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Milena from Prague
The book is the Greek translation of Margarete
Buber-Neumann's Milena from Prague by
Milena from Prague (original title: Milena,
Kafkas Freundin, 1963) is an outstanding
example of concentration camp literature and
the first biography of Milena Jesenska, known
to us from Franz Kafka's Letters to Milena.
Buber-Neumann's narrative focuses on the chronicle of her friendship with Milena, which arose in the harsh daily life of the Nazi Ravensbruck concentration camp. The work accomplishes a double aim: as a concentration camp testimony, it provides a first-hand account of the rapid deterioration of living conditions at the camp, culminating in the transformation of Ravensbruck from a labour camp to an extermination camp. It is, moreover, a biography of Milena, going back to her youth and adult life in her birthplace of Prague and in Vienna, highlighting her unconventional personality. Milena's life story unfolds into a colourful record of ideological, political and artistic trends between the wars, when the vision of revolution went hand-in-hand with the visions of the pioneering movements in the arts.
Another "World of Yesterday", as gripping as that of Stefan Zweig, arises from the pages of the book: the world of Mitteleuropa, which experienced an unprecedented flowering of culture in the interwar years, before perishing behind the gates of the concentration camps. It is this world, so eloquently reconstituted by Buber-Neumann, that the present edition aspires to commemorate with the assistance of text annotations, the biographical notes and the Afterword by Adriani Dimakopoulou.
MARGARETE BUBER-NEUMANN, nee Thuring, was born in Potsdam in 1901. She was soon drawn to the ideas of the Left, becoming a member of the German Communist Party in 1926. Due to her political activity and beliefs she lost custody of her children, two girls from her brief marriage to Rafael Buber. In 1929 she met the love of her life, Heinz Neumann, a leading member of the Comintern, and followed him to Soviet Russia, Spain and elsewhere. However, on their last visit to Moscow everything had changed. They were to experience the Moscow Trials in an atmosphere of informers, suspicion and fear, until Neumann's arrest and imprisonment in April 1937, accused of "fractionist" views. Margarete only learned the exact date of his execution in 1988, under Perestroika. As her memory had already abandoned her perhaps she has not been able to retain the date.
In 1938 she was arrested in her turn. The following year she was sent to Karaganda labour camp on the steppes of Kazakhstan, where she remained until early 1940, when the Soviets handed her over to the SS. She was imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp, where, in October of that year, she met Milena Jesenska. In the bleak conditions of camp life, the two women formed a deep and tender friendship. Milena died in Ravensbruck in May 1944. Margarete survived and devoted the rest of her life to writing and journalism, while engaging in political activism. She gave many lectures analysing the deviation of the Communist movement from its original aims. In 1950 she participated in the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) and, in the same year, organised the Committee for the Liberation of Victims of Totalitarian Arbitrariness. In 1951 she founded the Institute of Political Education and began editing the monthly periodical Aktion, mainly political in content. Having lived in her youth through the enthusiasm of joining a political cause and the shattering of revolutionary hopes, having had the unique "privilege" of experiencing the camps of both regimes, Buber-Neumann was the emblematic witness to 20th-century European totalitarianism.
Her most important works are:
Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler: A World in Darkness, 1949.
Battlefields of the International Revolution, 1967.
The Extinguished Flame. Fates of My Time, 1976.
"Freedom, You are Mine Again...". The Struggle for Survival, 1978.