Weil, Jiři

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WEIL, JIŘI (1900–1959), Czech writer, journalist, and translator. Born in Praskolesy, Bohemia, Weil completed his studies of Slavonic philology and comparative literary history at Charles University in Prague in 1928. As a student, he became a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and began to work at the Soviet embassy. In 1933 he left for Moscow, where he translated Russian, Soviet, and Marxist literature (Gorky, *Pasternak, Lenin, Majakovsky). His critical letters about the conditions of life in the Soviet Union may have contributed to his sudden expulsion from the Soviet Communist Party and later from the Czechoslovak party. He was sent to the Soviet East (Alma-Ata and a labor camp in Central Asia) as a reporter and returned to Czechoslovakia in 1935. After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, he lost his job and started to work in the Jewish Museum in Prague. When in 1942 he was summoned, as a Jew, for deportation to Theresienstadt, he feigned suicide in the Vltava River and lived in hiding until 1945. After the war he worked as an editor, as he was out of favor with the dogmatic Communists who took power in 1948. Some of his books could be published only in the 1960s and after 1989.

Weil belonged to the modernist literary group Devětsil, whose avant-garde members took inspiration from France and the Soviet Union. From 1933 he was a co-editor of the progressive magazine Tvorba ("Creation"). In 1924, Weil published his literary survey "Russian Revolutionary Literature," followed by "Czechs Are Building in the Land of the Five-Year Plans," 1937. His novel Moskvahranice ("Moscow – the Border," 1937, 1991) was the first to tell the truth about the purges and trials under Stalin's rule. Both style and content were met with anger from the Communists, and Weil was criticized severely. He therefore did not dare to publish his next novel, "Wooden Spoon" (1977, in samizdat, 1992), which was set in the Gulag. His historical novel Makanna, otec divů ("Makanna, Father of Wonders," 1945, 1948) appeared after the war; he also published collected stories from the Protectorate, Barvy ("Colors," 1946); another series of stories, containing two with Jewish themes, Vězeň chillonsk ("Prisoner of Chillon," 1957), and "Elegy for 77,297 Victims," 1958, 1999. The fate of Czech Jews under the Nazis is described in Weil's two novels Life with a Star (1989, 1991, 1998, with a preface by Philip *Roth) and, posthumously, Mendelssohn on the Roof (1998). The first one is a Kafkaesque and existentialist account of human suffering in the form of a Jew in Nazi-occupied Prague attempting to hold on to his humanity. The second book is also dedicated to the Jewish tragedy of that time.


R. Grebeníčkov, Jiří Weil a normy českי przy po patncti letech, in: Plamen (1963); R. Grebeníčkov, "Jiří Weil a modern roman," in: Preface to Jiří Weil ivot s hvězdou (1967); A. Mikulek et al., Literatura s hvězdou Davidovou, vol. 1 (1998); Slovnok českch spisovatelů (1982); S. Vondráčkov, Mrazilo-tlo. O Jiřím Weilovi (samizdat 1979).

[Milos Pojar (2nd ed.)]