Nazi law defined Alice Ehrmann as “mischlinge of the first degree”. That meant that she was considered half Jewish. Since she was from the city of Prague, she was imprisoned in the nearby Terezin Ghetto. Terezin was an unusual place. It had some of the common elements of a ghetto, but in other ways it was more like a concentration camp. The Nazis tried to portray Terezin as a model Jewish settlement, but it was actually a place of brutality and deprivation. Most Jewish prisoners who entered Terezin did not survive the Holocaust.
One of Alice’s cousins was connected to the Jewish leadership council; therefore she had access to more information about events in the ghetto than most other prisoners. She used her diary to record these events for posterity. She believed that it was vital to document the crimes that were being committed against Jewish people, as a warning for the future and as a call for justice.
On April 18th, Alice thought that she could see the beginnings of just retribution against the Nazis as she witnessed the reversal of their fortunes. Germany was in the final stages of defeat in World War II. In fact, it would be only three more weeks until Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allies. In those last days, Nazi officials in the ghetto frantically tried to destroy evidence of their crimes. Alice observed them burning files and records. She wrote, “There is a bonfire in the courtyard of the Sudeten barracks. Sweating SS men are throwing ten- to twenty-kilogram packages of files down from the windows. They stand there in a line, like the Jews a year ago, and sweat it out. Above, they patrol and collect stray pages blowing about.”
Alice was dedicated to recording the conditions and events in Terezin, so it must have been difficult to watch so many German documents go up in flames. She undoubtedly took comfort from the fact that her ordeal was about to end, but was soon to be shocked by the final phase of suffering. Two days later, 1800 Jewish prisoners who were nearly dead from extreme mistreatment at other locations were dumped into Terezin. More than 13,000 more would follow over the next few weeks. Alice and other long time Terezin prisoners would spend their last days in the ghetto desperately trying to save as many lives as possible.
For a timeline of events at Terezin, see http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007460
Excerpts from Alice Ehrmann’s diary have been published in a book entitled, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder.
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October 8, 2015 at 7:30 PM
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