January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day, an annual commemoration of those who were persecuted and systematically murdered under the Nazi regime, remembered on 27 January as it marks the liberation of the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. The theme for the 2018 Holocaust Memorial Day is ‚ÄòThe Power of Words,‚Äô looking at how language can impact societies, both positively and negatively.
To write about the Holocaust from a girl’s eye view, my first thought was to reflect upon Kindertransport and the estimated 10,000 children that were saved between December 1938 and August 1939. Girl Museum has a fantastic exhibition, titled Madchen Der Kindertransport, that explores the experience of girls. As Kindertransport has already been explored at Girl Museum, I chose to focus on female friendship triumphing during this tumultuous time, especially focusing on the Theresienstadt “camp-ghetto.”
Hannelore Brenner wrote the stunning The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope and Survival in Theresienstadt in 2009, meeting 10 survivors of the Holocaust who were young girls living in Girls Home L410, Room 28 in Theresienstadt between 1942 and 1944, and interviewed them about their experience. Written in chronological order over the period between 1942 and 1944 ¬†and using both oral history testimonies and the secret diaries that some of the girls kept during their time in Theresienstadt, The Girls of Room 28 gives a fascinating insight into the unique daily lives of these young girls living in Theresienstadt.
The 10 survivors Brenner met were between 12-14 years old during their time at Theresienstadt, so at the time of publication were mothers and grandmothers in their seventies. Of the approximately 50 girls that resided in the Girls Home in the Theresienstadt concentration camp between 1942 and 1944, only 15 survived. Of these were Eva Weiss Gross, Hanka Wertheimer Weingarten, Judith Schwarzbart Rosenzweig, Eva Winkler Sohar, Marta Frohlich Mikul, Vera Nath Kreiner, Ela Stein Weissberger, Miriam Rosenzweig Jung, Eva Eckstein Vit, Eva Mer, Handa Pollack Drori, Helga Pollak Kinsky, and Anna Hanusova-Flachova.
Theresienstadt “camp-ghetto” was located in German-occupied Czechoslovakia, between November 1941 and 1945. As Theresienstadt was, strictly speaking, not a concentration camp when compared to its counterparts, Theresienstadt served as an important propaganda function for the Germans. Portrayed as a ‚Äòsettlement‚Äô and even a ‚Äòspa town‚Äô in the infamous propaganda film, cultural and religious life was interrupted as it gave the impression of having better living conditions that were realistically the case. The 10 girls in The Girls of Room 28 were consequently involved in the children’s opera Brundib√°r. Composed by Hans Kr√°sa with a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, the opera was performed by the children living in Girls Home in Theresienstadt. Ela Stein writes about the experience of performing in Brundib√°r in her diary, ‚ÄòWhen my turn came, I shook with fright at the thought that I wouldn‚Äôt sing well enough. But then Rudi Freundenfeld said to me, ‚ÄúYou know what? You‚Äôll play a cat.‚Äù A cat in a children‚Äôs opera? That was something extraordinary‚Äô. Brenner touches upon this in The Girls of Room 28, where she says that ‚Äòwhile enduring unimaginable suffering, the children of Theresienstadt also studied, played, danced, sang, did gymnastics, created art, wrote poems, and appeared in theatrical performances‚Äô (p.14).
What struck me when reading The Girls of Room 28 is the friendship that the girls established, and how this friendship emotionally carried them through their years in the camp. Marianne Rosenzweig, Theresienstadt survivor, writes ‚ÄúI consider the time I spent in Room 28 the best time in Theresienstadt. Although we were young, and although hunger, cold and fear defined our lives, we remained honest and decent and always had high moral values. And we developed very deep friendships of that sort that would have scarcely been possible under normal circumstances‚Äù (p.12). ¬†
Hannelore Brenner‚Äôs The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope and Survival in Theresienstadt is a striking tale of friendship and hope being an important factor of emotionally surviving the adversity of the Theresienstadt “camp-ghetto.” It is clear to see why The Girls of Room 28 was praised as being a ‚Äòbeautiful evocation of heartwarming friendship in the darkest of times.‚Äô Using oral history testimonies of the 10 survivors was a powerful personification and individuality of an unimaginable experience for a ¬†young girl to endure. As Girl Museum works to spotlight the unique histories of young girls as an ‚Äòinformation platform for socio-cultural dialogue about girls around the world in the past and present‚Äô, it was enlightening to read and review Hannelore Brenner‚Äôs The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope and Survival in Theresienstadt.
Volunteer & Instagram Manager
Girl Museum Inc.