- Associated Press - Saturday, February 26, 2011

PRAGUE (AP) - Arnost Lustig, an author who escaped from a Nazi death transport to make the Holocaust the main theme of his fiction died early Saturday. He was 84.

Jana Jelinkova, spokeswoman for Prague’s Kralovske Vinohrady university clinic, confirmed the death. Lustic had been battling cancer for five years.

Born in Prague in 1926, the teenage Lustig survived the Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Buchenwald Nazi concentration camps before he managed to escape from a train that was transporting him to another one _ Dachau _ in 1945 when the train’s engine was destroyed by an American bomber.

Many members of Lustig’s family died in the Holocaust; his mother and sister survived. His experience of Jewish suffering were reflected in his short stories, and novels where his characters are fighting to retain human dignity in Holocaust horrors.

Lustig studied journalism and covered the 1948 Arab-Israeli war for Czech radio.

He began to publish in the late 1950s, and his well-known works include “A Prayer for Katerina Horowitzova,” “Diamonds of the Night,” “The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S.,” “Darkness Cast No Shadow,” “Lovely Green Eyes” and “Dita Saxova.” Some were made into movies.

“Sometimes it’s impossible to say certain things,” Lustig said in a lecture in Tel Aviv last June. “Writing is something needed by man to share experience.”

When the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia crushed the liberal reforms of Alexander Dubcek and ended an era known as the Prague Spring in 1968, Lustig fled his homeland and, after a stay in Israel, he settled in Washington, D.C., where he bacame a professor of literature at the American University.

After the collapse of communism in 1989, Lustig visited Prague on a regular basis and later returned to live there. In a surprise move, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the Czech language version of Playboy magazine in 1995.

Lustig was twice awarded the National Jewish Book Award and in 1994, he received a literary award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for exceptional accomplishment. In 2009, he was among the finalists for the Man Booker International Prize and was awarded the prestigious Czech Franz Kafka Prize the year before.

He was known for his good humor and optimism.

“It was always a great fun to be with him,” said Jiri Dedecek, chairman of the Czech PEN club told public television. “That’s how I will always remeber him.”

Lustig is survived by a son, Josef, and a daughter, Eva.