Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: "Forget You Not"™

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Petr

A New Life For Youth's Wartime Diaries
Czechs honor artist who died at Auschwitz

 

By Ladka M. Bauerova
International Herald Tribune
January 27, 2005

 

More than 60 years after Petr Ginz died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz, the Czech Republic is finally paying homage to the brilliant teenager by publishing his recently found diaries.

Recalling the diaries of another teenage victim of the Holocaust, Anne Frank, they reveal a budding Czech literary and artistic genius whose life was cut short by the Nazis.

The diaries - actually a collection of diary entries, poems, short stories and drawings - offer keen insights into the reality of everyday life of Jews in wartime Prague. Oddly, they might have been lost forever if not for the Columbia space shuttle disaster two years ago.

For decades after World War II, the name Petr Ginz was known only in Israel. Scraps of diaries, a few short stories and some drawings and linocuts stored in the archives of the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem were all that was thought to remain of the boy's extraordinarily prolific output.

Then the shuttle exploded over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard. Among them was Colonel Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli citizen to travel into space.

Shortly before Columbia's takeoff, Ramon, a son of an Auschwitz survivor, asked Yad Vashem to pick an item he could take with him to honor the victims of the Holocaust. The museum sent a copy of "Moon Landscape," a linoprint Ginz made just before he was transported to the Czechoslovak concentration camp at Theresienstadt in August 1942. The picture represented the 14-year-old's vision of what our planet might look like from the moon.

In the aftermath of the Columbia tragedy, the drawing became so well known that Ginz's name was cited even by President George W. Bush. The coverage eventually inspired a resident of Prague, Jiri Ruzicka, to take another look at a box of six yellowed notebooks and some papers he had found in the attic of the house in which he had been living for 50 years. The box's contents turned out to belong to the artist who had created "Moon Landscape."

Ruzicka contacted Yad Vashem and offered to sell the material. After several rounds of negotiations, the museum and Chava Pressburger, Ginz's surviving sister, managed to acquire the notebooks and papers, which included the diary, an unfinished novel, several short stories, drawings and prints.

"When I saw the diary I was terribly shocked," said Pressburger, who now lives near the Israeli city of Beersheba. "Of course I remember all those events very clearly." Born Eva Ginzova, Pressburger grew up in Prague idolizing her brother, who was 2 years her senior. Like Petr, she was sent to Theresienstadt, where she managed to save some of her brother's notes after the Nazis transported him to Auschwitz.

During and immediately after the war, Eva's parents stored much of their dead son's writing and art in the house of a family friend. Eva fled Czechoslovakia after the 1948 Communist putsch, unaware of the existence of the notebooks. She ended up in Israel with only few pages of her brother's notes and a science fiction novel. Her parents, who followed seven years later, never told her about the hideout. Meanwhile, the family friend died and the house was eventually purchased by Ruzicka.

"He told me that he often thought of throwing the papers away," Pressburger said in a telephone interview. "He threw out so much other old stuff from the attic. But for some reason he always decided to hold on to Petr's papers."

Pressburger decided to publish "My Brother's Diary" in the Czech Republic, where Petr remained largely unknown. That is about to change. Earlier this month, the Czech Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp bearing the boy's photo and his famous drawing. On Feb. 8, Pressburger will be in Prague to launch the published diaries.

While describing a "ghetto without walls" - the increasing number of rules, prohibitions and humiliations Jews were subjected to in Prague - the writing also reveals a teenager with a sly sense of humor. In the first entry, dated Sept. 19, 1941, the author writes, "It's foggy today. They just introduced a special sign for Jews" - a drawing of a Star of David follows. "On the way to school I counted 69 'sheriffs,"' he adds, referring to people wearing the star. A few pages later, Ginz recounts the woes of Prague Jews in a long, ironic poem.

Petr Ginz diary

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By all accounts, Petr Ginz was an extraordinary child. According to his sister, in addition to the diaries, he had written eight novels and countless short stories by the age of 14. The surviving diary entries from Theresienstadt, where he spent the last two years of his life, reveal a restless genius.

With limited access to the camp's library of books confiscated from the prisoners, he read everything he could. He studied history, drew maps, learned English and worked on his own Czech-Esperanto dictionary. He made up a secret alphabet to record sensitive information, such as the place in his coat lining where his parents had hidden extra money, or how his aunt warned him to avoid "bad" girls.

His aptitude for drawing earned him a job in a workshop where he worked on Nazi propaganda leaflets while creating his own art whenever he had the time.

Most importantly, Ginz became the driving force behind the secret Theresienstadt newspaper Vedem (We Are Leading), which was published by the boys in his barracks. Written by hand and read out loud every Friday evening, the newspaper consisted of essays, poems and short stories, as well as a weekly column, "Strolls Through Theresienstadt," in which Ginz and his friends reported on various parts of the camp, from the bakery to the morgue. The newspapers have survived and are part of the Theresienstadt Memorial collection.

"Petr was universally admired," said Jiri Kotoue, a friend of Ginz's from Theresienstadt who survived the subsequent transport to Auschwitz. "Everybody looked up to him. He was just a terrific boy with enormous talent and an insatiable appetite for learning anything there was to be learned."

Petr Ginz was not allowed to fulfill his potential. On Sept. 28, 1944, he was put on a train for Auschwitz and sent to his death in a gas chamber immediately upon his arrival. He was 16.

Sixty-one years later, his sister hopes to keep his spirit alive by publishing the newfound diaries.

"There is enough Holocaust literature describing the horror," Pressburger said. "I don't really need to add anything to that. But Petr's diaries show that if you were a child during the Holocaust you could still live moments of simple happiness. You could be adventurous in your mind."

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preserving the past to protect the future ...
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Selected Entries:

Petr Ginz was killed at Auschwitz upon his arrival at 16 but one of his drawings made two years earlier when he was imprisoned at Theresienstadt and entitled "Moon Landscape" (below) was able to survive both the Holocaust and the war and it was preserved at Yad Vashem. In 2003, Ilan Ramon --the Israeli astronaut that perished in the doomed US space shuttle Columbia, took with him that drawing from Yad Vashem which now has became imortal.
The symbolism of that drawing encapsulated below is perhaps without precedent.

[Please see from Yad Vashem the Special Exhibit in Honor of Israeli Astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon.]

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Moon Landscape
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Moon Landscape connects the dream of one Jewish boy who is a symbol of the talent lost in the Holocaust,
to the journey of one Jewish astronaut, who is a symbol of the Israelis revival. The moon landscape
depicted in Petr Ginz's drawing attests to his aspiration to reach a place from where the earth,
which threatened his life, could be seen from a secure range.



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