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He skilled interrogation by the Gestapo and Czech revenge in opposition to the Germans. Demetz described Prague as black and gold – 2024-05-15 02:12:03

When his mom was ordered to move in the summertime of 1942, Peter Demetz took just a few hours off work. He accompanied her by tram to Prague’s Veletržní palace, the place there was a Jewish gathering place. Kids operating round and lonely previous individuals sitting round. They mentioned just a few extra phrases. Her darkish brown trunk, her hair blooming with silver: that was the final time he noticed her. She died quickly after in Terezín, she was 51 years previous.

Peter Demetz, a half-breed in accordance with racial legal guidelines, had a number of near-misses himself in the course of the battle, however survived. After February 1948, he emigrated to the USA, the place he turned a world literary scholar, professor emeritus at Yale College. He adopted his mom solely final week, when he died on the age of 101. The dying was reported by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, for which the native of Prague had lengthy reviewed Czech literature, for instance the novels of Milan Kundera and Jáchym Topol.

In Demetz, not solely a revered Germanist and essayist, but additionally a witness of the twentieth century is leaving. In September 1937, he accompanied the funeral procession with the coffin of Tomáš Garrigu Masaryk. “One million individuals lined the road, however all that may very well be heard was the muffled clatter of horseshoes, the metallic sound of wheels, weapons and studded army boots, and the mushy sobs of the group,” he wrote.

A yr later, he enlisted within the Nationwide Guard, able to defend Czechoslovakia from the Nazis. “They gave me a 1918 rifle and chased me up the hill and again once more for the final tram in order that I might be capable of do guard responsibility in Germany as quickly as we occupied it,” he recalled. However the Czechoslovaks gave up with out a combat. And Peter Demetz subsequently went via a number of Nazi prisons, together with the Pankrák jail, the place he was tortured by guards.

He skilled a cell in Auschwitz, luckily solely on the police station, when the Gestapo took him to Pečkárna for questioning via a number of stops. Later, in a labor camp in northern Bohemia, he noticed the sky coated in shades of pink and yellow from the bombing of Dresden. That very same night, a bomb dropped by the Allies on Prague killed Demetz’s protectorate love, Czech German girl Waltraut.

Within the final days of the battle, Peter Demetz is using a priest’s bicycle from the labor camp to Prague when three SS males choose him up and lock him in a wood shed, saying that they’ll return in three hours and shoot him. Luckily they did not come. And so the long run professor of literature, at that second overgrown past recognition and with out entrance enamel, makes use of the parson’s bicycle as a battering ram, breaks down the door and continues house. There he’ll discover out which of his relations perished within the focus camp. Within the e-book Prague underneath menace 1939-1945, which mixes historical past with a private narrative, it additionally describes violence from the other facet: how on the finish of the battle the Czechs burned the Germans alive. That they threw an previous German girl out of the window. Or how they beat up a German philharmonic on the road who came around Prague and did not communicate Czech.

Literary scholar Peter Demetz in 1969, when he was already a professor at Yale College. | Picture: Profimedia.cz

“The Czechs didn’t face the Germans in an open battle just like the Poles within the early autumn of 1939, and I can not eliminate the concept that the brutalities of the displacement interval had been a late compensation for the murky ordinariness of the protectorate,” he interpreted his disappointment with the post-war expulsion of the Germans, with the applying of the precept of collective guilt and “brutality, which contradicted all of the traditions of Masaryk’s Republic”.

In his books on literature and historical past, Peter Demetz put the transports to Terezín, in addition to the expulsion of the Germans, into the broader context of different mass murders in Prague, such because the pogrom in 1389, wherein three thousand Jews died, or the mass deportation of Jews ordered by Maria Theresa in 1744. His texts in regards to the Czech metropolis freely run via a sequence of chapters on tolerance and intolerance. How shortly one factor follows one other, when understanding for minorities alternates with burning, looting and homicide.

