Literary roundup: From Dresden to Dickens

February 13 is the anniversary of the Dresden bombing that took place in 1945. The bombing continues to provoke debate and beyond its historical significance has a number of connections with literary and cultural history.

In the Irish Independent Eoghan Harris writes about “The moral dilemma posed by Dresden,” pointing out the impossibility of a blanket condemnation of the devastating attack considering the fact though there were many innocent people killed that day there were also many far from innocent Nazis and Nazi-supporters who died as well. He also shows that the myths and exaggeration of casualties still often put forward started with Goebbels and was later nearly doubled by Holocaust denier David Irving.

He ends the article with an account of a haunting prediction:

“Seven years before the bombing, on November 9, 1938, Dresden painter Otto Griebel watched as Nazi thugs hauled pale Jewish teachers from their community house, forced them to bow to a baying mob and set fire to Dresden’s beautiful synagogue. Later, as Griebel gazed at the smoking ruins, a street character called Franz Hackel passed by him with blazing eyes, muttering conspiratorially as he made this terrible prediction: ‘The fire will return! It will make a long curve and come back to us.’”

The bombing also saved the life of literature scholar Victor Klemperer, whose marriage to a non-Jew kept him from being deported until February 13, 1945, when the last remaining Jews were to be sent to the death camps. Klemperer’s diary wasn’t published until 1995, when its highly personal and chilling account of his life under Nazism made it a bestseller.

The bombing and its legacy is also depicted and discussed in books as varied as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Sebald’s On the Natural History of Destruction.

A Czech take on historical reckoning

The Independent is also the site of an editorial by poet and Czech Ambassador to Ireland Tomáš Kafka, who I interviewed at last year’s Prague Writer’s Festival, welcoming Ireland to Continental Europe in how its painful debate over the role of its World War II neutrality contributed to the occurrence of the Holocaust, and that the current reckoning is similar to what took place in Czech society particularly since 1989.

The Dickens – Švejk connection

And for something totally unrelated to mass-killing, Radio Prague has an article on the history of the Czech reception of Dickens, particularly his influence on Jaroslav Hašek and his classic The Good Soldier Švejk.

Some interesting facts: Dickens virtually disappeared in Czech translation on two separate occasions, almost exactly a century apart and for similar reasons. After the first Czech translations appeared in the 1840s there was a period of 20 years following the revolution of 1848 where no Dickens appeared in Czech. Then, in the early 1950s A Tale of Two Cities was published in communist Czechoslovakia, but then the regime perhaps realized that allowing a picture of post-revolutionary cruelty to be published was not in their best interests, and was never published again before 1989.

Photos – Dresden, Deutsche Fotothek, Abraham Pisarek, 2) Otto Griebel, Circus, 1920s

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