Monday, December 17, 2012

The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt by Hannelore Brenner, published in German in 2004 and in English in 2009

"A deeply sympathetic account of a group of concentration-camp dorm mates who stayed in touch years after their release."  from a review in Kirkus Reviews 7/15/2009

This book focuses on a group of young teenage girls and their leaders who lived in Room 28 of the Girls Home in the Theresienstadt concentration camp from 1942-1944 in what is now the Czech Republic. The author, Hannelore Brenner, interviewed many of those who survived and read journals written by them and others who were deported to Theresienstadt. She quotes extensively from many entries from these journals, especially from the journals of Helga Pollak and her father Otto where they reveal the heartbreaks and stresses of day-to-day life in the camp. Helga’s entries chronicle the life of an undernourished child who was frequently sick, but who dreamed about the future and worked at becoming a contributing and supportive member of Room 28. Otto Pollak, who lived in another area of Theresienstadt, wrote about his concern for the welfare of his daughter.

In an introductory chapter we meet some of the girls of Room 28 in the present and learn about their annual reunion. In subsequent chapters the author goes back in time and uses these girls’ experiences to describe the early round-ups and deportations to Theresienstadt and the daily life at the camp. Several chapters deal with the production of the children’s opera Brundibar, the sham visit by the International Red Cross, and the filming of  Nazi propaganda at the camp. Finally, the author follows the deportation of some of the girls from Theresienstadt to camps like Auschwitz and then the death marches the Nazis forced on survivors as the Allies approached. She ends the main section of the book with the liberation of the camps and the girls’ search for survivors.

The author efficiently presents background material about the strategy of the Nazis to present Theresienstadt as a model Jewish town. So in that sense, this transit camp was a better place to be than some others. The camp was overcrowded, and prisoners were hungry, plagued by bed bugs and lice, and many were sick and died from typhoid and encephalitis as well as other communicable diseases. But children and adults were also were able to take advantage of many educational and cultural activities. Concerts and plays gave the many gifted artists and musicians opportunities  to participate as actors, singers, composers and musicians. Audiences sat in rapt attention and many commented about how attending or participating in such events was a transcendent experience that allowed them moments when they could forget where they were.

Journal entries and interviews reveal that for the children there were two particular beacons of light in an otherwise grim existence. The gifted artist Freidl Dicker-Brandeis created a rich art program that involved the children in drawing and painting. And the decision to mount a production of the children’s opera Brundibar allowed the children to throw themselves into an exciting, enriching activity. First they auditioned, then rehearsed, and then performed. The opera, written earlier by the composer Hans Krasa who became a prisoner in Theresienstadt, was performed in the camp over fifty times to packed houses.

The cumulative effect of the multiple stories we read is powerful. Over the course of the book we have come to know the girls and their leaders, and their family and friends through their writing, and through the author’s research and interviews. One tragic story is hard enough to bear; multiply it by the number of prisoners we follow in this book, and it’s overwhelming.

An Epilogue includes contemporary photos of most of the survivors of Room 28 and short narratives. The survivors went on with their lives; they picked up the pieces, married, and settled in Israel, New York, California, Sweden, Moscow, West Germany, Vienna, Prague and elsewhere. Some, due to the cruel fate of politics, became citizens of the Soviet Union and for many years were cut off from the West. Like other survivors of the Holocaust, the girls of Room 28 felt that only other survivors really understood their trauma. And they knew that their past was better understood by the girls who had lived together in Room 28 than by anyone else.  Living in very close quarters under very difficult conditions in Theresienstadt helped them to forge strong bonds that hold those who are still alive together still.

To learn more about the book and a traveling exhibition click here.
To see a short clip from a production of Brundibar filmed by the Nazis in Theresienstadt as a vehicle for their propaganda click here.
To go to a very informative site about music and the holocaust where you find biographical sketches of many of the musicians who were prisoners in Theresienstadt, and which also has a lengthy discussion of Brundibar, click here.
To read a post on this blog about a cookbook put together by women in Theresienstadt click here
To read a post on this blog about a memoir written by Gonda Redlich, also a prisoner in Theresienstadt, click here.
To read a post on this blog of a memoir written by Petr Ginz, also a prisoner in Theresienstadt, click here.
To read a post on this blog about Madeleine Albright's memoir Prague Winter which has several chapters on Theresienstadt, click here.

