Recently, we completed the final edits of the galley proofs of the Czech-language translation of my memoir, DLOUHA CESTA DOMU (LONG JOURNEY HOME). The first two pages of the book-to-be are blank. They were waiting to be filled by words from the pen of one of the most widely read, and beloved, of Czech contemporary writers — Arnost Lustig. Sadly, it will not happen. After a long, courageous, battle with cancer, Arnost Lustig died a week ago.
Mr. Lustig was a survivor of the concentration camps, Terezin and Auschwitz. At the latter, he saw his father marched off to a gas chamber and his mother humiliated by German soldiers. At the camps, too, he experienced goodness from fellow inmates who cared for and protected the young boy from the Nazis. His books, in both Czech and English, and several made into movies, were based on his experiences in the camps. Occupying a special place in my own library are his INDECENT DREAMS and LOVELY GREEN EYES.
Early last month, my Prague editor, a close friend of the writer, went to Lustig’s apartment to ask if the Foreword to my book was finished. Arnost’s daughter Eva said that it was not, but she expressed the hope that her father might dictate it to her from his sick-bed. That was not to be. He said that he doesn’t know how to dictate and that he must write himself on his “machine.”
Naturally, I am sad that this great man did not partner with me on my book. But, I am devastated by the fact that I did not have the opportunity to meet him. His friend, the American writer Tom Chilcotte, wrote: “Arnost took great pride in his ability to assess people quickly, a skill he learned out of necessity in the camps. He knew as soon as he met someone whether he would have liked to have been imprisoned with them.” I’ll never find out whether or not Arnost Lustig would have been willing to share a cell with me. I can only hope so.
Charlie, I have no doubt you would have passed his test. I know I would welcome you as a cell mate for your story telling abilities alone, not to mention your strength of character! Congratulations on the book!