Category Archives: Children in Terezin

Children’s Stories and Poems: Terezin 1942-1944

Recently, I had the good fortune to read and examine one of the original 2000 English copies of the book Children’s Drawings and Poems: Terezin 1942-1944. Two friends who work in Special Collections at the University of Colorado generously gave me a tour of the archives after hours and located a sole book on Terezin in the collection. I returned to Special Collections a few weeks later to review the book in more depth. This hardcover book with its slightly worn dust jacket featured a child’s collage of a solitary humanoid figure. It was published in 1959, an English translation with an initial print run of only 2000 copies. A sticker on the inside cover read “Gift of Professor U.K. Goldsmith, 1973.” I wrote down the name, curious about the person who donated this book.

I own a later edition of this book, which features drawings and poetry from children who were in Terezin. Most of these drawings and poems are owned by the State Jewish Museum in Prague, and they were selected from more than 4,000 drawings and poems in the museum’s archives. Many of these works of art were created from any materials the children could find, such as scraps of paper, office forms, wrapping paper…This original edition featured reproductions that were far clearer and more vivid than the later editions. The paper felt heavy and opaque with beautifully vivid illustrations. Yet for me, two of the most poignant drawings were simple pencil lines depicting the outline of a child’s hand and sketches of butterflies. The hand was drawn by a boy named Frantisek Brozan and the butterflies by Eva Bulova. Almost nothing is known about them, but they were among the thousands of children who were sent to Auschwitz and murdered. There was a section in the back that featured biographical information on the authors and artists, but for most all that is known is what is gleaned from camp records: date and place of birth, date of transport to Terezin, whether they survived or died. In later editions, this section is still included, but all these years later no more biographical information has been discovered. Most of these young creators have been all but lost to history. That was the thought that stayed with me as I closed the book, leaving the two ribbon bookmarks at the page containing the poem “The Butterfly”, the one that captivated me from the start.

A memorial in Prague, illuminated by candles. May we never forget.
A memorial in Prague, illuminated by candles. May we never forget.

Later, after the visit, I researched the professor who donated this book. His name was Ulrich K. Goldsmith, and he was born to a Jewish family in Freiburg, Germany in 1910. He fled the country in 1932, passing through England and Canada before settling in the United States, where he received a PhD in literature from the University of California at Berkley. In 1957 he arrived at the University of Colorado, Boulder where he was the chair of the Department of Germanic languages and literature and co-founded the Comparative Literature department. He was known as a remarkable humanist and scholar of Stefan George and Rainer Maria Rilke. After his death in 2000, the university established a memorial prize in his name. Little else seems to be recorded about him, though surely his former students and colleagues have memories of him. Unfortunately, I don’t know how he acquired one of the original English translations of Children’s Drawings and Poems, or how he came to know the story of Terezin. If Professor Goldsmith were alive today and I had the chance to speak with him I would have asked him about these stories. Most likely, I will never know, but I will always be grateful to him for leaving this remarkable book with the library so that future generations may know the story of Terezin.

Hans Krasa and Brundibar: A Children’s Opera

Hans Krasa was born in Prague on November 30, 1899 to a Czech father and a German Jewish mother. He began studying the piano and violin as a child and his musical gifts became evident at an early age. Hans later studied composition at the German Music Academy in Prague and after graduation he worked at the New German Theater as a pianist and vocal coach. While working there, he met an Austrian-Jewish conductor and composer named Alexander Zemlinsky, who became his mentor. In 1927 Krasa accompanied Zemlinsky to Berlin, where he continued his studies and was introduced to prestigious composers of the day. Krasa was terribly homesick for Prague, and returned to his former job at the New German Theater. However, Hans also made his debut as a composer during this time with his work Four Orchestral Songs. Several other works followed, the most successful being his opera Betrothal in a Dream, performed in 1933.

Composer Hans Krasa
Composer Hans Krasa

His most notable work, however, the one which would become his legacy, was a children’s opera called Brundibar, the final work he completed before being transported to Terezin on August 10, 1942. In Terezin, he produced an arrangement of the opera which became wildly successful, performed a total of 55 times. The premise was straightforward: two poor children, a brother and sister named Pepicek and Aninka, go to the market one morning, hoping that by singing they will be able to raise enough money to buy milk for their sick mother. A cruel organ grinder named Brundibar bullies the children and prevents them from singing. Pepicek and Aninka are joined by a dog, cat, and brave sparrow and the children of the town and together they prevail over the tyrannical organ grinder.

