Girl's diary of life in concentration camp published in English
A unique account of life in a concentration camp, written by a young girl during World War II and shortly thereafter, has been translated into English by an academic from the University of Sheffield and is set to be published by Penguin this week (14 February 2013).
Although many books and memoirs have been written about the Holocaust, Helga’s Diary is truly special. Unlike the harrowing account of Anne Frank which ended before her life in Auschwitz, this diary, written by eight year old Helga Weiss, takes readers inside a concentration camp – Terezín, in what is now the Czech Republic.
Other than the diary of Anne Frank, which has sold 25 million copies, a book of such length and quality, written by a young woman at the time, is almost unheard of. It has been translated from Czech into English by Professor Neil Bermel, Head of the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Sheffield.
In 1938, when her diary begins, Helga is eight years old. Alongside her father and mother and the 45,000 Jews who live in Prague, she endures the Nazi invasion and regime: her father is denied work, schools are closed to her, she and her parents are confined to their flat. Then deportations begin, and her friends and family start to disappear.
In 1941, Helga and her parents are sent to the concentration camp of Terezín, where they live for three years. Here Helga documents their daily life – the harsh conditions, disease and suffering, as well as moments of friendship, creativity and hope – until, in 1944, they are sent to Auschwitz. Helga leaves her diary behind with her uncle, who bricks it into a wall to preserve it.
When Helga arrived at Auschwitz, she managed to convince the notorious Josef Mengele, known as the 'Angel of Death', that she was older and fit for work – a decision that would save her life.
Helga's father is never heard of again but miraculously Helga and her mother survive Auschwitz and the gruelling transports of the last days of the war, and manage to return to Prague. As Helga writes down her experiences since Terezín, completing the diary, she is fifteen and a half. She is one of only a tiny number of Jews who have survived.
Reconstructed from her original notebooks, which were later retrieved from Terezín, and from the loose-leaf pages on which Helga wrote after the war, the diary is presented by Penguin in its entirety, accompanied by an interview with Helga and illustrated with the paintings she made during her time at Terezín. As such, Helga’s Diary is one of the most vivid and comprehensive testimonies written during the Holocaust ever to have been recovered.
Professor Bermel said: "For a translator, a work like Helga's Diary is a tremendous opportunity and responsibility. Your goal, first and foremost, is to convey one person's account of events in a faithful, readable form and in your language, but, of course, this is a story that unfolds against the backdrop of a horrendous chapter in human history and that's always at the back of your mind. It was a great privilege as well to be able to meet and consult with Helga Weiss as the translation unfolded."
Helga, now 83, said: "I am very happy indeed with Neil Bermel's responsible, clear and precise translation of my diary. Thanks to his work, I hope that my diary will speak to many people and that through my story they will learn something of the truth of the Holocaust. I believe this to be important in order that we not forget the past and can prevent such a thing ever happening again."
Helga Weiss was born in Prague in 1929. Her father Otto was employed in the state bank in Prague and her mother Irena was a dressmaker. Of the 15,000 children brought to Terezín and later deported to Auschwitz, only 100 survived the Holocaust. Helga was one of them. On her return to Prague she studied art and has become well known for her paintings. The drawings and paintings that Helga made during her time in Terezín, which accompany this diary, were published in 1998 in the book Draw What You See (Zeichne, was Du siehst). Her father’s novel And God Saw That it was Bad, written during his time in Terezín and which she illustrated, was published in 2010. She has two children, three grandchildren and lives to this day in the flat where she was born.
The School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Sheffield
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