Lovely Green Eyes, by Arnost Lustig

Book 2

My freshman year in college, I took a survey course in Cinema. The professor was Arnost Lustig, a Holocaust survivor from Prague. He was sent to the camps at age 16 – Auschwitz and then Buchenwald. If I remember the story correctly, he escaped with a guy he knew during transport to another location. We read one of his books that semester, and I have read a couple since then.

He made a big impression on me. I remember that semester he was gone for a week while he participated in a group that went back to Auschwitz to gather artifacts for the Holocaust Museum in Washington. The last time I Googled his name, he had retired and returned to Prague. God Bless.

Lovely Green Eyes was written in 2000, after I graduated. It popped up at the Library Used Book Store last month and I jumped on it.

The main character is a 15-year old Jewish girl who managed to get out of Auschwitz by pretending to be an Aryan, lying about her age and getting assigned to a brothel that served army soldiers. The first person narrative is actually told post-war by her husband. “Lovely Green Eyes” is her nickname at the brothel. “Skinny” is her nickname after the War.

There are several stories told here, going back and forth in the chronology between the War and the year or so after it ended. Two pieces stood out: the seriously deranged German officer, whose story is too violently ugly for me to revisit, and the rabbi who went into hiding and later found that his wife and daughter died in the camps.

Lustig’s books rely heavily on the theme of survival, but this one shifted the focus a bit to Survivor’s Guilt. Or rather, Survivor’s Guilt as a piece of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. An interesting scene was Skinny arriving back in her old neighborhood to see how it hadn’t changed.
Lustig’s language and style makes an easier read than you would think of the subject matter. Interestingly, while he was a literature professor at The American University, he writes in his native Czech and then has someone else translate them into English.

I should Google him again and find out if he is still writing.

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