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Arnošt Lustig has passed away

Prague, 27.2.2011 15:41, (ROMEA)

Arnošt Lustig, the journalist and author of books about the Holocaust, passed away yesterday at the age of 84 in Prague's Vinohrady Hospital. He succumbed after five years of battling a malignant illness.

"He survived the concentration camps but he could not survive the malignant illness he has been fighting for the last five years. The last time it recurred he was in Cyprus, where it gained the upper hand," Markéta Mališová of the Franz Kafka publishing house informed the Czech Press Agency. The death was also confirmed by the hospital spokesperson.

Mališová said the author had big plans to complete several books, to travel to Paris to visit Milan Kundera, to travel to Washington for his favorite juicy veal cutlets, and to give a lecture at the University in Québec. "He was at home everywhere, but most of all in Prague," she said, adding that he loved life and lived it to the full until his last moments.

František Cinger, a journalist for the Czech daily Právo, remembers his meetings with Lustig as festive moments full of laughter. "As a person who had gone through Terezín, Auschwitz and Buchenwald, he managed to rejoice in every single day. Meetings or dinner parties with his friends meant the most to him of all," he told the Czech Press Agency.

"He was an unusually friendly and kind-hearted person who was used to taking more of an interest in others than in his own troubles. He is one of the most significant and most world-famous Czech authors, but he always made fun of any flattery and said that only those who read books 50 years after they are published will decide who the real authors are," Cinger said.

Mališová says Lustig was never convinced of his right to be called an author even by the many awards he received, including an American Academy of Arts and Letters Lifetime Achievement Award, the Franz Kafka Prize and others. Lustig did live to see his works tested by time, as his short story collections, "Night and Hope" (Noc a naděje) and "Diamonds of the Night" (Démanty noci) were published in 1957 and 1958.

Lustig was born in Prague on 21 December 1926. As an adolescent he passed through the ghetto at Terezín and the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. His creations mine his experiences of that time. In addition to "Diamonds of the Night", his best-known works include the books "Dita Saxová" and "A Prayer for Katherine Horowitz" (Modlitba pro Kateřinu Horowitzovou). Lustig's literature elevates the internal strength of human beings that makes it possible for them to face humiliation and preserve their dignity even in situations of extreme menace.

After the war, Lustig completed his journalism studies and worked at several dailies and in radio; he was a correspondent during the Arab-Israeli War. He then worked as a reporter and director at Czechoslovak Radio, an editor at the weekly Mladý svět, and as a screenwriter at Barrandov studios. He emigrated in 1968, first living briefly in Israel, then in Yugoslavia, and from 1970 in the USA. He returned to the Czech Republic regularly over the course of the past 20 years.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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