Helga Kinsky-Pollack was born in Vienna in 1930. When she was thirteen years old, she was sent to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp/ghetto located in Terezin, Czechoslovakia. The Nazis portrayed Theresienstadt as a model community for Jews, but it was really a terrible prison camp. Hunger, overcrowding and lack of basic necessities made Theresienstadt a deadly place. Over 30,000 prisoners died in the camp itself, while approximately 90,000 were transferred to other locations. Many of these were sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered. Helga suffered the deprivations of life in Theresienstadt, survived transfer to and from Auschwitz, and was finally liberated in May 1945. Her diary became a valuable primary source for scholars researching the Holocaust. Information she provided was prominently featured in by Deborah Dwork.
On July 31, 1943 Helga wrote about an annoying situation that added to the misery that she and her fellow prisoners experienced. “This is the second day I’ve been sleeping in the corridor because of bedbugs. There are seven of us girls sleeping outside and we’ve all been bitten. … I caught six fleas and three bedbugs today. Isn’t that a fine hunt? I don’t even have a gun and right away I have supper.” Helga used her grim sense of humor to deal with the irritation of insect infestation, but it was actually a very serious problem. The deplorable conditions in concentration camps led directly to the spread of contagious diseases, often by insect bites. Typhus, for example, was spread by lice and was responsible for epidemics in many Nazi camps. If prisoners had been well-fed, with regular access to baths or showers, they might have been better equipped to resist illness. As it was, they were severely malnourished and were forced to live in extremely unsanitary circumstances. Those conditions were purposely imposed by the Nazis as part of a totally destructive process. Those who died from disease were murdered just as surely as those who were killed by more direct methods.
Excerpts from Helga Kinsky-Pollack’s diary may be found in by Laurel Holliday.
You may learn more about Theresienstadt here.
April 1, 2016
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Community Program: Jewish and Muslim Immigrant Experiences in America
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