________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


The Diary of Petr Ginz 1941-1942.

Chava Pressburger, ed. Translated by Elena Lappin.
New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press (Distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada), 2007.
161 pp., cloth, $29.95.
ISBN 978-0-87113-966-5.

Subject Headings:
Jews-Czech Republic-Diaries.
Jewish children in the Holocaust-Czech Republic-Diaries.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)-Czech Republic-Diaries.

Grades 7 and up / Age 12 and up.

Review by Danya David.

**** /4


17. VII. 1942 (Friday)

First thing in the morning I traveled by tram and by bus to Suchedol. It’s really far away. It rained all day and we had to wait at the akciz for those whose suitcases were supposed to take away. We saw an officer trying to catch a bus, but he failed and swore terribly. I laughed; the German came over to us and shouted at one of us (Hecht): Du hast gelacht? The boy was expecting a slap but because he really didn’t laugh (that was me), he answered quite calmly: ‘No.’ The officer then walked away.”


In 2003, Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, took with him into Columbia space shuttle a radiant drawing called “Moon Landscape”, drawn by 14-year old Petr Ginz, murdered in Auschwitz. Following Columbia’s tragic explosion, news spread as to this captivating drawing and the life of its young creator. The hype led to the discovery of Petr’s diary which had been hidden away for decades in an attic in Prague. Soon after, it found its way into the hands of Chava Pressburger, Petr’s sister. Now, Pressburger’s relentless efforts are manifest in The Diary of Petr Ginz, the publication of her brother’s vital testament.

     It is impossible to compare the stories and testimonies of victims of the Holocaust- each life was lived so differently, each end experienced so individually. Like The Diary of Anne Frank, and Hana’s Suitcase, The Diary of Petr Ginz captures the vital spirit of one individual. Petr Ginz’ inextinguishable inner life and sense of wonder for the possibilities that lay outside of his visual peripheries are immortalized via this publication. As with Hana’s Suitcase, The Diary of Petr Ginz provides another foundational brick in the wall of lived testaments of the Holocaust.

     It is difficult to write a review of a 14-year-old boy’s diary written over two years of life prior to deportation to Theresindstat. One can only describe with reverie the insight and thirst conveyed through the individual’s words and art. Petr Ginz was clearly a teen prodigy. His diary reveals a boy with tireless ambition and an endless craving for knowledge. Somehow, he continually fueled his self-study and motivation, feeding his imagination and intellect with the bounds of literature he somehow found and consumed. His diary reveals a boy with an adult sense of satire, irony, and wit. His words and pictures, presented through a variety of literary and artistic mediums, show both profound humility and yet relentless fervor for life. Petr’s daily determination is manifest in the fashioning of violins and bombs, in the editing of secret magazines, and in the leather-binding of books, as terror mounted around him. Petr’s writing is terse and seemingly non-emotive, presenting reportage-style journal entries and even lists, though the reader quickly understands that the boy’s talents were bound only by words and pencil strokes. Elena Lappin, the diary's translator, describes Petr’s diary perfectly- "the equivalent of a captain's log on a sinking ship."  

     Again, one cannot conceive of reviewing the testament of a teenaged boy whose fate ends with Auschwitz. The only pursuit plausible is an attempt at some kind of description of the publication as a whole. The publication is excellent. Beyond Petr’s resounding entries, the publication is a multi-textual, multi-vocal piece, fiercely committed to rendering the diary as accessible as possible. The diary is not merely translated and then presented for consumption; it is bracketed and scaffolded all along by footnotes, commentary, and facsimiles of historical documents. By establishing the context of the diary’s discovery post Columbia tragedy, by prefacing the book with a stunning forward by Jonathan Safran Foer (author of Everything is Illuminated), by including an enlightening translator’s note, and by bracketing it all with Chava Pressberger’s words, the publication is more than a package of rescued documents - it is the contextualized testament of a teenaged boy, a brother, a victim of anti-Semitism, and most of all, the testament of someone who would have clearly moved the world with innovation had he been allowed to live. He was a typewriter technician, an aspiring scientist, publisher, journalist, short-story writer, poet, essayist, lino-cut artist, sketcher, and painter- though he aspired to be even so much more. In the end, the reader is merely humbled by Petr’s talents and infinite inspiration. The reader turns the last page and is overcome by a devastating sense of what was lost and of what could have been.

Highly Recommended.

Danya David is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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