My Lucky Star

 

When a teen-aged Czech girl living outside of Prague heard Fred Astaire singing “You Are My Lucky Star” she was captivated.

I sang it as I heard it, phonetically, with no idea of the meaning.  To my ears the opening words sounded like some imaginary Czech words, Jú ár majlakista

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. 

Somewhere inside each of us is a survival kit.  We never know where it is, or what is in it, until it opens at the critical moment.  It contains no drugs or bandages, just firm instructions about what to do – and the necessary strength to do it.   

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.

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13 thoughts on “My Lucky Star

  1. The “survival kit” quote is rich. I’ve already put it in my journal to think on a little more. This sounds like a book that maybe I could handle–I get almost physically sick when I delve into this subject too far. I’m not trying to stick my head in the sand, but it just troubles me so greatly.  Our homeschool group had the privilege of hosting 2 survivors who spoke to our children last summer.  They are very brave to share their stories.  We need to remember.

  2. I’m with Poiema … I just hate what happened to these innocent people.  About all I can take is Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom, although I have visited Dachau.So, did Colin read this one, too?

  3. Just this past Thursday my youngest daughter and I attended a lecture by Irene Zisblatt, Hungarian Holocaust survivor and author of The Fifth Diamond.  She held the packed auditorium spellbound with her stories.  She was a “patient” of Josef Mengele and escaped while on a death march.  She was only 13 years old at the time.  I haven’t read her book, but her talk had the right balance between the details that are so hard to hear and the details that were too graphic for her audience.  (There were fairly young children in the audience.)  I suspect her book is the same because she wrote it to be used in schools.  Here’s a link to part of the lecture she gave:  http://www.herald-dispatch.com/videos/x140292583/Video-Holocaust-survivor-Irene-Zisblatt.womanofthehouse

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