The message of triumphing over a tyrant resonated strongly with many people imprisoned in Terezin, which may have contributed to its popularity. It also provided a creative outlet for the children in Terezin, and those who survived remember how participating in the opera offered them a temporary relief from the horrors of their daily life in the camp.

Brundibar was involved in the Terezin deception, as it was performed for the Red Cross and featured in a propaganda film shot at the camp. This is by far the darkest aspect of the opera, the way in which it was exploited by the Nazis. At the same time, Brundibar should be remembered for the respite it provided for the children of Terezin.

Hans Krasa continued to compose in Terezin but Brundibar is by far his best remembered work. In October 1944, Krasa, along with other composers and many of the children who performed in the opera were put on a transport to Auschwitz where most were murdered upon arrival, including Krasa. He is memorialized by the opera Brundibar, which continues to be performed to this day.

Below: Clip of Brundibar performance at Terezin

Below: This video tells the story of the children’s opera Brundibar, and follows a present-day staging of the opera.

 

Picture of Hans Krasa from Krizkova, Marie R., Kotouc, Kurt J. & Ornest, Zdenek. We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine of the Boys of Terezin. The Jewish Publication Society, 1995. Print. Used with permission.

More on Hans Krasa and Brundibar:

We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezin (by Marie Krizkova, Kurt Jiri Kotouc and Zdenek Ornest)

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2003/sep/06/classicalmusicandopera

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/09/theater/reviews/09brun.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Ilan Ramon and Petr Ginz: The Astronaut and the Prodigy

There is an incredible and tragic connection that exists between the young prodigy Petr Ginz and the astronaut Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space. He was born Ilan Wolferman in Ramat Gan, Israel. His father’s family fled Germany in 1935 and his mother and grandmother were Holocaust survivors who were imprisoned in Auschwitz. They left Poland after the war, and emigrated to Israel.

Ilan graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in computer engineering in 1987 and joined the Israeli Airforce, where he became a highly accomplished fighter pilot and earned the rank of Colonel. During his fighter pilot training he adopted the surname Ramon. In 1997, he was accepted by NASA and began training to be a Payload Specialist, a process which took five years. He participated in the 113th mission of the Space Shuttle Program, aboard the shuttle Columbia.

Though described as secular, as the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan saw himself as a representative of the Jewish people. He opted to eat kosher food on the mission, and consulted with a rabbi on how to keep Shabbat in space. Ilan also brought with him a variety of objects that held special significance. These objects included a small Torah scroll that was saved from the Holocaust, a dollar bill with the image of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – and a copy of a drawing by Petr Ginz.

Petr’s drawing depicted a lunar landscape, mountainous and desolate, with an image of the Earth shining in the distance, though Petr did not live long enough to see the first pictures of Earth taken from space. Ilan took the image to commemorate Petr, who died in Auschwitz, and all the others who were affected by the Holocaust.

**To view Petr’s drawing and NASA portrait of Ilan, please visit: http://www.science.co.il/Ilan-Ramon/

 

Ilan and his crew members completed their mission, but tragically, their Shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry, killing all on board. The disaster happened on February 1, 2003, which would have been Petr’s 75th birthday. The copy of the drawing was destroyed, but part of the diary that Ilan kept on the mission survived the disaster. Though badly damaged, after 5 years forensic scientists were able to restore about 80% of its content. One of the pages was a handwritten copy of the Kiddush prayer, another way Ilan expressed his pride in being part of the Jewish people. The diary that Petr kept, along with many poems, stories and articles have been saved. These writings give us greater insight into who this man and boy were, and ensure that some part of them lives on. I greatly admire their many achievements, but they shared other qualities that impress me even more than what they accomplished. Most of all, I remain in awe of how they were able to look beyond their immediate surroundings, to imagine all that lies beyond the confines of Earth and how they had the courage to envision and to work for a better world.