In all probability even for all the things he noticed in it, Peter Demetz had an advanced relationship with the metropolis. “I really like my hometown and hate it on the similar time,” he writes in his best-known e-book entitled Praha černá a zlatá, which, like his different publications, needed to be translated into Czech. In 1998, Zdeněk Hron took on this process for the Prostor publishing home.

Alchemists someplace

Demetz wrote the six-page treatise for his American college students who went to the Czech capital after 1989 and had been solely fascinated by Franz Kafka and Václav Havel. “It appeared to me not sufficient,” he defined.

However he had one other motivation. Within the early Nineteen Seventies, the professor of Slavic research in Rome, Angelo Maria Ripellino, revealed the favored e-book Magic Prague, wherein he revived previous romantic myths in regards to the Vltava metropolis, favorable to horoscopes and gusts of the irrational, about magical and mystical Prague, which night time after night time wanders motley corporations of alchemists, rabbis or Arcimbold apparitions, which is misplaced within the hazy outlines of yellow gasoline lanterns and in whose grotesquely crooked streets, half-demolished church buildings or historic synagogues you possibly can nonetheless see a golem, or a minimum of the shadow of Franz Kafka.

Outdated City Synagogue in Prague’s Outdated City, 1933. | Picture: CTK

Demetz objected to the concept that the Czech metropolis hides extra mystique than different European cities. “I bought it into my head that I might write a polemic in opposition to magical Prague,” he defined, explaining why he additionally included royal, Hussite, Enlightenment, Cubist and Masaryk Prague in his publication. To begin with, it tells the historical past of town from its basis to the twentieth century with an emphasis on literary connections. However it additionally deconstructs the narrative of magical Prague.

The Germanist sees its roots within the wave of German or English vacationers who got here to Bohemia from the nineteenth century and had been usually amazed by the previous church buildings or the Jewish ghetto earlier than the sanitation. The literary scholar cites from the books of George Eliot, Francis Marion Crawford or The Golem by Gustav Meyrink, “a really spectacular, if tacky melodrama”, writes Demetz sternly in regards to the well-known novel from 1915.

Among the many spreaders of clichés can be “essentially the most well-known toxic flower of magical Prague”, an anti-Semitic novel a few secret assembly of the twelve tribes of Israel in Prague’s Jewish cemetery, a part of which later discovered its means into the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, quoted by Adolf Hitler.

Demetz is constant. “The well-known Golden Alley was not inhabited by alchemists, however sincere lackeys who had been servants of the royal chamber, and the nice moralist Rabbi Löw started to be related to the legend of the golem solely 2 hundred years after his dying,” he refutes one fantasy after one other.

On this a part of the e-book, nevertheless, he argues extra with the post-revolutionary vacationer picture of Prague than with the whimsical e-book of Angela Maria Ripellina. Who wrote his primarily literary and in any case charming portrait of town after August 1968, within the darkest of occasions. And it was as a lot a dirge as a eulogy, as a result of Ripellino missed Prague and couldn’t return. Even Peter Demetz definitely understood this given his personal destiny.

Shop in the Jewish ghetto, Josefov, Prague, circa 1900. Photographed by Jindřich Eckert.

Store within the Jewish ghetto, Josefov, Prague, circa 1900. Photographed by Jindřich Eckert. | Picture: ČTK / ullstein bild

Tryzna after Kafka

Demetz’s mom was a Jewish seamstress from a household that fled from Poděbrady to Prague after the pogrom. Father Hans Demetz had roots within the Ladin nationwide minority with its personal language, he labored as a director of German theaters in Prague and Brno. Amongst different issues, the daddy visited the younger insurance coverage agent Franz Kafka in Celetná road. “When Kafka died, he loyally went to his funeral, and each time it got here up, he did not neglect to say that Kafka’s final lover, Dora Diamant, handed out on the open grave,” Demetz wrote. After Kafka’s dying, his father organized a trial on the Mozarteum.

