Petr Ginz

Born: February 1st, 1928 in Prague, Czechoslovakia (presently Czechia)
Deported: 22 October 1942 to Theresienstadt Ghetto/concentration camp, in Czechoslovakia (presently Czechia)
Died: Believed on 28 September 1944, at the gas chamber upon arrival at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in German-occupied Poland
Parents: Otto and Marie Ginz
Siblings: Eva Ginz [Chava Pressburger, editor of the diary], born 1930
Career Interests: Author of books and poetry, Artist
Diary Title: The Diary of Petr Ginz 1941-1942

Excerpts from Petr’s Diary

19. IX. 1942 (Friday)
“The weather is foggy. Jews were told too wear a badge…When I went to school, I counted sixty-nine sheriffs.”[1]

1. I. 1942 (Thursday)
“I made myself a nice violin from bark, but I don’t yet know how to play it, because so far it has only two (rubber) strings.
In the morning I did my homework. Otherwise nothing special. Actually, a lot is happening, but it is not even visible. What is quite ordinary now would certainly cause upset in a normal time. For example, Jews don’t have fruit, geese, or any poultry, cheese, onions, garlic, and many other things. Tobacco ration cards are forbidden to prisoners, madmen, and Jews.
They are not allowed to travel in the front section of trams, buses, or trolleybuses; they are not allowed to take walks on riverbanks, etc. etc.”[1]

2. I. 1942 (Friday)
“In the morning I did my homework, in the afternoon went for a walk.”[1]

12. III. 1942 (Thursday)
“In the morning I was in town; there is an Wenceslav Square, that Jews are not allowed to read newspapers.
In the afternoon at school.”[1]

12. VI.1942 (Friday)
“Uncle Milos has been called up for Theresienstadt? Poland?
Maybe Grandma as well.”[1]

9. VIII. 1942 (Sunday)
“In the morning at home.” [last entry before transport][1]

His Diary

Petr created and bound his own pages that became his novels and his diary. Laws at the time forbade Jews from buying common writing materials, so he used old papers and fashioned bindings from spare items. He also created linocut book labels.

The author Jonathan Safran Foer wrote this in the foreword to Petr’s diary:

Surrounded by death, and facing his own, Petr put words on paper. Given his unprecedented situation, his words were unprecedented. He was creating new language. He was creating life…. The diary in your hands did not save Petr. But it did save us.[1]

Petr’s Life

Petr and his sister Eva were raised in a comfortable, happy home in Prague. His father was Jewish, but his mother was not. Under German law of the time, Petr as a mischling child (having both Jewish and Aryan parentage) was not commanded for transport until after his 14th birthday. His sister Eva arrived at Theresienstadt two years after Petr, and their father–until then protected by having a non-Jewish wife– arrived soon thereafter. Petr was taken on one of the last transports to Auschwitz.

Petr was said to be highly intelligent and inquisitive, as well as imaginative, inventive, and productive. He was considered artistic, an avid reader, kind and personable. He wrote several novels and poems. His diary covers the time during 1941 and 1942 prior to leaving Prague. The diary was hidden in a friend’s house and only found 60 years later, but verified by his sister as his. He writes of everyday life, school, family and friends, but is cognizant of all the changes and horrific happenings under Nazi rule.

His sister Eva noted that at the end of his diary, Petr’s handwriting had become different and unsteady. It was evident that fear had crept in, and his days of childhood were gone. Petr writes about when he was told about his impending transport to Theresienstadt and other major events occurring all around him.

During his time at Theresienstadt, Petr continued to write and draw, and to dream about the mysteries of space and the hope of a better world. He also founded a secret weekly “newsletter” called Vedem (which translates to: “we lead”), in which other boys there could contribute their own writing or artwork. Petr also invented a cryptic writing code which his sister was able to decipher.

Of his family, only his parents, his sister Eva and his cousin Hana Ginz survived. Eva later wrote that their mother had a lovely voice; after Petr left, she never sang again. Petr died at the Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 16.

Painting by Petr Ginz, “Moon Landscape”

In Honor of Petr Ginz

On 16 January 2003, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, son of a Holocaust survivor, departed on Columbia Space Shuttle 107 with a copy of Petr’s artwork “Moon Landscape.” This artwork had been chosen by Yad Vashem to pay symbolic tribute to all those lost during the Holocaust. The fateful mission ended on 01 Feb 2003 as the shuttle disintegrated on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, what would have been Petr’s 75th birthday. Nevertheless, those lost in the Holocaust had been honored, scientific data was obtained, and Petr had journeyed along his pathway to the stars.

The asteroid 50413 Petrginz was named to honor him.

The Last Flight of Petr Ginz is a movie that recounts the story of his life.

Source:[1] The Diary of Petr Ginz, 1941-1942. Petr Ginz, edited by Chave Pressburger (Eva Ginz).

“So I went home. While walking, I tried to absorb, for the last time, the street noise I would not hear again for a long time (in my opinion, Father and Mother were counting on just a few months).”

– Petr Ginz[1]

Excerpt from Petr’s novel, The Secret of Satan’s Grotto:

“It occurred to me then that my feelings at that moment were like a newspaper before it hits the rolling press. All the pressure from every side disappeared. I wondered: why does the pure paper of children’s souls have to pass from a young age through the rolling press of life and society, which imprints it with all sorts of qualities and crushes it under the pressure of worries about livelihood and the attacks of enemies?”[1]

Excerpt from Petr’s poem, Remembering Prague:

“How long has it already been
since last the sun was seen by me
behind the Petrin hill, dropping out of sight?
I kissed Prague with a teary glance when she
wrapped herself in the shadows of the night….

For a year I’ve been stuck in an ugly hole;
instead of your beauties, I’ve a few streets alone.
Like a wild animal trapped in a cage
I remember you, my Prague, a fairy tale of stone.”[1]