Petr Ginz of Prague wrote and illustrated 5 novels, an Esperanto-Czech Dictionary, numerous essays, poems, and short stories published in a weekly newspaper — all before he was 16 years old. His remarkable creativity was cruelly cut short in 1944 when he was murdered in Auschwitz. But true to Petr Ginz's own words, "The seed of a creative idea does not die in mud and scum. Even there it will germinate and spread its blossom like a star shining in darkness," some of Petr's work survived and has recently been put together into a film, "The Last Flight of Petr Ginz," more than half a century later.
Through more modern technology, the filmmakers have creatively woven together Petr's stories, documentary footage of the Nazi horrors, and animation to make Petr come alive again and soar into space. Some of his precious papers were discovered in an attic in Prague in 2003. His sister, Eva Pressburger, who lives in Israel and is an exceptional artist in her own right, eventually took possession of them and published "The Diary of Petr Ginz." The new film helps to bring Petr's creativity to a wider audience. His sister said, "There is enough Holocaust literature describing the horror. I don't really need to add anything to that. But Petr's diaries show that if you were a child during the Holocaust, you could still live moments of simple happiness."
A contemporary friend of young Petr said, "Everyone looked up to him. He was just a terrific boy with enormous talent and an insatiable appetite for learning anything there was to be learned." Unlike Anne Frank's diary, Petr's diary concentrated on facts, such as weather and daily activities. He commented on the changes that the Nazis imposed, like Jews having to wear a star that he compared to what sheriffs wore, and the increasingly ridiculous restrictions that reduced the Jews to prisoners even before they were sent to the concentration camps. As humiliations and senseless deaths increased, Petr created Ka-Du, a vengeful dinosaur devouring Jews. As Petr felt the approach of his own time for transport, he drew pictures of the Prague he loved and would be taken from. His handwriting showed an unusual disorder and stress as the noose tightened.
Because he was the child of a Jewish father and an Aryan mother, he was sent to Terezin (Therienstadt) concentration camp at the age of 14. Even there, his fertile mind continued to devour every book he could find. He also learned history, and drew maps — each accomplishment added to a list he kept. With other artists and writers at the camp, he produced every Friday for two years a newspaper called "Vedem," (We Lead) that both documented their lives there and allowed them to feel the freedom of creativity.
The film tries to capture the dichotomy of nature and death and other disparate parts within Petr's mind amidst the realities of his world. Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon on Space Shuttle Columbia took Petr's drawing of the Earth as seen from the moon. On February 1, 2003, which would have been Petr's 75th birthday, this painting was destroyed when the Columbia disintegrated. But an asteroid designated by Czech astronomers as 50413 Petrginz in 2000 continues to wander the heavens.
I watched "The Last Flight of Petr Ginz" seated next to my friend, Ruth Treeson, author of "The Long Walk," who was there at Auschwitz in 1944 at the same time Petr was gassed and cremated. She said quietly, "My heart goes out to him."
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