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Lustig, Arnošt

LUSTIG, Arnošt

Nationality: American (originally Czechoslovak: immigrated to the United States, 1970). Born: Prague, 21 December 1926. Education: College of Political and Social Sciences, Prague, M.A. 1951, Ing. Degree 1954. Family: Married Vera Weislitz in 1949; one son and one daughter. Career: Prisoner, Theresienstadt (Terezín), Auschwitz, and Buchenwald concentration camps, World War II. Arab-Israeli war correspondent, Radio Prague, 1948-49; correspondent in Europe, Asia, and North America, Czechoslovak Radio Corp., 1950-68; screenwriter, Barrandov Film Studios, Prague, 1960-68; writer, Israel, 1968-69; screenwriter, Jadran Film Studio, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, 1969-70; member, International Writers Program, 1970-71, and visiting lecturer, 1971-72, University of Iowa, Iowa City. Since 1973 professor of literature, American University, Washington, D.C. Head of the Czechoslovak film delegation to the San Sebastian Film Festival, 1968; member of the jury, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 1968; visiting professor, Drake University, 1972-73. Editor, Mlady svet magazine, 1958-60. Awards: First prize, Mlada Fronta publishing house, 1962, for Diamonds of the Night; best short story, University of Melbourne, 1962, for "Lemon"; first prize, Czechoslovak Radio Corp., 1966, for radio play Prague Crossroads; first prize, Monte Carlo Film Festival, 1966, for television film A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova; Klement Gotwald State prize, 1967, nomination for National book award, 1974, and B'nai B'rith award, 1974, all for A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova; first prize, Czechoslovak Radio Corp., 1967, for radio play A Man the Size of a Postage Stamp; second prize, San Sebastian Film Festival, 1968, for Dita Saxova; Jewish National book award, 1980, for Dita Saxova, and 1987, for The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S.; Emmy award, outstanding screenplay, 1985, for documentary Precious Legacy. D.H.L.: Spertus College, 1986. Member: Authors Guild; Authors League of America. Address: Office: Department of Literature, American University, Washington, D.C. 20016, U.S.A.

Publication

Collection

Children of the Holocaust: The Collected Works of Arnost Lustig. 1976.

Novels

Muj znamy Vili Feld. 1949.

Dita Saxova. 1962; as Dita Sax, 1966.

Modlitba pro Katerinu Horovitzovou. 1964; as A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova, 1973.

Darkness Casts No Shadow (English translation). 1976.

Z deniku sedmnactilete Perly Sch. 1979; as The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S., 1985.

Indecent Dreams (three novellas). 1988.

Short Stories

Noc a nadeje. 1958; as Night and Hope, 1989.

Demanty noci. 1958; as Diamonds of the Night, 1986.

Street of Lost Brothers. 1990.

Plays

Screenplays:

Transport from Paradise, adaptation of Night and Hope, 1963; Diamonds of the Night, adaptation of Darkness Casts No Shadow, 1964; Dita Saxova, 1968.

Television Plays:

The Blue Day, 1960; A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova, 1965; Terezin, with Ernest Pendrell, 1965; Stolen Childhood, 1966.

Other

Ulice ztracenych bratri. 1949.

Nikoho neponizis. 1963.

Bile brizy na podzim. 1966.

Horka vune mandli. 1968.

Milacek. 1969.

Tma nema stin. 1991.

Velka trojka, with Milan Kundera and Josef Skvorecky. 1991.

Colette. 1992.

Tanga. 1993.

Green Eyes. 1995.

*

Film Adaptations:

Transport from Paradise, from the story Night and Hope, 1963; Diamonds of the Night, from the novel Darkness Casts No Shadow, 1964; Dita Saxova, 1968.

