The Jews and the Shoah in Czech Literature after WWII


The aim of this article is to present a concise insight into the Shoah topics in Czech literature.
The images of the Shoah went through various phases within Czech literature. Immediately after
World War II, it primarily centered on documentary accounts of those who had lived through
Nazi camps (The Death Factory by Ota Kraus and Erich Schön/Kulka about Auschwitz). Jiří
Weil’s novel Life with a Star (1949) not only presented the horrible brutality of the Shoah, but
also its seemingly banal, even profane side. This novel is considered the most important work on
this theme in Czech literature and has inspired a multitude of other works. Arnošt Lustig, who
survived both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, entered the literary scene at the end of the 1950s.
The Shoah became the topic of his life’s work (for instance A Prayer for Katarina Horovitzova).
Arnošt Lustig, Ladislav Fuks (Mr. Theodor Mundstock) and other authors used persecution and
extermination of the Jews also as a metaphor for man caught in the machinery of the totalitarian
regime. Some of these works also became famous in film versions like The Shop on Main Street,
which was inspired by the story of Ladislav Grosman and received a foreign-language Academy
Award in 1965. From the end of the 1960s onwards, this theme did not play such a key role in
Czech literature as it had previously. So the Shoah appears in the background of several books
by Viktor Fischl who emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Israel. For the generation which had
never experienced World War II, they primarily understood this theme in terms of set imagines
and stark Holocaust iconography. Some younger authors attempted to push these borders through
representing the Shoah in an unusual way, such fusing the grotesque, horror, vulgarity and
banality (Arnošt Goldflam, Jáchym Topol).

The Jews and the Shoah in Czech Literature after WWII
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