terezínské rekviem. 1963; as The Terezín Requiem, 1963.

Novel

Opuštená panenka [The Derelict Doll]. 1961.

Plays

Ten třetí [The Third Man] (produced 1978).

Television Play:

Appassionata.

Screenplay:

Terezin Requiem.

Radio Play:

Ten třetí, 1979.

Other

Editor, with Rudolf Iltis and František Gotlieb, Zivot a odkaz, by Richard Feder. 1973.

* * *

Although the name Josef Bor does not appear in many Czech lexicons of twentieth-century Czech literature, his contribution to literature of the Holocaust is significant and certainly worthy of mention. He was born Josef Bondy in Ostrava in 1906 and spent his working life as a lawyer. He and his family were transported to Terezín and later to Buchenwald, where his wife and two children were killed. He returned alone to Prague, where he became foreign minister and worked in the Czech government under Ladislav Svoboda. He remarried and had two children with his second wife. It was not until he was more than 50 years old that he began to write. Bor's work can be contrasted with that of F.E. Kraus; however, Bor attempts to dig psychologically deeper and does not point accusatory fingers in his works but rather tries to show the value of a person's being in the face of deadly danger (Literatura s hvězdou Davidovou ). In O městu ve tvaru hvězdy M. Valtrová describes Bor as "belonging to those authors whose work whips unexpectedly like a flame." His first work, Opuštěná panenka ("The Derelict Doll," 1961), has an autobiographical subtext and presents the fate of three generations of an extended Jewish family interned in Terezín and later in the death camps. The doll is symbolic for the suffering and loss of human dignity in the camps. In Věstník: Židovskích náboženskích obcí v Československu it is stated that in this work, "We see the ghetto from two sides: on one side there is suffering, which the superman has wrought for his victim; on the other, there is cultural life, brotherhood, and resistance."

It was at the urging of friends that Bor penned Terezínské rekviem (The Terezín Requiem ), and this work belongs among the best of Holocaust remembrance. The study of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem was a great joke for Adolf Eichmann, who laughed when he heard that Jews would be singing a Catholic opera. The musical and ideological version of the requiem, however, was reworked by Director Raphael Schächter, who made the words "Libera me!" ("Set me free!") the key phrase that escaped the comprehension of the Nazis in the audience.

In later years Bor became interested in the reconciliation between Jews and Christians. He began to do biblical research and investigated various historical sources for more writing material. He lectured at the Jewish Town Hall and the Hus House in Prague. He also spoke to Unitarian groups. He traveled to Berlin, Vienna, and various parts of East Germany to relate his experiences and make amends with Christian groups. The Berlin religious community, in cooperation with Bor and Aktion Sühnezeichen (Operation Mark of Atonement), created a mimeograph called Propheten und ihr Gott ("Prophets and Their God"), which remains unpublished. In this work Bor investigates the questions as to why a people of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, and Ludwig van Beethoven were hypnotized by a regime of such immense cruelty. In his essay Standortsbestimmung zum Jüdisch-Christlichen Dialog, Bor asks, "Why do great masses of Christians react so differently in history when it has to do with the Jews?"

Bor's play Ten třetí (Der Dritte in German, "The Third Man" in English) is an attempt to come to terms with the Holocaust and represents the way history could have been had the Jews not been forced to take the blood of Christ upon themselves. His son stated in the foreword to Der Dritte that "Josef Bor's search for the causes of the Jewish tragedy and the roots of anti-Semitism led him to the beginnings of Christianity." Bor lived to see the German world premiere performance of this play. At this 1978 performance he spoke to the young performers and told them, as translated from the foreward of Der Dritte, "It was for me one of the biggest surprises of my life. I just cannot ignore what this performance of my drama means. The youth from Odenwald are performing my play, hence, I have become one of them. It is the first time in history, as far as I know, that a Passion play, as it no doubt will be understood by the Christian audience, by a Jewish author will be performed. That is a big step toward reconciliation between Christians and Jews and with one of their own: Jesus himself. This shows that the greatness of Jesus does not change, be it godly or human, even if one accepts that he was not deceived by Judas, that the Jews did not condemn Him, and that they [the Jews] did not take His blood upon themselves." Bor unfortunately did not live to hear the radio play of "The Third Man" produced by the BBC. He died in 1979 and was buried next to his second wife. There is a memorial at his grave site to his first wife and two children.

—Cynthia A. Klíma

See the essay on The Terezín Requiem.

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