In the middle of the Christmasing and breakfasting (hey, great fun with Lauri yesterday at Egg Harbor and with Carol today at Panera), I’ve been reading a fascinating and sad book called The Girls of Room 28.
I have read books about the hardships of the Jews during World War 2: Corrie ten Boom, Anne Frank and many other books about lesser known, but still persecuted people.
In the midst of the concentration camps was a place called Theresienstadt (sometimes called Terezin).
The Nazis presented the town as a model Jewish settlement and sent the well-known musicians, artists, authors, diplomats, scientists and actors to Theresienstadt. So many musicians were housed at the camp, that there were four concert orchestras, chamber groups and jazz ensembles. Plays were acted out with regularity.
These people, experts in their fields, were assigned to teach the children. They taught the children in all areas of education including drawing and music. (More than 6,000 of the drawings were hidden and recovered after the war.) They even acted and produced a children’s opera. If you go on iTunes and enter the word “Terezin” you will find a long list of music composed by the Jewish musicians imprisoned at the camp.
The Girls of Room 28 is the story of one room in the children’s barracks. Much of it told through the point of view of a young girl named Helga who kept a journal of her life in Theresienstadt. Counselors were assigned to the children – often adults who had some experience in the real world, so the children’s world at Theresienstadt was orderly and disciplined with high educational standards.
In 1944 the Nazis invited the Red Cross to visit Theresienstadt to prove to the world that the camps were healthy places, brimming with culture. They built shops and filled them with beautiful clothing and other items (not mentioning that much of what was in the shops was stolen from the Jews whom they’d captured). To make the place look less crowded – more than 7,000 Jews were sent to Aushwitz and gassed. The visit was so successful, the Nazis then decided to make a film about the settlement. After the shooting of the film the crew, cast and producer were also sent to Aushwitz.
More than 140,000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt during the war. Thirty three thousand died on site because of hunger and disease. Another 88,000 were went to Aushwitz. The Nazis might have told the world that they had a model village where children happily played and attended school and sang beautiful music, but the truth is quite different.
More than fifteen thousand children lived at the Theresienstadt during the course of the war.
Approximately 150 survived.
The book, written by Hannelore Brenner tells the story from the children’s point of view.