How to pronounce Helga Weiss: wyss (rhymes with ice)
Helga Weiss (Helga Hoková-Weissová) was born in Prague in 1929. After surviving the Holocaust and the Second World War, Helga returned to Prague, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, and became an artist. She has two children, three grandchildren, and lives to this day in the apartment where she was born.
Francine Prose is the author of sixteen books of fiction, including Blue Angel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Among her most recent works of nonfiction is the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife. A former president of PEN American Center, she lives in New York City.
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Neil Bermel spoke with Helga Weiss in her apartment in Prague on December 1, 2011. The following is an edited version of their conversation, translated from the Czech. Additions and clarifications made by the translator and editor are in brackets.
Could you tell us something about your parents: what their names were, what they did, what they were like before the war? From the diary we learn only that they were Mom and Dad...
My father's name was Otto Weiss; he was very educated, loved music, wrote poetry as well. He worked as a bank clerk. In the First World War, when he was eighteen, he was badly wounded in his right arm. My mother, Irena, born Fuchsová, trained as a dressmaker; she stayed home and ran the household. We weren't rich, but my parents created a home that was full of love. I had a happy childhood.
What was the fate of your friends, acquaintances, relatives?
In general things ended badly. Sadly, my father probably went to the gas chambers. But we never found out for sure. There's even a book, The Terezín Memory Book, where people's details are recorded in brief. There's always the date they were sent to Terezín, the date they were sent onward and, if it's known, ...
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