petr1 petr2


The diary

of my brother

Petr Ginz


Sixty years after my brother wrote his diary, it suddenly reappeared, under seemigly mysterious circumstances. Two years ago, it was published in its original Czech version with my introduction and artistic works by my brother. In the short period since this publication, the book was translated into many languages and became known in many contries.

 

In light of this development, I was invited to present the book and its background at various book launchings and to discuss its contents with many people in private conversations, in numerous interviews with media journalists, and so on.This activity carried on intensely in the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, England, Spain and Catalonia and with the Japanese journalists and a Japanese film producer in Prague.A Hebrew edition of the diary will also be appearing soon.

 

All these events evoked many feelings and questions in me and a need to think things over. Surely, I am not the first one who, having finished writing or editing a book, began posing himself questions. Even Thomas Mann, after finishing his monumental opus Doctor Faustus, wrote a "book about the book".

I discovered that what interests most people is how the miracle happened, how Petr's diary reappeared after sixty long years? The story of the reappearance is described in detail in the book itself, but because of its importance, and because not everybody may have had occasion to read the book, I would like to briefly summarize the events.

Before his departure on the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle, the first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon asked the world renown Holocaust memory institution in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, to provide him with a symbol relic reminiscent ofthe Shoah,so that he could take it up into space with him.In making this request, he explained that he wanted to impart the wonder that despite the fact that a large part of the Jewish nation was exterminated during the Holocaust, it is now participating in the conquest of the Universe.

 

From among several hundred drawings that are deposited in the museum's archives, Yad Vashem chose the one that was drawn by my brother, Petr Ginz, entitled View of the Earth from the Moon. Upon receiving the drawing, Ilan said that in going up into space, he felt that he was going to realize the dream of this boy who was murdered at the young age of sixteen in a concentration camp and who consequently did not live long enough to experience his own fantasy.

The subsequent explosion of the Columbia and the death of its astronauts generated empathy and sadness in many countries throughout the world. In certain places, the symbolism of Petr's drawing even heightened the feeling of disaster. Petr's drawing was mentioned in many reports in the world media about the explosion of the Columbia. Artists, such as the American poet and songwriter Daphna Rachmil, the Czech composer Petr Pokorny and the Israeli songwriter Ehud Manor were inspired to compose works on this topic, when they realized the symbolic connection between the disastrous death of the astronauts on the mission and Petr's fate.

 

All this attention to my brother triggered the memory of an unknown Czech citizen concerning some notebooks he had found in an old house he had bought. These notebooks were written by the same Petr Ginz. He offered his find to Yad Vashem and with their help, I succeeded in acquiring them.

My encounter with Petr's diary and other notes he wrote in these books was very emotional.It preoccupied me for a long time. I sat thinking for many hours in our quiet home, the home in which my husband and I raised our two children and in which we today spend most of our time. In front of me lay notebooks, suddenly now at home with me too. From time to time I turned their pages, leafing through them.At other times, I only stared at them when a jumble of thoughts passed through my head.

Reflecting upon the diaries also influenced my work as a visual artist. Inspired by these new developments in my life, I created a serial of works on the theme of "My brotherís diary".Even before this activity, my work took on the subject of the string of terrorist attacks against Israel and their analogy to the long suffering of the Jewish people. It is quite logical that my first reactions to the events were through the medium of visual art that has served me in the course of my life.

 

After this initial response came a period in which, for the first time in my life, I devoted myself to a literary activity.†† It was at this time that I decided to publish My Brotherís Diary.The timing explains why I consider the publication of Petrís diary to be so important and why I added additional pages from his later writings, and my own thoughts.

Sometimes as I was caught in the throes of depression, I would ask myself how it was possible that after the unspeakably tragic and painful period we lived through in the Shoah, we were able to continue on with our lives, we were able to live a normal life. Sixty years since later, I am still very much aware of what actually happened back then. It was not only murder and criminal robbery of property.It was also the dreadful degradation and the insults. My talented brother, my old grandmother, and uncles and aunts, all of who taught us about justice and about the beauty of life, were forced into crowded cattle wagons and transported to their ignominious deaths. The agonized trip sometimes took several days. They were even forced to tend to their physical needs in the wagons, like animals. They became nothing Ė insignificant.

My Brotherís Diary describes how a Jewish boy lived in Prague in the years 1941-42 in the so called "ghetto without walls". Much has been written about the period of the Shoah. Many survivors felt the need to record their experiences.This is important, because soon there will be no more living witnesses to the Holocaust and it is imperative to preserve the historical truth as extensively as possible in the form of their testimony. It is equally important to underline the fact that the murdered victims were neither animals nor insignificant numbers, but were valued human beings, often very gifted and noteworthy.†† Were they alive today, perhaps the world would be a better place.

To me, Shoah is about the way that leads to death, with its different stops and stations. The last stop was death. For the Czech Jews, the first station was Prague and other Czech towns, with numerous anti-Jewish measures and only then boarding the transports to the concentration camps.

 

In this regard, it seems to me that the diaries of Petr contribute testimony of considerable value. The reason that the German diaries of Otto Klemperer have been held in high esteem is because they too describe what I call "the first station to death," only in his case it is the first station of the German Jewish community, which began as early as 1933.

In the Theresienstadt concentration camp, the prevailing atmosphere was one of fear, slavery, desperation, hunger, death, concern about one's own family, and the dreaded summons for transports to the East. Despite this atmosphere, there were quite a number of people who felt that even in that hellhole, they must remain human, they must fulfill certain inner demands. Often they felt like remnants of other world views. The hunger they felt, aside from physical, was also spiritual and cultural. These activists were often famous artists, scientists, gifted individuals, whose will to create music, paint, organize secret lectures or write articles and poetry, never left them until the very last breath was gone from their body.

Petr, though only fourteen years old, belonged to these activists.This characteristic was felt most by those in his close surroundings at the boys housing. He was the editor of the secret magazine Vedem (we lead), which was edited at a very high level. Every week Petr arranged for a new edition of this journal, which was then recited in the boys room on Friday evenings - with one of the boys standing outside to safeguard the meeting.

 

During this period, Petr also learned everything he could.He wrote articles, essays, drew and painted (Yad Vashem holds about 130 of his drawings). In the part of his diary written in Theresienstadt, Petr describes what he packed in his luggage back in Prague so as to take with him Theresienstadt: "I took a stock of paper (including this notebook), linoleum, small knives for lino-cutting,and an as yet unfinished novel entitled The Sage from Altai, that at that time already comprised 260 pages. I wanted to finish it in TheresienstadtÖ tenderly I packed it with other items, and perhaps I shall be blamed that I feared for these items more than for all the other things"Ö

It seems that the novel The Sage from Altai accompanied Petr through all the stations on his passage to death. The creator and his creation always remain very close. These two living books, which were so special to each other and so close to one another, were never written to the end. They remained unfinished and unread.It is so sad that we will never be able to look into these unfinished books, which are lost forever.

Publishing My Brotherís Diary gives me a certain kind of satisfaction. It contains a brief indication and perhaps testimony about the meaning of Petr's life. Here is his testimony about this horrible, wrenching period of time, written in his own words.

††††

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