Alice Ehrmann had just experienced a tragic loss when she began writing her diary in October 1944. It was not her first heartbreak, nor would it be her last. Alice had been a prisoner in the Terezin Ghetto (sometimes also called the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp) since the summer of 1943. She was separated from her parents at that time and keenly felt the loss. Fortunately, when she arrived, she met Ze’ev Shek. He soon became her boyfriend and also helped her to get involved in youth welfare work in the ghetto. Alice became a tireless worker in Terezin, helping others to survive as best they could in spite of the terrible conditions.
In October 1944, Ze’ev was deported to Auschwitz. He was one of thousands to suffer this same fate. With so many people being sent away, even ghetto leaders, Alice knew that much of the social help network that they had built would be lost. Alice might have been tempted to give up when Ze’ev was taken from her, but she only allowed herself a few moments of mourning. She wrote, “I am completely exhausted. Here there is no one who loves me. And there is one who loves me, but he is far away, and I would have to cry today if I thought of him.” After she wrote these words, Alice threw herself back into the task of helping others. Later that same day, she added another observation to her diary. “Ghetto being reorganized. No more transports for the time being. Everyone is too exhausted to start over again. But we will do it. We are the god-appointed slaves of our eternally unfailing energy who are condemned to rebuild what has been destroyed … to rebuild everything. It is like trying to hold back a waterfall with two outstretched hands. We are all so exhausted – although our wakefulness never ends – that is the exercise that will last a thousand years…”
Alice did not know it yet, but her time in the Terezin ghetto was entering its last half year. She would continue to work tirelessly throughout the remaining months. She helped others to survive and to rebuild again and again. In the end, Alice was one of the survivors herself. She was overjoyed to learn that Ze’ev had survived his ordeal as well. In the years after the war, they were able to rebuild their lives together as newlyweds in the new state of Israel.
You may learn more about the Terezin Ghetto and view many relevant photographs here.
Portions of Alice Ehrmann’s diary have been published in a book entitled, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder. You may read biographical details about Alice, excerpted from this work here.
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