Lenka Reinerova - fifteen months in a prison she never saw

Lenka Reinerova

Today the Prague writer Lenka Reinerova is 86. She grew up in a German-speaking Jewish family, and before the war worked as a journalist, coming into contact with many of the fascinating figures of pre-war literary life in the city. She was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. By pure chance she was out of the country at the time of the Nazi occupation in March 1939. After the war she worked briefly here at Radio Prague, but like so many Jewish thinkers and writers in the Stalinist Czechoslovakia of the early 1950s, she was soon arrested. She spent fifteen months in custody, without ever being told why. One grim detail of her prison life was that the guards made sure that she was never allowed to see the prison beyond the confines of her cell. It was only forty years later - after the fall of communism - that Lenka Reinerova first saw the corridors and staircases of a place where she spent over a year of her life. Here she describes that moment.

"One day I was sitting in this same room and was looking at my TV, and it was scenes of prison. All of a sudden I realised that I'd been in this same prison. And part of the regime was that I never was allowed to leave my cell without being blindfolded. They always took a black rag which they called a towel and that I had over my eyes. Now, sitting at home on my couch I saw for the first time how it looked in this prison. I saw for the first time the corridor, I saw for the first time the doors, which I always heard, but I never saw. And the strange thing is that I was surprised, because I somehow didn't realise when I was there - and I was for a long time there - that it was a prison like I know from films, mostly American films, with different floors and with the guards moving around. I knew that the guards were going around, but I couldn't imagine them. Then I was seeing this - classical I would say - very bad prison. I for the first time saw it at home, transmitted by the TV. And it was something which I just couldn't believe, and I said to myself always: "It was looking like this; that was the atmosphere there.""

Lenka Reinerova is one of the only Prague writers today who write in German, her mother tongue. Many of her books are autobiographical. Here is a list of some of her publications in Czech and German:

Hranice uzavreny (Mlada fronta, 1956)

Grenze Geschlossen (Neues Leben, 1958)

Ein für allemal (Neues Leben, 1962)

Barva slunce a noci (Svoboda, 1969)

Der Ausflug zum Schwanensee (Aufbau, 1983)

Es began in der Melantrichgasse (Aufbau, 1985)

Die Premiere (Aufbau, 1989)

Sklo a porcelan (Orbis, 1991)

Das Traumcafe einer Pragerin (Aufbau, 1991,1996

Mandelduft (Aufbau, 1998)