Excerpt from Helga's Diary by Helga Weiss, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Helga's Diary

A Young Girl's Account of Life in a Concentration Camp

By Helga Weiss

Helga's Diary
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2013,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2014,
    256 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Bob Sauerbrey

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-

When we saw that there was no danger threatening Prague, we returned home. In the meantime our president, Eduard Beneš, had resigned and Emil Hácha had taken his place. That was called the Second Republic. Then there was peace for a while, but not for long. One day our new president was called to Berlin, where there were going to be discussions about the future of Czechoslovakia. There was great excitement everywhere in the country. People felt nothing good would come of this. And they were not mistaken.

-

March 15, 1939
In the morning, when I woke up, Mom and Dad were sitting by the radio, their heads hung low. At first I didn't know what had happened, but soon I figured it out. A trembling voice came from the radio: "This morning at 6:30 the German army crossed the Czechoslovak border." I didn't really understand the meaning of those words, but I felt there was something terrible in them. The announcer said several more times: "Stay calm and collected!" I remained in bed for a bit longer. Dad came and sat next to me on the bed. He was serious and I could see he was very upset. He didn't say a word. I took his hand; I could feel it trembling. It was quiet, broken only by the weak ticking of the clock. There was something heavy in the air. No one wanted to break the awkward silence. We stayed that way for several minutes. Then I got dressed and went to school. Mom went with me. Along the way we met familiar and unfamiliar faces. You could read the same things in everyone's eyes: fear, sadness, and the question "What will happen next?"


At school, the mood was sad. The happy chatter and carefree laughter of children had changed into frightened whispers. Clutches of girls deep in conversation could be seen in the hallways and the classrooms. After the bell rang, we went off to our classes. Not much teaching went on. We were all distracted and felt relieved once the bell rang again. After classes lots of our parents were waiting for us. My mom came for me. On the way home we saw loads of German cars and tanks. The weather was chilly; it was raining, snow fell, the wind howled. It was as if nature was protesting.

In this way we came under the "protection" of the German Reich, without knowing how or what from. We also got a new name. Instead of Czechoslovakia we are now called the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Since March 15 there has not been a single calm day. There have been orders one after another that repress and wound us more and more. Not a day goes by without bringing some new turmoil. The worst of it has landed on us Jews. They heap everything on our backs. We're the cause of one thing after another, everything is our fault, even though we didn't do anything. We can't help being Jews, and nor can we help any of these other things. No one asks; they just feel they have to pour out their anger on someone and who's better for that than—of course—the Jews. Anti-Semitism is rising; the newspapers are full of anti-Jewish articles.

*

Anti-Jewish orders are on the rise. The news that Jews couldn't be employed in government jobs anymore caused an uproar in Jewish families. Then, no Aryan (previously an unfamiliar word) could employ a non-Aryan Jew. Now they keep coming, time and time again, order after order. You barely know what you can and can't do. It is forbidden to visit cafés, cinemas, theaters, playgrounds, parks . . . there are so many things that I can't remember them all. Among others there was also an order that really upset me: the expulsion of Jewish children from state schools. When I found out, I was unhappy. After the holidays I was supposed to go into Year 5. I like school and the thought that I will never be able to sit at a school desk with the other students brings tears to my eyes. But I have to bear up; there are other things waiting for me and many of them will undoubtedly be much worse.

Excerpted from Helga's Diary: A Young Girl's Account of Life in a Concentration Camp by Helga Weiss. Text copyright © 2013 by Helga Weiss. Translation copyright © 2013 by Neil Bermel. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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