Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Petr Ginz

Anne Frank has become such a singular figure in the literature of the Holocaust that it is easy to forget how many other precocious and articulate children also died in the camps. Elena Lappin, a translator and editor at Atlantic Monthly Press, has prepared an English edition of the diaries of one of them, the Czech boy Petr Ginz.

The story of the diaries themselves is an astounding tale. Born in 1928, Ginz lived in Prague until August 1941, when he was deported with his family to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz, in 1943, where he died in the gas chambers. His sister, Eva, survived, and managed to retain a few of her brother’s drawings, which she carried with her until her eventual emigration to Israel.

But had it not been for, of all things, the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, the bulk of Petr’s papers might never have been recovered. Colonel Ilan Ramon, an Israeli astronaut aboard the shuttle, was carrying one of the drawings saved by Eva; the news coverage attendant on his death prompted a resident of Prague to rifle through several boxes of old papers in his attic. These papers turned out to be Petr’s; Yad Vashem subsequently acquired them. Eva (now Chava Pressburger) arranged for their publication in the Czech Republic at the beginning of 2005.

Ginz had great literary ability for an adolescent boy. Observing the newly mandated yellow stars on the lapels of his fellow citizens, he remarks in his diary: “When I went to school, I counted sixty-nine ‘sherrifs.’” He also served as an editor and writer for Vedem, a newspaper published in the boys’ barracks at Theresienstadt.

Atlantic Monthly Press will officially release Lappin’s translation on Sunday, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The book, though, has been available since the end of March. You can order it here.


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