Josef Holub was born in what is now Nyrsko, in the Czech Republic, in 1926. He spent his formative years in the Bohemian Forest. During the Third Reich Holub attended a teacher training college in what was then Prachatitz. He was then conscripted into labour and military service and later taken prisoner of war by the French and the Americans.
Holub was sent on mine clearance detail but finally managed to escape. After the war he continued his teacher training in Schwabach in West Germany. Holub, whose most recent job was a post office official, lists some of his occupations as smuggler, art dealer and postman. The author complemented his professional career with youth and trade union activities. He was the chairman of the local council in Grab and today he still does voluntary work for the community archives.
His novel ‘Der Rote Nepomuk’ (1993), which was awarded the Peter-Härtling-Preis in 1992, tells the story of the friendship between a German, Pepitschek, and a Czech, Jirschi, in Bohemia in 1938. Their friendship is brought to an abrupt end by the invasion of Hitler’s troops. “Nothing is as it once was and that’s why the world has been subjected to new divisions”. However, Nepomuk, Saint of Bridges, symbolizes the hope that new bridges can be constructed over any borders, as the title hints.
The novel was written nearly 50 years ago but could not be published in the Cold War era. The author admits that he had almost forgotten his manuscript over the course of time. He was preoccupied with his family, job and civic duties. Holub was unable to find the time to devote himself to his writing until he retired. The political changes in the East, which had made Czechoslovakia such an interesting neighbour, demanded literary treatment.
“I don’t know if it’s really a children’s book. Perhaps it is but hopefully it’s not just for children”, Holub says. The author chose to take a juvenile view of events for several reasons. One reason was the ‘unpolished’ language and intense feelings a child has, but the main factor was that he himself was a child at the time.
Holub received the Zurich children’s book prize, La vache qui lit, for his novel ‘Bonifaz und der Räuber Knapp’ (1996). ‘Der Rote Nepomuk’ (1993) made the short list of the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis and won the Oldenburger Kinder und Jugendliteraturpreis. Holub now lives in Großerlach in Baden-Württemberg. He has three children and four grandchildren.
© international literature festival berlin