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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  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2014, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bob Sauerbrey

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1
PRAGUE

What do they mean by "mobilization"? All young men have to join up. Why? Not long ago it was all about Austria, and now it's mobilization again. People can't talk about anything else. But what is it? Why aren't Mom and Dad home today? Instead of telling me what this mobilization's about, they've gone to listen to the radio. Anyway, it's just an excuse, because they could listen to the radio at home. They must have gone to their friends' house so they could talk about the mobilization. What must they think of me? That I'm still just a little girl, with whom they can't talk about anything? I'm a big girl already, I'll be nine soon. My God, what time are the bells tolling? I have to go to school tomorrow and I'm still not asleep. This silly mobilization has made me forget about school completely.

What air raid? Into the cellar—now, at night? Why are you getting me up, Mommy? What's wrong, what's happening? What are you doing; you can't put my clothes on over my pajamas . . .

The gong just sounded in the hallway, summoning us to the shelter. Dad was pacing impatiently in the vestibule and Mom just barely managed to pull my gym clothes on before we fled down to the cellar. The porter opened the old storeroom, which was supposed to serve as a shelter. There wasn't a lot of room; we were packed together, but at least we all fit in. At first no one spoke, but their fearful eyes asked: "What will happen; what does it mean?" However, in a little while the mood improved. The men tried to calm the women down, although they were just as upset themselves. They had more self-control and could crack jokes. About a half-hour later the blare of the sirens announced the end of the air raid. Everyone went back to their apartments. The parents of my friend invited us to spend the rest of the night at their house. They sent Eva and me to sleep; our parents stayed in the other room, where they listened to the radio. Sleeping was out of the question. Why should we kids have to go to sleep when everyone else was up? And when we finally closed our eyes, the siren wailed again. It happened three more times that night and each time we went to the shelter.

We didn't sleep at all that night. We children couldn't wait till morning. We'd have so much to tell people tomorrow at school. Maybe there wouldn't even be school; that would be brilliant. The grown-ups had other things to worry about and so they weren't so happy when the siren went off. But fortunately everything turned out OK. They were just false alarms and there was no air raid.

*

In the morning, I went to school. The classes weren't much use. All of us were excited and tired from the previous night. We told each other our nighttime adventures. There was stuff to talk about all day. After lunch (which wasn't much good; no one was in the right frame of mind to cook) the whole building met in the shelter again. This time it wasn't because of an air raid, but so that we could clean up the shelter, in case we had to spend another night in it. We threw out all the things that belonged in the rubbish; the women set to sweeping and scrubbing, while the men put together first-aid kits and made a secret exit. The mothers made bunks for us using the goods lockers. Finally, everyone brought a suitcase with supplies down. We spent a bit of time chatting and then everyone went home and waited anxiously to see what the night would bring. Against all expectations it passed peacefully. Despite that, Eva's father and mine decided that it was too dangerous to stay in Prague. That very afternoon they went to find a suitable apartment outside Prague where we could stay until the danger was past. They rented us two rooms in a small detached house in the village of Úvaly. In the meantime our moms packed up and the next day we left.

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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