Further Reading

Memorial site for Ilan Ramon:    http://www.science.co.il/Ilan-Ramon/

Petr Ginz: A Prodigy Behind Walls

Petr and Eva Ginz with their parents before the war.
Petr and Eva Ginz with their parents before the war.

The life of Petr Ginz, an artist, writer, Esperantist, magazine editor and scholar, dramatically illustrates the creativity and talent of so many children who died in the Holocaust.

Petr was born on February 1, 1928 in Prague to Otto and Miriam Ginz. His father was a manager in a textile company, and both his parents were passionate about Esperanto. In fact, his parents met at an Esperantist convention and taught the language to Petr and his younger sister, Eva. The children were from an interfaith background; Otto was Jewish and Miriam was Christian.

From a young age, Petr’s intelligence, curiosity and passion for knowledge was evident. He wrote his first novel at age 8 and wrote 5 novels in all before he was deported to Terezin. A skilled artist, Petr also illustrated the novels himself. He was interested in a wide variety of subjects, including literature, art, science, history and geography, was an avid reader and also recorded his experiences in a diary. Petr’s enthusiasm for the arts and learning did not diminish after he was transported to Terezin at age 14, in October 1942. He continued his studies and borrowed countless books from the makeshift Terezin library, and wrote short novels. He also made a major contribution to the cultural life of Terezin when he established a literary magazine called Vedem (We lead), which he published weekly. Petr wrote many of the pieces himself, and other boys from his barrack contributed work as well. The magazine featured pieces on daily life in Terezin, satirical essays, short fiction, poetry and artwork.

A close bond developed between the boys of Petr’s barrack, L417. They called their barrack the Republic of Shkid, and created a flag and national anthem. Their creativity and imagination in such circumstances were remarkable, as was the amount of work they produced for Vedem, much of which survives today.

Petr often wrote very matter-of-factly about the events he experienced and life in Terezin, and even managed to insert some humor. He did write some poignant pieces as well, most notably a poem in which he described how he missed Prague, though he knew it did not miss him. He described how he could not return because he was living like a caged animal but would always long for Prague, his “fairy-tale in stone.”

Tragically, he would never see Prague again. Petr was assigned to one of the last transports to leave Terezin, in September 1944. His sister Eva, who adored him, wrote about the day Petr left in her own diary. After Petr boarded the train, Eva spotted him at one of the windows and managed to pass some bread to him through the window, to hold his hand one more time before she was chased away by guards. Eva wrote honestly and poignantly about how she worried about her brother and wondered if he was still alive.

At the age of 16, Petr was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, like hundreds of thousands of others. A prodigy was lost that day, and we will never know how many other gifted, talented young people were lost that same day. What remains are the writings and drawings he left behind, which his sister Eva preserved and shared with the world after the war, a poignant reminder of all that was lost the day Petr Ginz died.

Picture of the Ginz Family from Krizkova, Marie R., Kotouc, Kurt J. & Ornest, Zdenek. We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine of the Boys of Terezin. The Jewish Publication Society, 1995. Print. Used with permission.

Further Reading
We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezin (by Marie Krizkova, Kurt Jiri Kotouc and Zdenek Ornest)

The Diary of Petr Ginz (edited by Chava Pressburger)

Franta Maier and the Boys of Room 7, Part 2

A few days after arriving at Terezin, the children were assigned to various barracks based on their age and gender. Franta later spoke of the impact this trauma had on the children, saying that they were in shock at their world being torn apart once again. Franta remained in charge of these children, and he was able to access the barracks whenever necessary.

Under Franta’s influence, the children received extra rations and were kept on a schedule which included exercise, classes and recreation. He was assigned to be a madrich (leader) in Room 7, in which 40 boys aged twelve and thirteen lived.

Franta kept the boys on a disciplined schedule, and made sure they were clean and that the room was orderly. But what made the greatest impact on the boys was how Franta would speak to them at night and tell them that no matter what the Nazis did, they could not take away the boys’ dignity and humanity. He told them they had three duties: to survive, to respect their parents, and to be ready for a new life when the war was over. He encouraged them to love life, no matter what hardships they endured.

