22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Helena Janeczek

Portrait Helena Janeczek
© Ali Ghandtschi

Helena Janeczek was born in Munich to Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors in 1964. After graduating from high school, she went to Italy in 1983 to study and eventually took on Italian citizenship. She initially worked as a lecturer at the Adelphi publishing house, where she translated many texts into Italian, including works by Albert Einstein and Jizchak Katzenelson. She later moved to the Mondadori publishing house.

She published her first collection of poems »Ins Freie« (tr: In the Open) in 1989, after which she chose Italian as her literary language. On the anniversary of the fifty-year liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, she and her mother drove to the memorial service in 1995. Until that point, she had not known about the deaths of her grandparents and uncle in Auschwitz. Her novel »Lezioni di tenebra« (1997; tr: Lessons from the Hidden) presents an examination of her own family history and links her own childhood memories with stories from her mother. The book offers a unique perspective on biographical writing by the second generation after the Holocaust, which was shaped by their parents’ trauma. Janeczek received the Premio Bagutta Opera Prima for this novel. The book was followed by »Cibo« (2002; tr: Food), which explored the problematic or happy relationship women (and men) have with food and their bodies. In the award-winning novel »Le rondini di Montecassino« (2010; tr: The Swallows of Montecassino) Janeczek combines fact and fiction to tell of one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. Her pamphlet »Bloody Cow« (2012) deals with the case of the vegetarian Clare Tomkins, who fell victim to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Janeczek’s third novel, »La ragazza con la Leica« (2017; Eng. »The Girl with the Leica«, 2019), reconstructs the story of the Jewish war photographer Gerda Taro from the perspective of three companions. Taro, the life and work partner of Robert Capa, died while documenting the Spanish Civil War. Tens of thousands came to Paris for the funeral of the 27 year-old socialist activist, for whom Alberto Giacometti designed a tomb. She was all but forgotten until a suitcase with the missing negatives appeared in New York in 2007. Janeczek supplements the three tales of the life of this passionate woman with these black and white photographs from her life. The novel was awarded the Premio Strega and is also the indicative of an era: »The book makes it once again clear how much Paris had become a magnet for young, creative expats and exiles in the late 1920s and 1930s« (»Welt Online«).

Janeczek writes for the literary magazine »Nuovi Argomenti« and curates the literary festival SI Scrittrici Insieme in Gallarate, where she also lives.