Alice Ehrmann was sixteen years-old when she was sent to Theresienstadt; a place which was also known as the Terezin Ghetto. She started keeping a diary a few months after she arrived because she saw the need to bear witness to the terrible events that happened around her every day. She had a cousin who was connected to the Jewish leadership council in Terezin, so she also had access to information beyond her own personal experiences.
Additionally, she had an older boyfriend, Ze’ev, who worked in the youth welfare department. Ze’ev was a committed Zionist who dedicated himself to helping young people to survive in Terezin and also to documenting Nazi crimes. He was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944 at about the same time as Alice started keeping her diary. She continued both aspects of his work.
In April 1945, Terezin was approaching its final days. The end of the war was only a few weeks away and conditions were changing rapidly. Throughout its history, the Nazis had used Terezin, in part, as a transit camp – a way station en route to Auschwitz. In the last months of the war, this was no longer the case. In fact, Auschwitz had been liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. Other concentration camps in both the east and west had also been liberated by the advancing Allies. In an effort to keep their prisoners from being freed, the Nazis moved them deeper into territory still under their control. Terezin was one such place, so it experienced a rapid influx of prisoners. These prisoners had been through appalling conditions and arrived at Terezin in deep distress. Alice was involved in trying to help them, but it was nearly an impossible task.
On April 22, Alice wrote about transports that arrived that day. Their needs were so great and they took so much time to help, that Alice recorded her diary entry in single words and short phrases – as if writing complete sentences would take too much time away from the desperate work at hand. She wrote, “Early, a train, Hungary, Poland, Balkans – men in open cars, seventy dead, striped. Eyes, eyes. From Zeiss, before that Buchenwald they say, most scattered about Germany, many on their way here. Hunger, wildness. … Afternoon Hungary, all have “KZ” on their backs, numbers sewn to their sleeves; all together – children… They have children with them!!! […] Steal everything; how is one to distribute food?”
In all, more than 13,000 prisoners would be dumped into Terezin in the final weeks of the war. Alice and other long time Terezin prisoners would spend their last days in the ghetto desperately trying to save as many lives as possible.
You may read more about Theresienstadt here.
Excerpts from Alice Ehrmann’s diary have been published in a book entitled, by Alexandra Zapruder.
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