Still, Franta had fears and vulnerabilities that the boys did not know about. They did not know about the heartbreak he experienced when he proposed marriage to a woman named Lucy, hoping to save her from the transports. Lucy accepted his proposal, but Franta’s mother convinced Lucy to break off the engagement, believing this was the wrong time and place to marry. Lucy was later transported with her parents, and Franta was unable to forgive his mother for years. The boys also didn’t know how much Franta feared for them, how at night he would break down and cry silently as he wondered what would happen to them the next day.

A creative life developed in Room 7; they were the first home to produce plays, and two literary magazines, Rim Rim and Nesar were created and circulated. A sense of community developed among the boys of Room 7, and deep friendships were forged. When some of the boys had to leave on a transport, there was a profound sorrow when they had to say good-bye and the entire community felt the losses.

In September 1944, Franta was assigned to a transport. The night before he left, Franta said good-bye to the boys in Room 7; the scene was poignantly described by Pavel Weiner in his diary. Franta was sent to Auschwitz, where he learned that his family was dead, as were most of the children. He vowed he would live to see the Nazis defeated. In January, Franta was placed on a death march to a work camp called Blechhammer. As the Russians approached, the Nazis abandoned the camp, and Franta walked out of the camp to search for food. He was discovered by some Russian soldiers, who sent him to a repatriation center in Czestochowa. He later became a civilian assistant to an officer for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Franta worked hard to get properties back from the 24 relatives he lost during the war. He returned to his hometown of Brno and later married a woman who had lost her husband in the war. They immigrated to America in 1947, and Franta found work in a business that produced malt for breweries. Though he initially did not know anything about this industry, he learned quickly and became a successful businessman in the malt business and later the paper export business.

Franta died in 2013, and the surviving boys of Room 7 remember to this day how he profoundly touched their lives. Franta put forth tremendous effort to provide order, stability and compassion to these young boys, and their bond with him and with one another remained strong many decades later.

Further Reading
Nesarim: Child Survivors of Terezin by Thelma Gruenbaum

Pavel Weiner: Boy Chronicler of Terezin, Part 2

In spring of 1945, as the Allies made progress on their liberation of Europe, Pavel’s mood lifted and he could again hope that freedom would come at last. Pavel wrote that freedom was such a beautiful concept for him and that he would be willing to risk his life for it. By late April, air raids occurred daily as the Allies approached the Czech border. The prisoners in Terezin were distraught by the arrival of emaciated survivors from Nazi death camps. In a deeply moving scene, Pavel took his bread ration and handed it to his mother, Valy, saying, “Give it to my father when he arrives.”

Pavel’s last entry was April 22, 1945 and in it he described a chaotic day in Terezin. Hundreds of people ran away with as many stolen goods as they could carry, a quarantine was placed on part of the camp and many inmates were fighting with each other. Then the good news arrived that the Red Cross was now taking care of them. Hope arose that freedom was drawing near. Soon after, Terezin was liberated and Pavel returned to Prague with his mother. They searched for Ludvik and Handa, and Pavel learned that his father and brother did not survive. We do not learn his thoughts from this time, as Pavel no longer kept a diary after he left Terezin.

In 1948, Pavel and his mother moved to Canada, and Pavel later moved to New York City, where he married and had a successful career as a chemical engineer. He had one child, a daughter named Karen. In 1979, Pavel discovered that his mother had kept his diary for all those years and he made the decision to edit the diary and translate it into English. It took Karen a long time before she could bring herself to read the diary, afraid of what she would find. After reading his diary and accompanying her father to Terezin, Karen believed that her father’s story should be shared. She began assisting her father with editing the translations. Sadly, Pavel did not live to see his diary published, but Karen persevered and the diary was published in 2012, ensuring that her father’s experiences would be shared with others.

Further Reading
A Boy in Terezin: The Private Diary of Pavel Weiner, April 1944-April 1945
By Pavel and Karen Weiner

Pavel Weiner: Boy Chronicler of Terezin, Part 1

As I mentioned in my earlier post about the young diarist Helga Pollak, there were many boy.in.terezinpeople who kept diaries in Terezin, including children. Many of these documents have been lost, which makes the ones we do have all the more valuable. One diary that has been translated and published in English belonged to a young boy named Pavel Weiner.