The girls in room 28, including their leaders in bold print; others are family members not in Room 28 or not in Theresiendstadt
Rita Bohm – cousin of Lily Reich Wertheimer (see below)
Marianne Deutsch
    Peter – son of Marianne
Eva Eckstein – married Hermann Vit
Hana and Herta Eckstein – sisters of Eva
Hana Epstein
Eva Fischl

Leo Flach – married Elisabeth Kober
    Anna Flach (Hanusova-Flachova) - daughter of Leo and Elisabeth; married to Viteslav Hanus
        Tomas Hanus – son of Anna and Viteslav
    Michael Flach – son of Leo and Elisabeth
    Alice Flach – daughter of Leo and Elisabeth
    Irena Flach – daughter of Leo and Elisabeth
    Lizzie Flach – daughter of Leo and Elisabeth
Leopold Frohlich
    Marta Frohlich (Mikul) – daughter of Leopold
    Ruzenka Frohlich – daughter of Leopold
    Zdenka Frohlich – daughter of Leopold
    Jenda Frohlich – son of Leopold
    Jarda Frohlich – son of Leopold
Lilly Gross
Irena Grunfeld
Ruth Gutmann
Eva Heller
Marte Kende

Nathan and Ernestine Klein
    Ilsa Klein – daughter of Nathan and Ernestine; married Nathan Landa
        Eva Landa (Nimarkova) – daughter of Emil and Ilsa
            Viktor Nimark – son of Eva
        Leisl Landa – daughter of Emil and Ilsa; married to Franz Petschau
Hanna Lissau
Olga Lowy
Zdenka Lowy
Lenka Lindt
Ruth Meisl
Helena Mendl
Maria Muhlstein

Hermann Nath – married Elisabeth Kolb
    Vera Nath (Kreiner) – daughter of Hermann and Elisabeth
    Hana Nath – daughter of Hermann and Elisabeth
Eugen Kolb – brother of Elisabeth
Vojtec Polecek
    Bohumila Polacek – daughter of Vojtec
    Jiri Polacek – son of Vojtec
    Hanus and Hanna Lederer – cousins of Bohumil  and Jiri (exact relationship unclear)
Eva Pollak
Karel and Alice Pollak
    Handa Pollak (Drori) – daughter of Karel
Hanicka Pollak – sister of Karel
Sophie Pollak
    Otto Pollak – son of Sophie – married to Frieda
        Helga Pollak (Krinsky) – daughter of Otto and Frieda
    Karl Pollak – son of Sophie; married to Maria
Marta Pollak – daughter of Sophie; married to Fritz
    Josef – son of Marta and Fritz   
    Trude – daughter of Marta and Fritz; married Hermann
        Lea – daughter of Trude and Hermann
Freida Freud – paternal aunt of Otto; exact relationship unclear
Mimi Sander – Otto’s girlfriend
Gustav Deutsch – cousin of Karel
    Walter Deutsch – son of Gustav
Karel Ancerl – cousin of Alice
Ella Pollak
Ruth Popper
Miriam Rosenszweig
Ruth Schatchter
Alex Schatchter – Ruth’s brother
Julius and Charlotte Schwartzbart
    Judith Schwartzbart (Rosenzweig)– daughter of Julius and Charlotte
    Ester Schwartzbart – daughter of Julius and Charlotte
    Gideon Schwartzbart – son of Julius and Charlotte
Pavla Seiner
Ruth Shachter
Laura Simko
Alice Sittig

Anton Krauss
    Marketa Altenstein – niece of Anton (exact relationship unclear); married Max Stein
        Ela Stein (Weissberger) – daughter of Marketa and Max
        Ilona Stein – daughter of Marketa and Max
    Otto Altenstein – nephew of Anton; brother of Marketa; married to Anna
    Kamilla Korn – aunt of Ela and Ilona (exact relationship unclear)
Jirinka Steiner
Eva Stern

Doris Stern – sister of Eva
Erika Stranska
Emma Taub
Ella Weiss
Eva Weiss
Fritz Wertheimer – married to Lily Reich
    Hanka Wertheimer – daughter of Fritz and Lily; married to Abraham Weingarten
    Miriam Wertheimer – daughter of Fritz and Lily
Adolf and Wilma Rosenblatt
    Edith Rosenblatt – daughter of Adolf and Wilma; married Fritz Winkler
        Eva Winkler (Sohar) – daughter of Fritz and Edith
        Jiri Winkler – son of Fritz and Edith
        Pavel Winkler – son of Fritz and Edith

