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Holocaust survivor and author dies

Czech author and Holocaust survivor Arnost Lustig, who launched the first Korean translations of his work in Seoul last September, died on Saturday, aged 84. He had been battling cancer for five years.

The Pulitzer-nominated and Franz Kafka Award-winning writer penned over two dozen books, many of which drew on his experience of imprisonment at Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. In 1945, having survived three years in captivity, he had a miraculous escape from a train on the way to Dachau concentration camp when it was accidentally hit by a U.S. fighter bomber. His dramatic escape was recounted in the 1964 film “Diamonds of the Night.”
Arnost Lustig (Björn Steinz)
Arnost Lustig (Björn Steinz)

After his escape, Lustig took part in the uprising against the Nazis in Prague. After World War II, he worked as a reporter, covering the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. In 1973 he became a professor of literature at American University in Washington, D.C. He went on to lecture at other American universities, before returning to then Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism.

During his presentation at the Israeli Culture Center in Seocho-dong last year, Lustig spoke of the “universal” lessons to be learned from the horrors of the Holocaust, which he said could happen again. Lustig also highlighted the “sad truth” of the many writers who were killed in the Holocaust before they were able to document its horror.

“Arnost Lustig looked invincible. He did not behave like (he was) fighting for his life while on his visit to Korea,” said Jaroslav Olsa, jr, Czech Ambassador to Korea, in a statement on Sunday.

“He enjoyed every single moment of his stay here and spoke about his writing plans.”

Just last month, in an interview with a Czech newspaper, Lustig spoke of his optimism, despite his past sufferings and being largely confined to bed with his illness.

“I have survived everything in my life so far, so maybe I’ll survive the cancer too,” he said. “My life is OK.”

By John Power (john.power@heraldcorp.com)
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