Pavel was born and raised in Prague and lived in a middle-class home with his parents Ludvik and Valy and his older brother Handa. The family was not particularly religious, but their social network consisted mainly of their Jewish friends and relatives. Everything changed when the Nazis came to power and began enforcing anti-Jewish laws. And then in May 1942, Pavel and his family was sent to Terezin, ending the life they had known. The family was separated and assigned to different barracks, and Pavel was sent to Room 7 in building L417, which was the designated Kinderheim (children’s home) for Czech boys. The Kinderheim was created by Jewish administrators of Terezin and was designed to create better living conditions for the children and to facilitate secret classes for them.

Much of Pavel’s diary takes place in the heim, and focuses on his relationships with the other boys and the youth leaders who ran his heim. He didn’t start writing his diary until April 1944, when he was twelve years old. Despite the situation he was in, many of the challenges Pavel faced were interpersonal. He argued with the boys, and was sometimes teased and excluded by them. This led to Pavel feeling alienated from them much of the time. He longed for affirmation from Franta, his youth leader, and often was hurt when Franta appeared to favor other boys over him. Pavel worried intensely about his father’s health and his mother’s well-being, and yet he often argued with them, in particular with his mother. Pavel also founded a literary magazine, Nesar, which was no easy task, as he struggled to recruit the other boys in his heim to contribute articles and drawings and worked hard to build a readership. Still, he managed to produce thirteen issues, and later contributed to another magazine called Rim Rim.

Many months later, in August 1944, Pavel reflected more deeply on his feelings and the situation he was in. He discussed his anger that two years of his life were stolen from him, that he had no opportunity and no freedom in Terezin. He vowed to write about his feelings so that he might learn from them, to study hard and to start a new life for himself, even within the ghetto walls. He tried hard to keep to his goals, though it was far from easy.

Then in late September 1944, the terrifying news arrived that another transport was scheduled, consisting of men aged sixteen to fifty-five. In a panic, Pavel raced to find his father and learned that his father and his brother Handa were on the transport. Terribly upset and anxious, Pavel returned to his barrack to find that his youth leader, Franta was also on the transport. The sight of Franta sitting around the table with the boys overwhelmed Pavel, and he couldn’t hold back his tears any longer.

In entries that follow, Pavel reflected on the sorrow he felt following the transport and continuously worried about his father and Handa. Most of the boys in his heim were gone, including the few he considered friends and he was terribly lonely, longing for a friend to confide in. He wrote about his loss of enthusiasm and motivation for everything, and no longer felt any comfort or pleasure in anything. Despite his depression and intense feelings of loss, Pavel continued with his studies, continued to write, and began to work in the ghetto bakery and warehouses. Rumors of the Allied advance drifted into Terezin as the winter dragged on, but the liberation still did not come. More and more, Pavel wondered if the liberation would ever arrive and if he would live to see it.

Anna Flach: A Caged Bird Who Sang Anyway

The second woman from Room 28 I have chosen to profile is the singer, pianist and professor Anna Flach. During her days in Terezin, she was given the nickname Flaska, meaning “little bottle.” Many of the girls in Room 28 were known by whimsical nicknames while in Terezin, a tradition that children in other homes participated in as well. By all accounts, Flaska was outgoing, compassionate and imaginative, and a very talented singer. Her musical talents were cultivated in Terezin, where she participated in many musical performances. The Girls of Room 28

In the cellar of her Girls’ Home, the famous composer Rafael (Rafik) Schacter often rehearsed with his choir and Flaska would slip down to the cellar to listen. She auditioned for a Mozart opera and was thrilled when she was selected to perform. Things didn’t go as planned, however, as Rafik had incredibly high standards and the young singers struggled to meet his expectations. After two weeks of rehearsal, Rafik decided to present it as a concert with adult singers, and Flaska and the other children were dismissed.

Though disappointed, Flaska did not give up on her dreams of being a singer. She continued to perform with the girls’ choir, and with two other girls as a musical trio. The three girls would sometimes go to the quarters where the elderly lived to sing for them and to assist them in any way they could. This arrangement was set up by a Terezin youth organization called Yad Tomechet (helping hand). The elderly were often neglected, struggled to get enough water and food, and many could not get to the washrooms. In these wretched conditions, many lost the will to live and some even committed suicide. The youth group was created as a way to help these older people. Flaska and the other girls helped to bring meals to the elderly, accompany them to toilets, bathed them, cleaned their rooms. They also helped in any other little ways they could, such as singing to them, and bringing small gifts for birthdays.