* * *

Arnošt Lustig was born in 1926 in Prague. He is a survivor of Theresienstadt (Terezín), Auschwitz, and Buchenwald concentration camps. He escaped a transport to Dachau when his train was mistaken for a munitions train and bombed. Lustig returned to Prague and participated in the anti-Nazi uprisings in 1945. It is from those past experiences that Lustig drew his inspiration for novels and short stories. Because Lustig was just a teenager when he was sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto with his mother (his father perished in the gas chambers), writing has become a form of catharsis for him. His works frequently portray women and children who often do not survive the war. Though the fate of many of his characters is known, there remains a thread of optimism that runs through his works, leaving the reader to feel that mankind and humanism will prevail in the end. His observation of human behavior can be compared to the writings of Elie Wiesel , most notably Wiesel's highly praised Night. Both authors were masters at describing the intimate thoughts, mental state, and emotions of their characters.

Although Lustig wrote of situations that occurred during the Holocaust, he did not consider himself to be a Holocaust writer but rather a writer who expressed his true convictions about history and human character. Indeed, as a man with little formal education, Lustig admitted that everything he learned of man, he learned in the camps. When questioned about his knowledge of human fate in an interview with Rob Trucks in the New England Review, Lustig stated, "It was a university about man that I couldn't have learned better. I learned about goodness, about evil, about the character of man, about the possibilities of man, about the weaknesses of man … So with very little exaggeration, I can say that everything I learned about man, or the character of man, about the fate of man, I learned in the camps, until I was seventeen years old."

Lustig also became a driving force behind Czech New Wave cinema, whose artists include Miloš Forman, Ján Kadár, Elmar Klos, Vera Chytilová, Jan Němec, and Jiří Menzel. Examples of work from the Czech New Wave, such as The Firemen's Ball (directed by Forman) and Closely Watched Trains (directed by Menzel), have subjects that vary from lyrically haunting to tragicomical. Although Czech New Wave films have various themes, humanism is certainly the thread that binds all of them together. For example, in Closely Watched Trains a young soldier has just come to realize that life is beautiful, only to die in the end. This theme is similar to Lustig's short story "Stephen and Anne," as two young lovers discover love when it is too late. Many of Lustig's works, most notably Darkness Casts No Shadow (under the title Diamonds of the Night ) and Transport from Paradise, have been turned into movies by New Wave directors, while his short story "A Man the Size of a Postage Stamp" has been broadcast as a radio play. With the fall of Communism, the tradition of the Czech New Wave has been resurrected by new directors, most recently Jan Hřebejk, who directed the Academy Award-nominated film Musíme si pomáhat, or Divided We Fall, which depicts a Jew being hidden by Christian friends during World War II. The film blends both comedy and tragedy in true Czech New Wave fashion. The contrast of life with death in Lustig's stories and Czech New Wave motifs are also reminiscent of Franz Kafka, whose literature is filled with sudden twists, turns, and twofold meanings, concluding with dark fates for the characters. Lustig's Transport from Paradise is one such illustration. In it the Nazis create a false atmosphere for the Red Cross's visit to Theresienstadt. The ghetto is temporarily transformed into a clean and efficient model camp for the observers, a pseudo-paradise, but the observers' departure marks the immediate transport of the camp's inhabitants to Auschwitz.

It is from Czech literature, the Holocaust, and World War II that Lustig created his characters, who represented for him the true inner strength and actual beauty of man. It is said that "We are only limited by our own perception of ourselves," and Lustig's characters are indeed just ordinary people confronting unspeakable circumstances, yet they manage to exert incredible strength to overcome Nazi evil. Seemingly small situations have great significance—for example, a young boy throws a crust at a dying old woman and strikes her in the side, as seen in the short story "The Children." A simple loaf of bread thus becomes as symbolic of death as it does of life.

Lustig has continued to enjoy a renaissance in the Czech Republic since restrictions have been lifted and his books are now more readily available.

—Cynthia A. Klíma

See the essays on A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova,Night and Hope, Diamonds of the Night,Darkness Casts No Shadow, and The Unloved.

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