Zdenka Fantlová decided on a whim that she ought to learn to speak English. When the race laws expelled her from her final year of school in 1940, she attended the English Institute in Prague and learned the language under teachers from England. When it came to the darkest, blackest hour of her life, when she was hours from death, that knowledge of English saved her life.
Her fathers final words to her, words spoken while he was being arrested by the Gestapo, sustained her through her long journey: Just keep calm. Remember, calmness is strength. My Lucky Star is a remarkably calm narrative of a survivor of Terezín, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kurzbach, and Bergen-Belsen.
After reading Fantlová’s memoir, I wanted to know more.
I watched Fred Astaire singing You Are My Lucky Star.
Terezín (also called Theresienstadt) was presented as a model Jewish settlement with a flourishing arts culture, but in reality was a transit camp to Auschwitz. Fantlová participated in theater productions; there were jazz bands, string quartets, choirs and symphony orchestras. Prisoner of Paradise (follow link to see archival photos) tells the story of Kurt Gerron, an actor and director who was forced to make a Nazi propoganda film. Terezin Chamber Music Foundation has a wealth of information.
Anne Sofie von Otter recorded Terezín/Theresienstadt, songs composed by inmates. Listen to the samples and weep at the depth of soulful expression. They are not all mournful melodies; some are sprightly, full of zest.
Finally I wanted to know more about Fantlova herself. I found these photos (the left taken in 1946 and the second current) along with an interview at Radio Prague.
I recommend this book on several levels. Most holocaust literature I’ve read has come from Polish, French, German or Dutch perspectives. This is the first Czech author I’ve read. It’s shorter length (201 pages) and level voice makes it, perhaps, a good entry book into the often traumatizing genre of holocaust literature. While there is pain, hunger, loss, death in her journey, Zdenka’s calm writing makes it all bearable to read.