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Masses & Mainstream
July, 1948, p 75-76

reviewed by Howard Fast

Books in Review


by Julius Fuchik
New Century. $.60.

JULIUS FUCHIK was a Czech, a professional journalist and a poet. In the time before he died, slain by the Nazis for the sin of loving his native land, he wrote down what he saw and thought. So it was that, working at his precious and beloved craft to the very end, he left us an invaluable document and record of what those taken by the Gestapo saw and suffered.

Fuchik was well equipped for this last generous work. A creative writer, a figure known and loved throughout his country, he was also a political leader, a member of the Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party. He was taken by the Gestapo in 1942. Only a few weeks passed before one of the guards, a member of the people's movement, managed to pass him pencil and paper. Already, in the interim, Fuchik had been cruelly beaten and tortured, tested to the very marrow of his soul.

As he tells it, the guard whispered to him, "... would you like to write? Not for present publication, you understand, but for the future. How you got in here, whether anyone betrayed you, how certain ones behaved. Just so what you know doesn't pass out with you."

And Fuchik comments, "Would I like to write? As though that weren't my most fervent desire!"

And so, for the year that followed, Fuchik set down, in fragments, in almost random notes – a disconnected yet wonderfully related narrative of his prison experience. The result is a unique, exalting, terrifying study of men put to the highest test, a document of the inestimable worth of the human spirit liberated from the dross of ignorance, fear and superstition, and a covenant between the Communist Party and the human race. It is in the light of these factors that this last will and testament of Julius Fuchik must be considered, and it is in the light of these factors that it must be judged. That Fuchik wrote well should, of course, be stated. He was a working journalist, and I would hazard the guess that he considered it a duty to handle the tools of his craft adroitly, even on the way to death. Yet the point is not whether he wrote well or poorly; the point is that he catalyzed the bravery and unselfishness of thousands like him – and that he did so with love, compassion, and such faith in the process of life itself as has rarely been set down in print.

That is why, in today's Europe, the notes of Julius Fuchik are like a bell that rings from one end of the continent to the other. That is why, across the face of the earth, men of every color and every race are reading Fuchik, drawing new sustenance out of his boundless and quiet strength.

And I think Fuchik knew that something of this sort would happen. As a writer, I can sense his love for the word, his belief in the cool and irresistible logic of the written proof. He did not want to die. Every word he wrote reflected his passion for life, his abiding love for his fellow man, his adoration of lovely Prague, his supreme interest in his work as a Communist. He wrote to perpetuate himself; he wrote so that his love might continue, so that his work might continue, so that even when his heart ceased to beat, he would still be a Communist and a fighter for freedom. He was no student of "unconscious creation." He fashioned each word as a weapon and sent it forth to do what it could. Nowhere in his book is there a trace of self-pity, of cheap sentimentality, of fraudulent emotion. The prose is like the man, proud, upright and conscious of its purpose.

Like thousands of other Communists, Julius Fuchik died so that men might be free. Several times he makes the point that he differs only in voice. He is allowed to leave his testament behind; nameless and silent, the others died, and therefore he speaks for them.

I cannot write objectively in these times of Fuchik's book. I can only take his hand, which is so strong in death, and thank him. He leaves the world to the living, and the fight he bequeaths us is a fight worth making. Thus he put it in his own will:

"I press the hand of every comrade who lives through this last battle, and those who come after us. A handclasp for Gustina and for me; we who did our duty.

"And I repeat, we live for happiness, for that we went to battle, for that we die. Let grief never be connected with our name."

Howard Fast