Dancing on a Powder Keg
The Story of ‘Wiegala’ Songstress Ilse Weber – In Her Own Words
NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN LETTERS DETAIL A YOUNG MOTHER’S LOVE, SACRIFICE & ARTISTIC LEGACY UNDER THE LENGTHENING SHADOW OF HITLER’S THIRD REICH
Before Hitler’s Third Reich annexed and occupied Czechoslovakia, Ilse Weber was a young wife and working mother of two living in her ancestral town of Vítkovice, known throughout the German-speaking world for her extraordinary songs, theatre pieces, and books for children. A gifted poet, musician, and writer, following the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Ilse and her husband, Willi, were able to get their oldest son, Hanuš, to safety via a ‘Kindertransport’ to London – where Hanuš would be cared for and protected by the daughter of a Swedish diplomat and friend of Ilse’s, Lilian von Löwenadler.
A carefully translated, painstakingly constructed collection of letters exchanged between Ilse and Lilian during the years 1933-44 while the lengthening shadow of the Nazi regime bore down over Europe, Dancing on a Powder Keg – set for release on January 15, 2017 via publisher Bunim & Bannigan, Ltd. – tells a one-of-a-kind, viscerally powerful story of unique friendship, dire historical circumstance, and the courage of a gifted woman in the face of unimaginable evil.
From Ilse’s time in Prague’s Thersienstadt Ghetto (where she worked in the children’s infirmary, entertaining her young patients with songs on her contraband guitar) to her voluntary transportation to Auschwitz (where she and her son, Tommy, were ultimately killed in the gas chambers in 1944), the publication of Dancing on a Powder Keg has only been made possible by discovery of Ilse’s letters in a London attic. The poems were hidden in Thersienstadt, and later retrieved and preserved by Ilse’s husband, Willi, and son, Hanuš, who were reunited in the autumn of 1945.
Yad Vashem – Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust – has endorsed Dancing on a Powder Keg as a singular and incredibly important addition to the canon of Holocaust documents and literature.
“The literature about Theresienstadt and the fate of Czech Jewry during the Holocaust is voluminous, but Ilse Weber's story is unique,” writes Yad Vashem academic advisor and world-renowned Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehuda Bauer. “I have read many accounts, but this account by someone who did not survive, and whose story has been reconstructed, is exceptional.”
As deeply intimate as The Diary of Anne Frank, rich with breathtaking prose as the fiction of Irene Nemirovsky, and historically illuminating as Eric Larson’s In The Garden of Beasts, Dancing on a Powder Keg is an enthralling and evocative window into the life of a brilliant, charismatic, immensely gifted and influential Jewish artist – and a not-to-be-missed arrival to bookstores across the English-language world in 2017.
About the Author:
Ilse Weber (January 11, 1903 – October 6, 1944) née Herlinger, was born in Witkowitz near Mährisch-Ostrau in northern Czechoslovakia. A Jewish poet, she wrote in German, most notably songs and theater pieces for Jewish children. She married Willi Weber in 1930, and from 1933 onward she and her family were persecuted by the Nazis. In 1942, Ilse and her family were deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto, where Ilse worked with sick children. In 1944, refusing to abandon the children, she voluntarily registered to the transport to Auschwitz with the children of Theresienstadt, where she was killed in the gas chambers, along with her son, Tommy. Her most popular book was Mendel Rosenbusch: Tales for Jewish Children (1929), and her songs – most notably Wiegala – continue to be performed by musicians around the world today.
About the Translator:
Michal Schwartz studied literature and philosophy in Frankfurt and Jerusalem, and received her PhD in German-Jewish philosophy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After receiving a Max-Planck scholarship and spending two years of research and teaching in Germany, she moved with her family to Canada, where she completed a Masters in Studies of Law and taught philosophy of law at the University of Toronto. Her book, Metapher und Offenbarung. Zur Sprache von Franz Rosenzweigs Stern der Erlösung, was published in Berlin in 2003. Along academic articles and translations, she has enjoyed exploring and writing on Kabbalah and contemporary culture.