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Unusual Holocaust Story, very good.,
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This review is from: The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt (Kindle Edition)
I have read a lot of Holocaust nonfiction. The best overall, I think, was "Treblinka" by Steiner. It was written in the '60's when the author could still interview many adult survivors. Trreblinka was a death camp, where the camp prisoners eventually staged a revolt.
Steiner describes in depth how the people gradually became used to less rights, (no school for children, no work for the adults), then to being moved into "Jewish" (or Gypsy) ghettos,where they lived in unbearably crowded conditions; then to promises of resettlement and a better life "in the east"....at the point where the ghetto people were starving and disease ridden, many people volunteered to go east. Once on the trains, they were locked into a situation they could not escape, and the majority were gassed immediately upon arrival.
Now, essentially the only living people able to be interviewed are those who were children during World War II. Children's memories usually are not as good as those of adults, and often because they do not understand the big picture of which they were a part, they cannot provide the clarity that an adult could.
The author got to know, and interviewed many times, the surviving girls of room 28 from the camp called Theresienstadt. She was able to get the mental picture of the prewar backgrounds of the girls, their gradual loss of freedom, being sent from their schools and sports teams, their non-Jewish friends refusing to speak to them, then the transport to the camp, with or without their parents.
Many, many girls, mostly between ages of 12-14, lived in a dorm-like atmosphere in the concentration camp Theresienstadt. The book explains how many were "transitioned" through room 28, on their way to a death camp. Some, however, were able to remain there for most of the war.
It was not a death camp (no gassing or mass executions);it was essentially a labor camp. Food was very scarce, and people were often sick due to the poor living conditions and malnutrition, but still it was probably one of the better camps (comparatively) to live in. However, quite frequently lists of names were released by the SS who ran the camp and those individuals (or whole families) were sent on transports (trains) "to be resettled in the East"....this of course was shipment by cattle car to the big death camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz, Birkenau, and others.
What was unusual about Theresienstadt was the decision made by the internal (unoffical) Jewish camp leadership to make sure the children received most of the food and the best of it; also that were able to have a childhood of some type. They were given an education (illegal for Jewish children under the Nazis) secretly; they were exposed to art, dance, opera, music....many of the adults had been top quality professionals in those fields and worked with the children. The elderly people were given the least food, and essentially that led to the difficult choice of letting more of them die from malnutrion while the children were given the best chance to live. The camps' internal leadership did not know of the death camps---or did not know until much later on in the war.)
The children's opera "Brunderbar" written by two professional musicians/ lyricists, was written to be sung BY and FOR children. It was performed over 55 times by the children of Theresienstadt, including performances for the SS and their families.
Much of the artwork of the children was saved: over 3500 pieces, and has gone on travelling exhibitions.
Many of the young teens kept diaries and the diary entries of several of the "girls of room 28" have survived and are used in this book to show how life was and how it felt AT THE TIME to these girls. They express worry and fear when a friend's name turned up on the transport list. Ironically, and sadly, they would put together some of the scarce food and clothing for their friends, who, of course, never had the chance to use any of it.
I was far more moved by the diary entries in this book than the more famous Anne Frank's diary. She was hidden, and didn't know much about the outside world. These children had some idea of what was happening, and most were seperated from their parents.
The girls also discussed boys their age (in another barrack) and many had "crushes" on certain boys, or were "going with" them...quite innocent though, compared to teens of that age in our era.
A famous episode was the visit by the Internal Red Cross who had received messages about the treatment of the Jews, Gypsies, and others under Hitler. When it became known the Red Cross would visit to "see for themselves", the SS made sure the camp was quickly re-created to an ideal "small town".....shops and cafes were opened, people were given normal, nice, civilian clothes to wear, the children in room 28 (and probably all the others were given new, brightly painted bunk beds and lockers for their personal items....all in all the camp was made to look like an ideal setting. In fact, film footage was staged and the Germans and others who saw these films in the theatres of the time were told "the Furher has given a city to the Jews".
The tragedy that the Red Cross inspectors never even tried to look behind the scenes at what was actually going on, was one of the tragedies of the war.
I'm essentially skimming over the main points in the book...not to give away the plot as there is not a true plot...we know from the start what the outcome what the outcome will be for most the girls.
This is not a "tearjerker"....though it is unbearably tragic that so many people of all age groups lost their lives for no other reason than their ethnicity. (Most of the girls came from homes where they were totally "assimilated" Jews, who often had Christmas trees, did not observe Jewish holidays or food laws, and considered themselves to be basically like their Czech neighbors.) Whether they were assimilated Jews or religious Jews, nevertheless, the loss of so many bright young people is a particular tragedy of the Holocaust. Hitler did not kill every Jew as he wanted to; but he destroyed Jewish culture and tradition in Europe for all time.