The Jewish Eye
Diary of Bergen-Belsen 1944-1945
Diary of Bergen-Belsen 1944-1945
By Hanna Levy-Hass
Foreword by Amira Hass
Haymarket Books, (2009)
Reviewed by Simone Bonim - June 30, 2011
Born in Sarajevo in 1913 and educated in Belgrade, in 1940 Hanna Levy-Hass was working as a teacher in Montenegro, an area that was under Italian control during the early years of World War II. For three years, Hanna and her fellow Jews lived a uneasy and tenuous, but relatively safe existence. That all changed in 1943 when Germany took control of the region. Hanna, and her fellow Jews had, by this time, learned of the atrocities being committed by the Nazis, and Hanna had planned on joining the partisans rather than sit around and wait to be rounded-up by the Nazis. However, fearing reprisals, members of the Jewish community begged her to stay, and she did. In February 1944, the wait was over. Hanna was arrested and was held by the Gestapo at the Bogdanov Kraj prison in Cetinje for six months before being transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Hanna kept a diary while imprisoned at Cetinje, but it did not survive the war. However, the diary she kept while at Bergen-Belsen, has. Hanna did not stay in Bergen-Belsen long enough to see it liberated. In the early part of April 1945, Hanna was on one of three transports that left Bergen-Belsen bound for Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia. Like many inmates of Bergen-Belsen, Hanna was sick with typhus when she was forced onto the train heading toward Theresienstadt. During a short stopover, Hanna managed to get off the train to search for food. When she came back, the train had left. It was a fortunate accident, as the area that Hanna found herself in was soon after in Soviet hands - her ordeal was over. Or at least it should have been. She was viewed with suspicion and fear by the locals, the soldiers of the Red Army thought that she was the enemy and turned her away. It was weeks before she found sanctuary with a group of other displaced persons and traveling with this group, made her way back to reality.
The Diary of Bergen-Belsen 1944-1945 is an important eyewitness account of the Holocaust because it was made contemporaneously with the events being chronicled, rather than afterword with the benefit of hindsight and a personal desire to put oneself in as best of a light as possible, which is a common fault with a number of Holocaust memoirs. Blunt, to the point, always defiant and unbiased, Hanna was quick to find fault where it was, whether it be with a German guard or a Jewish capo, and she was just as honest with her praise. In short, Hanna chronicled what she saw, as she saw it, and was brutally honest in her accounting.
This diary begins in Bergen-Belsen on August 16, 1944 and the last entry was written in Bergen-Belsen sometime in April 1945, before Hanna was sent out on the train heading toward the Theresienstadt concentration camp. It has been translated into several languages, and this edition of Hanna Levy's searing diary was translated into English by Sophie Hand. In addition, this edition of the diary also includes an introduction and afterword by Amira Hass, Hanna's daughter. In the introduction, Amira provides not only a sketch of her mother's life, but also an overview of what conditions where like in Bergen-Belsen, and what happened to her mother after the war. The afterword, entitled On My Parents is a reprint of an essay that Amira wrote in 2005. It provides additional information on her mother's experiences during the war, as well as on her father, who was himself a Holocaust survivor. This edition also includes an insightful essay entitled, Yugoslav Worlds of Hanna Levy-Hass, which was written by Emil Kerenji. This essay is on the state of Yugoslav Jewry after the Holocaust.
Haunting and compelling, the Diary of Bergen-Belsen 1944-1945 is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the history of the Holocaust.
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