That can be why Peter Demetz was once known as the final hyperlink with the world of Prague Jewish German literature. As a category of 1922, he now not skilled Kafka personally, however as quickly as he began learning non secular research, German research and Bohemian research at Charles College, he turned fascinated by his work.

In 1947, he accomplished knowledgeable work on the reception of Kafka’s books in England and later devoted a number of extra texts to him, together with the e-book essay Airplanes over Brescia, additionally revealed in Czech. It tells of Kafka’s vacation journey to an air present in Italy in 1909. For this e-book, Demetz spent a number of months in Brescia, strolling the countryside the place the air day was held, studying previous newspapers on microfilm and ingesting cappuccinos within the lodge the place the primary aviators stayed.

Most of the people may be accustomed to Demetz’s e-book about one other key character of German literature born in Prague, the poet whose Czech interval was analyzed within the publication entitled René: The Prague Years of Rainer Maria Rilka. It was the primary one he wrote whereas in exile. “On free evenings and weekends in a comfortable teahouse on Maxmilian’s Road in Munich, I barely bought out of the refugee camp,” he recalled.

Freshly graduated with a physician of philosophy, Demetz emigrated in 1949, he and his spouse had been taken throughout the Šumava by a member of the already banned scouts. He first bought to the editorial workplace of Svobodna Europa in Munich, the place he met Ferdinand Peroutka and wrote a e-book about Rilke, after which to the USA: he lived there since 1953. Eight years later, he was appointed professor of German literature and comparative research on the prestigious Yale College, the place he headed the division for a very long time . He lectured there for over thirty years.

As well as, Peter Demetz was a visiting professor at Princeton and Columbia College. He turned a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, obtained the Grand Cross of Benefit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He wrote tons of {of professional} texts and translated, for instance, Babička by Božena Němcová into German. He additionally participated within the thirty-three-volume version sequence of Tschechische Bibliothek, the place between 1999 and 2007, translations from Czech literature had been revealed in uniform binding and graphic enhancing.

In 2014, Peter Demetz received an honorary doctorate from Masaryk University.

In 2014, Peter Demetz obtained an honorary doctorate from Masaryk College. | Picture: CTK

Slavic Prague

He returned usually after the Velvet Revolution. He taught for some time in Ostrava, obtained an honorary doctorate in Brno and a silver medal in Prague, however he solely referred to himself as a “former Prague resident”. The panorama of the capital, enriched with a tv tower and communist housing estates, impressed him solely to a restricted extent.

Demetze has been fascinated by multi-ethnic Prague all his life, constructed over centuries by Czechs, Germans, Jews and Italians. He knew the interfaces between them and their cultural heritage most intimately. Simply as he known as one in all his e-book of essays Dějiště: Bohemia, he additionally understood the Czech metropolis with out narrowing nationwide or linguistic boundaries.

He didn’t think about it a tragedy that within the new millennium it turned cosmopolitan once more, solely Slavic. “Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Slovaks stay right here. That is additionally a possibility. Issues simply occurred and nothing may be accomplished about them,” he shrugged in an interview with Týden journal. However he himself already had a metropolis related to recollections. And for instance, when he was strolling alongside Vodičková Road previous the Bageterie Boulevard department, he advised how he was compelled to work in a German bookstore at this place in the course of the protectorate and what number of occasions he washed the window right here from high to backside.

“I do know Prague and I do not realize it on the similar time. Nothing that’s in me jogs my memory of something of me and all the things that feels acquainted I’ve introduced with me – even the sensation in my fingertips once I faucet the wooden of the previous white sideboard within the kitchen, whose drawers I opened once I was seven or eight years previous and appeared for nuts and raisins in them,” he describes within the conclusion of Prague Black and Gold how within the post-revolutionary metropolis “I combine with the residing, however the useless rub between us”. Particularly the mom. He by no means forgot the final time he noticed her on the Jewish assembly place close to the Honest Palace. We won’t neglect Peter Demetz.

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