Others in Theresienstadt
Juliette Aranyi
Heda Aronson-Lindt
Adolf Aussenberg
Jiri Bader
Yehuda Bacon
Karel Berman
Dasa Bloch
Felix Bloch
Bedrich Borges
Hana Brady
Jirka Brady – brother Hana
Jirk Broll
Zdenka Brumlikova
Gustav and Ettel Heller
        Horst Cohn – grandson of Gustav and Ettel
Ottla David-Kafka
Peter Deutsch
Freidl Dicker – married Pavel Brandeis
Kurt Dreschler
Jakob Edelstein
    Arye Edelstein – son of Jakob
Alice Ehrmann
Paul Eppstein
Rosa Englander
Walter Eisinger
Zdenka Fantlov
Anita Fischer (Frankova)
Karl Fischer
Jindrich Flusser
Ota Freudenfeld
    Rudolf – son of Ota
Walter Freund
Anny Frey
Bedrich Fritta (born Fritz Taussig) – married Heini
    Tommy – son of Bedrich and Heini
Karel Frohlich
Norbert Fryd
Renee Gartner-Geiringer
Honza Gelbkopt
Kurt Gerron
Jana Gintz
Petr Ginz
Eva Ginz – sister of Petr
Franta Goldschmidt
Markus Mordechai Groag
        Wilhelm (Willy) Groag – grandson of Markus; married Miriam
            Chava Groag – daughter of Willy and Miriam
    Heinrich Fleischmann – uncle of Willy (exact relationship unclear)
David Grunfeld
Kurt Hacek
Hanus Hachenberg
Eva Herrmann
Alice Herz-Sommer
    Stephan Sommer – son of Alice
Leo Haas
Pavel Haas
Fredy Hirsch
Hans Hofer
Greta Hofmeister (Klingsberg)
Micha Honigwachs
Luzian Horwitz
Yehuda Huppert
Karel Huttner
Leo Jannowitz
Hanus Jochowitz
Bernard Kaff
Ilse Kalinof
Erich Kessler
Peter Kien
Gerty Kersten
Israel Kestenberg
Eliska Klein
Franz Eugen Klein
Gideon Klein
Rudolf Klein
Paul Kling
Paul Kohn
Jiri Kotouc
Else Krasa
Hans Krasa
Harry Kraus
Stepan Krulis
Ilse Landa
Rudolf Laub
Egon Ledec
Wolfi Lederer
Pavel Libensky
Leopold Lowy
Josef Lustig
Franta Maier
Thomas Mandl
Freddy Mark
Licka Mautner
Margit Muhlstein
    Maria Muhlstein – daughter of Margit
    Pint’a Muhlstein – son of Margit
    Eli Muhlstein – son of Margit
Benjamin Murmelstein
Zdenek Ohrenstein
Franta Pick
Marion Podelier
Walter Pollak
Paul Rabinowitsch (took the name Paul Aron Sandfort)
Gonda Redlich
Eva Reiser
Kamilla Rosenbaum
Miriam Rosenzweig
Dita Sachs
Milos Salus
Eva Seger
Rafael Schachter
Vlasta Schonova
Coco Schumann
Resinka Schwarz
Ze’ev Shek
Kurt Singer
Ruth Steiner
Edith Steiner-Kraus
Walter Stern
    Eva Stern – daughter of Walter
Felix Strassman
Oscar Strauss
    Leo Strauss – son of Oscar
Romouald Sussmann
Karel Svenk
Carlo Taube
Honza Treichlinger
Viktor Ullmann
Otto Ungar
Hana Vohryskova
Ilse Weber
Sary Weinstein
Ben-Zion Weiss
Edith Weiss
Fritzek Weiss
Helga Weiss
Magda Weiss
Fritz Winkler
Frantisek Zelenka
Otto Zucker

Others mentioned who were not in Theresienstadt
Adolph Hoffmeister
Ruth Iltis
Seppl Lichtenstein
Suse Pick
Dov Revesz
Zuzanna Ruzickova
Eva Schlachet
Franz Singer
Gita Torbe

Hagibor Athletic Field, Prague-Strasnice, Czechoslovakia
Brno, Czechoslovakia
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Vienna, Austria
Kyjov, Moravia
Olomouc, Moravia
Telc, Moravia
Znojmo, Czechoslovakia
Chrastany, Bohemia
Kocise, Slovakia
Opava, Czechoslovakia
Liberec, Czech Republic
Louny, Szech Republic
Pisek, Bohemia
Olbramovice, Czechoslovakia
Achen, Germany
Hamburg, Germany
Sopron, Hungary
Novy Bydzov, Moravia
Bergen-Belsen, Germany
Auschwitz-Birknau, Poland
Kibbutz Hachotrim, Israel

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this profound review of the book! There is also a touring exhibition "The Girls of Room 28" which was just on display in the European Commission in Brussels as part of the Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony. Anyone interested could learn more
    Room 28 is a charity supporting the desire of the survivors of Room 28 to create a lasting memorial for the children of Theresienstadt. Hannelore