Friday, August 24, 2007

Poetry Friday

Remembering Prague

How long has it already been
since last the sun was seen by me
behind the Petrinhill, dropping out of sight?
I kissed Prague with a teary glance when she
wrapped herself in the shadows of the night.

How long since in Vltava I could hear
the pleasant murmur of the weir?
Long ago the buzz of Wenceslas Square
was forgotten. When did is disappear?

How are those hidden corners of my city
in the shadow of the slaughterhouse? I fear
they are not sad, they don't miss me
as I miss them. It's been a year.

For a year I've been stuck in an ugly hole;
instead of your beauties, I've a few streets alone.
Like a wild animal trapped in a cage
I remember you, my Prague, a fairy tale of stone.

Petr Ginz 1928-1944

Taken from:

The Diary of Petr Ginz edited by Chava Pressburger, introduction by Jonathan Safran Foer, translated by Elena Lappin

Petr Ginz was born in Prague, in 1928, the oldest child of an Aryan mother and Jewish father. Being of the product of a mixed marriage, he was allowed to stay at home and not be called up for a transport to one of the concentration camps until he turned 14, which happened in 1942. Two years later, his sister Chava Pressburger (who edited this work) joined him Thesesienstadt, right before Petr's transport to Auschwitz, where he was gassed.

In 2003, Israli astronaut Ilan Ramon took one of Petr's paintings, Moon Landscape, with him into space. On February 1, 2003 (Petr's 75th birthday) the shuttle Columbia exploded.

After hearing the story, a homeowner in Prague realized that the hand-bound diaries he had found upon moving into the house must be those of Petr Ginz. His sister recognized them right away.

This book is those two diaries, spanning the years of 1941 and 1942, ending just a few months before Petr's transport. But it is more than that. It contains mainly of his drawings, paintings and linocuts, as well as poetry and some of his writings from Thesesienstadt. Pressburger has a long introduction giving much background to their family's life before, during, and after the war. Jonathan Safran Foer's introduction on the power and meaning of lanugage and words is moving and powerful.

Petr's diary is not the introspective writings of a captive Anne Frank. He is a boy full of life, documenting his day to day activities as life becomes ever more restricted. Many entries are similair to this complete one from November 25, 1941:

Morning at home, afternoon at school.

There are lists of birthday presents, and an ever-growing catalog of friends, neighbors and relatives being called up for transport. He writes news from the war, such as the March 8th entry from 1942 noting that The Japanese have seriously threatened Java. Or, a week later, on March 11th

In the morning at school; they counted 750 casualties in Paris and 1,400 injured.--In the afternoon outside.

It is the work of a boy going on being a boy in the midst of confusion and carnage. Most moving is his artwork, which shows great talent and promise.

As for age range, I usually just go with whatever my library has something catalogued as. They have this in the adult section, and think it's a great book for adults, but I would also recomend it to someone as young as 9 or 10. I think I would give them this one first before Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

Poetry Friday roundup is at Book Mine Set.


Sara said...

Jennie, you read the most amazing things. I went to Prague (in the dead of winter) several years ago, and this poem makes me feel that I saw nothing at all.

And how many books do you read a day, anyway??? It seems like hundreds, from your postings, but that may be a low estimate...

Jennie said...

you read the most amazing things has to be one of the greatest compliments ever. Thank you Sara!

As to how many books I read a day... um... can I take the fifth?

Seriously, I've read 12 so far this month and I read 12 in July. I feel those are low numbers (for me) but I've read a lot of adult books this summer, and those take longer, and there's that whole working-full-time + school thing, which is worse in summer because they're intensive semesters.

It seems like I read more, because I have a large backlog of unblogged books! My goal is to stay at most a year behind. I've blogged most of my recent reads, but there is definetely some stuff in the wings from November! Eep!

John Mutford said...

I've never been to Prague nor do I know much about the place, and now I'm mourning it.

Jennie said...


I know what you mean! I've never been to Prague either, but this poem makes me miss it acutely.

Anonymous said...

Yes, when you see Prague first time, you are impressed and fall in love with this city. And after you leave, you miss Prague and always want to come back. Prague is beautiful city with architecture going back to the middle ages. I was impressed by the Prague castle, the old town's powder gate tower and the famous astronomical clock. I had a chance to explore the Jewish quarter, also fascinating (the Spanish synagogue is not to be missed). St. Vitus's Cathedral rivals Notre Dame as a massive, buttressed church: it also houses the tomb of "Good King Wenceslas".