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The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt

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The Girls of Room 28

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The Girls of Room 28
Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt
By Hannelore Brenner
Translated from the German by John E. Woods and Shelley Frisch
Schocken Books, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-805-24244-7

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 11, 2010

The Nazi's heralded the Theresienstadt (a.k.a. the Terezín Ghetto) appeared to the world as a model town in which Jews could live in freedom and luxury. In reality, it was nothing more than a way-station along the route that led to Auschwitz, and the gas chambers. When the Nazis wanted to show the Czech town off to the Red Cross, they sent tens of thousands of the town's starving inhabitants off the death camps, leaving behind only the healthy, newer arrivals, to people the town. A new coat of paint on the buildings, some major street cleaning, and some staged performances by the children helped to create the illusion that this was a model camp. The numbers show the true scope of the horror of life in Theresienstadt. Between 1942 and 1944 at least twelve thousand Jewish children entered Theresienstadt - only a handful survived. In all, an estimated 140,000 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt. Of these, about 33,000 died of disease and starvation while in the ghetto, and more than 88,000 were sent on to the Death Camps. The stories of ten of these survivors are chronicled in The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt, by Hannelore Brenner.

The ten survivors whose stories are told in this book were all young girls when they first came to Theresienstadt. They were assigned quarters in Room 28 of the Girls' Home, where they were cared for by a bevy of counselors, teachers, medical staff, and other helpful souls who strove to provide the girls with as normal of a life as possible. Despite the starvation, terror, and the continual loss of friends who were selected for transportation to Auschwitz, the surviving girls of Room 28 have surprisingly fond memories of their time there. No longer young, and many with children and grandchildren of their own, the ten survivors of Room 28 who shared their stories in this eye-opening book describe what life was like for them before the war, how they came to be in Theresienstadt and what their life was like there. They also tell of how they came to leave the camp, and they share their experiences after they left the internment camp, both before and after the war ended.

This is a book infused with personal memories as well as pictures, artwork, diary entries, letters, poems, and other writings that the 'girls' composed while they were in Theresienstadt. They also share their memories of the other children that they met there, the activities the children pursued, and the adults that cared for them. The 'girls' tell their stories with candor, and it is apparent that despite being surrounded by death and depravation, despite seeing family members murdered before their eyes, the girls and the other children in the Girl and Boys' homes managed to remain children. They played, the studied, they made friendships and even fell in love. The mere fact that they were able to retain some sense of innocence and childhood frivolity in a world gone crazy is a monument to the men and women who strove and sacrificed to create as much normalcy as possible for the children under their care.

The Girls of Room 28 is a remarkable book. It is unique in that it tells the story of life in Theresienstadt from the viewpoint of some of the children who were imprisoned there, and more important it proves that in even the darkest corner at the height of distress, there is also hope. As well, solace can also be found in friendship. For these girls, now grown into matrons, it was a friendship that has endured the test of time. From beginning to end, The Girls of Room 28 is an unforgettable and touching book and it will make an outstanding addition to all public and private libraries.


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