Even as a young girl, Flaska was compassionate and desired to help others. Serving others was a value that was instilled by her mother and Flaska’s own experiences in Terezin further sensitized her to the suffering of others. She wrote about her great happiness when she was released from the hospital and was able to visit her father and brother bearing a gift for them – a piece of bread she had managed to save. She strongly desired harmony with others and tried to be on good terms with all the girls in her barrack.

Flaska was one of four girls of Room 28 who were spared the transports to Auschwitz. She and some of the other girls would sneak to the Hamburg barracks, where people waited to board the cattle cars. There, the girls tried their best to comfort them. This action was certainly risky, since it could have easily resulted in Flaska being placed on a transport, but she undertook it anyway. Her compassion and bravery in such circumstances is a real testament to her character. I can only hope I would be able to act like Flaska if I were in her place.

After the transports, the room was empty with only four girls remaining. They took down a flag that the girls had made for their home and divided it into four pieces, promising each other that they would meet again after the war to sew it back together as a symbol of their friendship.

Anna Flach, her parents and her siblings survived the Holocaust but most of her other relatives did not. She and her family returned to Brno, their hometown, and she later became a singer, pianist and professor of music at the Brno Conservatory. She married an oboist named Vitselav Hanus and together they performed in many concerts all over the world. Their son Tomas is an esteemed conductor of the Prague Chamber Orchestra and Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. Anna remains an educator and advocate for music and is committed to preserving the memory of the Terezin composers. She feels it is her responsibility to speak out about their experiences to preserve the memories, especially since there are those who still deny the Holocaust.

Further Reading
The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope and Survival in Theresienstadt by Hannelore Brenner

The Little Known Diarist

Hannelore Brenner’s book The Girls of Room 28 relates the experiences of ten women who survived Terezin. The book goes into detail about each of these women, and is a worthwhile read. For my blog, I decided to focus on two of the women whose stories resonated most strongly with me. The first woman is Helga Pollak, who kept a remarkable diary during her time at Terezin. Her complete diary has not been published in English, though segments of it are included in Brenner’s book.

Cover of Helga Pollak's published diary
Cover of Helga Pollak’s published diary

Helga Pollak was born in Vienna on May 28, 1930. Her father Otto was a disabled war veteran who owned a large concert café. When she was eight years old her parents divorced and Helga continued to live with her father. That same year, 1938, after the situation deteriorated for Jews in Austria, Helga’s parents sent her to Czechoslovakia.

Helga attended a German-speaking school in the city of Brno and had to live in a boardinghouse by herself. After Helga’s mother dropped her off in Brno, Helga watched her mother walk away and then went into a deserted room and sobbed. I could only imagine how terrifying and devastating this separation would be for a little girl. It is no wonder that Helga fell into a state of apathy and depression. Helga’s father ultimately arranged for her to stay with relatives in the town of Kyjov. She couldn’t speak Czech and had to repeat 2nd grade, but was much happier.

In 1939, Helga was supposed to travel to Great Britain as a child refugee, where she would join her mother, who had managed to emigrate there earlier. But after the German army invaded Poland and World War II began, the borders were closed, and Helga was trapped in Czechoslovakia. She would not see her mother again for nearly eight years.

Beginning in 1943, Helga recorded many of her experiences in a diary. Many Jews kept diaries during the war, but except for Anne Frank’s iconic diary, most are not well known. While Anne’s diary is exceptionally well-written, she is too often depicted as a symbol for the suffering of Jewish children during the Holocaust. That risks downplaying her individuality and the way she perceived what was happening to her, and I fear it may have resulted in other war diaries being ignored.

In the excerpts from Helga’s diary we see a sensitive girl who felt alienated from the girls in her barrack, and worried that they did not like her. We learn of her intense fears when her infant cousin Lea is seriously ill, and of her close relationship with her beloved father Otto. Helga also had moments of hope, of being deeply moved by the beauty of a sunset, for even Terezin’s walls could not block out the sky.

