Diary of Girl's Time in Concentration Camps Invites Comparisons to Anne Frank

Helga Weiss's Memoir Pays Tribute to Endurance

The Persistence of Memories: Helga Weiss left her initial manuscript with her uncle in the records department of Terezin (pictured above).
Getty Images
The Persistence of Memories: Helga Weiss left her initial manuscript with her uncle in the records department of Terezin (pictured above).

By Julia M. Klein

Published April 27, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

In Prague, before the first deportation, the anti-Jewish decrees mount, and Weiss reports a numbness enveloping her family. “This won’t last forever,” she tells herself. At Terezin, men and women are separated, and Weiss obsesses over being able to see her father. With other young girls, she celebrates Christmas with song, and for that moment, she writes, “We’re free, far beyond the ramparts and gates of the ghetto that hide so much suffering.”

As Weiss’s relatives arrive from Prague, other transports leave for the East. Weiss’s schooling continues secretly, and she moves to a special dormitory with other children her age. “There’s no reason for crying,” she writes. “You can live in overcrowded hostels… on bunks with fleas and bedbugs. It’s rather worse without food, but even a bit of hunger can be tolerated…. They want to destroy us, that’s obvious, but we won’t give in.”

That remains Weiss’s credo, through considerable hardship. Typhus rages through Terezin, and friends die. Then, with the Red Cross on its way, the Germans bizarrely install a music hall, a café, a swimming pool and a carousel. Weiss, like Anne Frank, has her first tentative romance, in her case with a 25-year-old — and sees her father, about to be deported, for the last time.

In 1944, she and her mother are sent to Auschwitz. When she arrives and observes beatings, she realizes that “Terezin was an absolute paradise compared to this.” She is savvy enough to lie about her age, claiming to be 18 (she is 15).

At Auschwitz, and then at a slave labor camp at Freiberg, she escapes the gas, but is tormented by hunger, cold, thirst and lack of sleep. “We were always hungry; hope sustained us!” she declares.

Finally, a nightmarish train trip ends at the dreaded camp of Mauthausen. But by then, the war is all but over. The situation is chaotic. At the last possible moment, it seems, peace arrives, and Weiss is able to start her journey home. There she will stay, amid the anti-Semitism and oppression of the Communist years, practicing her art, having a family and assembling this record of her endurance.

Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.