Feature

Arnost Lustig, 1926–2011

The novelist who recalled the horrors of the Holocaust

At 18, Arnost Lustig was already a veteran of three Nazi concentration camps. Sent to Theresienstadt in 1942, he was transferred to Auschwitz and later to Buchenwald. In 1945, he was packed into a train headed for Dachau when an American warplane destroyed the locomotive. Lustig escaped and later fictionalized the experience in his book Darkness Casts No Shadow.

Born in Prague, Lustig lost most of his family to the Nazi extermination program, said The New York Times. Only his mother and one sister survived. Following the war, Lustig returned to Prague and worked as a magazine editor, scriptwriter, and radio reporter, covering the 1948 Mideast war. His literary work started to gain recognition in the 1950s, and he “became a prominent member of a restive group of writers and artists whose energies helped to foment the Prague Spring of 1968.” He immigrated to America after the Soviet Union crushed the short-lived reform movement.

In 1973 Lustig joined the faculty of American University in Washington, D.C., where he continued to chronicle the Holocaust in a style, as the author Lawrence L. Langer wrote, that drew readers “into the orbit of atrocity without drowning them in a language of passionate outrage.” His books include Dita Saxova, about a woman tormented by survivor’s guilt, and Night and Hope, about “the profound losses and small consolations of life inside a death camp.” A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova, about a rebellion at Auschwitz, is widely considered his masterwork. He retired and returned to Prague in 2003.

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