On October 23, 1944, Helga and some other girls from Room 28 were placed on a transport to Auschwitz. Helga survived the selection and vainly tried to search for her Lea, who she would never see again. She was sent from Auschwitz to different labor camps, and eventually returned to Terezin in late April 1945 where she was reunited with her father. The letter she wrote to him upon her return is deeply touching, as she so badly wanted to stay with him but could not because she was placed under quarantine.

Eventually she and her father were able to return to their surviving relatives in Kyjov, and the following year Helga went to England to join her mother. She completed high school and college, and later married a Prussian Jew who had fled to Bangkok to escape the Nazis. Helga and her husband lived in Thailand and Ethiopia until 1957, when they returned to Vienna with their children to be near Helga’s beloved father.

Though not published in its entirety, segments of her diary have been featured in the documentary films Terezin Diary and Voices of the Children and the main character of a play Ghetto Tears 1944: The Girls of Room 28 was based on Helga Pollak, the little known diarist of Terezin.

Further Reading
The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope and Survival in Theresienstadt , by Hannelore Brenner

Inge Auerbacher: A Voice for Justice and Reconciliation, Part 5

After two years, Inge’s parents convinced the doctors to release Inge from the hospital. Because of her illness she was not allowed to attend school and had to enroll in a course of study for the homebound. Despite her schooling being disrupted so often, Inge was a highly committed student. At the age of fifteen she graduated from eighth grade and attended Bushwick High School in Brooklyn.

Determined to make up for the lost years of education, Inge delved into her studies and extracurricular activities. She excelled in her classes and was popular with the other students. Two achievements that Inge was most proud of was winning second prize in a city-wide science contest and first prize in an essay contest. She would continue to have many achievements in science and writing throughout her life.

Inge finished high school in three years and then entered Queens College as a Pre-Med student, but after six weeks she had to leave because of her worsening tuberculosis. She was prescribed an aggressive treatment regimen of all the medications available, which amounted to twenty-six pills and two injections every day. The treatment worked, though it would be a year before Inge could continue her studies and she still had to face the stigma of being a tuberculosis patient. Most painful of all, two boyfriends ended relationships with Inge when they learned about her history of tuberculosis.

Eventually Inge realized that pursuing medical school would be too physically demanding and instead majored in chemistry. After graduating from college, Inge had a long and successful career working as a chemist in various hospital laboratories.

Inge at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum with her doll Marlene, which she kept with her during her time at Terezin.
Inge at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum with her doll Marlene, which she kept with her during her time at Terezin.

For years Inge tried to forget what she had experienced as a child in Germany and Terezin, but in 1966 she decided it was time to confront her past and returned to Germany. She visited her mother’s hometown, and met some of the people she had known there. She also went to Kippenheim, where she found the Jewish cemetery neglected and the synagogue being used as a storage center for animal feed. In a very powerful scene, Inge returned to Terezin and recalled how it had been when she was imprisoned there.

At Terezin, Inge visited the cemetery and the crematorium, and she realized that she had an important responsibility to fight prejudice. To do so would be a way to honor all those innocent victims of the Nazis. And so Inge began to share her story through writing books and speaking to audiences all over the world.

Inge with all her books
Inge with all her books

Her books I Am a Star and Beyond the Yellow Star to America have won awards and have been translated into many languages. She has also appeared in several documentary films in which she shared her story. Inge has also received prestigious awards from the German government, such as the Federal Cross of Merit for her work in reconciliation.

I have summarized her story here, but of course Inge’s story is best told in her own words. I highly recommend I Am a Star and Beyond the Yellow Star to America to learn more about the story of Inge, a highly courageous woman who has dedicated her life to fighting prejudice and injustice.

Inge wearing Ellis Island Medal of Honor
Inge wearing Ellis Island Medal of Honor

Resources
Books by Inge Auerbacher (available on Amazon):

I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust
Beyond the Yellow Star to America
Running Against the Wind
Finding Dr. Schatz: The Discovery of Streptomycin And a Life it Saved (Co-author Dr. Albert Schatz)
Highway To New York
Children of Terror (Co-author Bozenna Urbanowicz Gilbride)

www.ingeauerbacher.com