Thursday, August 9, 2012
Jan Wiener's Own Story
It has been 44 years since Jan handed me a copy of his newly published book, The Assassination of Heydrich.
In the months before, I had seen him writing in longhand in a school notebook and when I asked him what he was writing, he answered, "My life in Europe during World War 2 and the death of Reinhard Heydrich who was known as Hitler's Hangman." I had to admit I had never heard of Heydrich -- but I read Jan's book on the night he gave it to me. I couldn't put it down. It was chillingly brave, noble, painful, eerie, ironic, and sometimes, sparely poetic, just like Jan himself.
Knowing Jan -- for many of us who lived at The Windsor Mountain School in Lenox, Massachusetts -- was a great honor. Equally great is the honor of working on this reprint and update of his classic book. We did very little to it. Zuzana, Jan's wife, added a timeline.
I added a small memoir.
The story of Jan's escape from the Nazis, his amazing railway adventure getting to Italy, and his subsequent imprisonment there all seem like fiction. That he lived to tell the tale and was a navigator for more than thirty R.A.F. missions over Berlin is yet another spellbinding story, one that I heard little by little, and one night at a time, at a bar in Lenox during the 1970s. "This should be a film," I told him. And so it was, later on.
When I read The Assassination of Heydrich today, I am struck by the insistent, soft cadence of Jan's spoken voice. It's in his every statement. Those who took his Modern European History course know that voice well, and will hear it again in his prose. For me, it brings back one hundred nights at Heritage House on Housatonic St., Lenox, Massachusetts.
Here's to an incredible storyteller and devoted friend.
Even if you have already done so, I suggest that you read what he wrote again.
We need to hear it now more than ever.