Alice Ehrmann was sixteen years old when she was imprisoned in a place the Nazis called “Theresienstadt”. It is now often referred to as the Terezin Ghetto. The Nazis tried to portray Theresienstadt as a model Jewish settlement, but it was actually a place of brutality, deprivation, sickness and death.
As a writer, Alice used her diary to keep a record of life in Terezin. She had a keen eye for detail and wrote not only about the events she witnessed, but also about their emotional impact. In November 1944, Terezin was coming to the end of a two month period during which many of the prisoners had been deported. She didn’t know their destination or fate at the time, but most had been sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered. From Alice’s perspective, the most noteworthy result of the deportations was the sense of a vanishing community. On November 19 she wrote, “All the people have disappeared somewhere; here and there an unclear message from somewhere – like far calls from a ship wandering the ocean. The city lives on. It lives with bated breath, a lull between two catastrophes; but it lives on. People carry their heroism masked behind an everyday face; they no longer even talk about it. Every loved one is alone with their – waiting? Cares? Fears? What should one call it? They say that many people are coming. Who knows? The city is so exhausted; we will bear all this, I and the city and you and you…”
Alice didn’t have any direct proof to verify her fears, but she was right about Terezin being in a lull between two catastrophes. The period of deportations to death camps was ending. The eastern front was on the verge of collapse. Soon, the region containing the Auschwitz camps would be overrun by the advancing Red Army. Instead of allowing the remaining prisoners to be liberated, the Nazis sent them on forced-marches westward. Terezin would receive thousands of these prisoners, survivors who were barely alive due to the terrible ordeals they had endured. Alice would spend the final phase of Terezin’s history witnessing the Nazis’ final defeat and trying to come to grips with the magnitude of their crimes.
You may learn more about Theresienstadt, the Terezin Ghetto, here.
Excerpts from Alice Ehrmann’s diary have been published in a book entitled, by Alexandra Zapruder.
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Religion 201: Interfaith Relations with representatives of Islam, Buddhism, & Baha’i…
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