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by Arnost Lustig
Arcade Publishing, 2002
Review by Su Terry on Nov 8th 2002

Lovely Green Eyes

In an online interview, Arnost Lustig, author of Lovely Green Eyes: A Novel, poses the question, "Why is life precious for some people and for others it's worthless?" (Central Europe Review (22 October 2001) vol. 3, no 28) His answer is this gut wrenching novel about the Holocaust and one Jewish girl heartbreaking choice to escape death in a concentration camp by hiding her ethnicity and by becoming an army prostitute for the Germans.

Lovely Green Eyes is set during the closing months of World War II. Fifteen-year old Hanka Kaudersova is the last surviving member of her family at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Bright and beautiful, she has been selected by Dr. Krueger to clean his surgery, however, when Dr. Krueger blunders by grafting Jewish skin onto a frost bitten German officer, he is condemned to be sent to the Front. Hanka, knowing that retribution generally extends to camp workers and is convinced she will be sent to the gas chamber for Krueger’s faux pas. That night when a blackout occurs in the medical facility, Hanka is given a second chance at life. Posing as an eighteen-year old Aryan, Hanka slips into a line of girls interviewing for positions in a field brothel. She is accepted and so is born “Skinny” aka “Lovely Green Eyes.” At Feldbordell No. 232 Ost, Skinny spends twenty-one traumatic days as an army prostitute servicing twelve to fifteen men daily. After the War, Hanka goes to Prague to re-establish her life. There she meets rabbi Gideon Schapiro who tries to work with her on the religious and ethical repercussions she is feels about her choices. She also meets and befriends two equally young Holocaust survivors, Erwin Adler and Jindra Kraus. While each part opens with Hanka’s post-war attempts to re-assimilate in Prague, the bulk of the novel’s chapters focus on Skinny’s experiences at Feldbordell No. 232 Ost.

Hanka/Skinny is a very complex character with reactions that are often not easy to understand. At first, I was a bit annoyed by Hanka’s ho-hum attitude towards her whole experiences at the Feldbordell, but finally, I came to realize that by staying unresponsive and non-reactive to what was happening to her body and to those around her, she was able to survived by causing no waves. By simply being mediocre, she was able to pass through awful situations without being noticed or remembered. Most minor characters past through the story in a mindless blur much like the repetitive lists of men that formed her daily quota. Only the compassionate Captain Daniel Hentschel and the dangerous Obersturmfuhrer Stefan Sarazin stand out.

Lovely Green Eyes is not an emotionally easy book to read. It has very graphic violence and the sexuality, while not as graphically descriptive, is hardily for the prudish. The sheer inhumane treatment of humans and animals was shocking and repulsive to me. I found the most interesting section of the book to be “Part Three” wherein Hanka works with Rabbi Schapiro to try to interpret her choices and experiences in light of Torah. It challenged me to reflect on how easy it is to judge others who have made what look on the surface to be terribly unethical choices without a heartfelt exploration of the individual’s actual lived experiences.

Arnost Lustig is a Holocaust survivor. He was born in Czechoslovakia. At the age of 16, he was sent first to Thereseinstadt, then to Auschwitz - where his father died in the gas chambers, and finally to Buchenwald. After the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, he immigrated to the United States. He is a professor of literature at American University. He has more than 20 works in print, including: Dita Saxova (1979, Revised1994), Night and Hope (Translated by George Theiner, 1985), A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova (1985), Darkness Casts No Shadow (Translated by Jeanne Nemocova, 1985), Diamonds of the Night (Translated by Jeanne Nemocova, 1986), Indecent Dreams (Translated by Vera Borkovec, 1988), Jewish Lives Series: Children of the Holocaust (1995), Jewish Lives Series: The House of Returned Echoes (Translated by Josef Lustig 2000) and Jewish Lives Series: The Bitter Smell of Almonds (2001). He lives in Washington, D.C. Lovely Green Eyes: A Novel (2002) is his latest novel.

Lovely Green Eyes by Arnost Lustig is gut wrenching and thought provoking look at the lives of Jews and non-Jews in German controlled Eastern Europe at the close of World War II. It is not a pretty picture and this not an easy read. It is, however, a necessary picture of the harsh realities of life in war torn and occupied regions for the local residents. I highly recommend this novel.

 

© 2002 Su Terry

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.