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About Alice Ehrmann and Ze'ev Shek

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Excerpts from the Theresienstadt Diary of Alice Ehrmann

October 20, 1944
Orders. The last section heads (Elbert, Klapp, Gonda Redlich) 80 percent of the doctors, complete cripples, deathly tuberculosis, deathly ill children without their parents; mothers of deathly ill children left behind. It is too terrible to even feel unhappy. Father left fortress (about) 14 days ago; destination unknown. Mother without regular signs of life-laundry--is she as incapable of remembering as we? Or has her grieving taken another direction-who knows.... Except that in this damned mouse trap--80 kilometers away (in central Europe), I can't even say that all this isn't at an end. I am so terribly calm in the face of all these offenses as if I had a strange preview of all that lies beyond, even, I feel justified in saying, what lies beyond my own death.[...]

The path I am following is already beyond interruption. I am following the path of deliverance. I have come to terms with it, and if I die tomorrow, my life will have been that of one who came to terms as if I died sixty years hence. Today I understand that. This is how it is.[...]

October 23, 1944
[...]Came into the room; small children, 3 to 10. Screaming. Each has a little backpack, wide, open eyes; some a mature and self-possessed expression that could shoot fear into one. They will have their bags, but probably never again their childhood. All are alone; most of their parents were murdered in the KZ [concentration camp]. Infants. A woman has birth pains. The Germans think she's faking. People walk in a long eddy, drag their bags and lay them down; and drag. They walk and are brave. Terribly brave. There is not a person here whose history is not a tragedy; all have been abandoned to terror-by men, parents, siblings, loved ones. Now they go without hope of reunion. One stares peculiarly at those with creed-out eyes. One is brave. Those who walk have turned to stone; those who remain swallow their tears. In the end, the luggage remained; there was no space.[...]

January 23, 1945
Women drag sections of the barracks up the stairs to the ramparts. Ice, wind; some are bent down to the ground. Some break out in hysteria, scream that they can no longer hang on. The psychosis grows and can only be suppressed by great effort. Haindl and Rahm are there almost the entire day. Even if your hands fall off, you are not permitted to let go; even if you croak. And you won't either; the two of them are in front of you and behind you constantly. Just seeing them, you know that their mere presence will drive you on until you drop dead. Galleys. We are not merely enslaved; we are slaves, drudges, our strength in the possession of murderers.[...]

April 13, 1945
Trucks with trailers as well as tractors driven away with files and file cabinets. All the material regarding this stage of the golah is being burned in Ravelin 20. Today I saw the enormous pile of ashes. I watched as thousands of pages of documents flew up in flames; I saw the numbers, digits, dates, and names of which our misery is composed, in which it is mirrored, flicker dully and turn to ashes. Who can comprehend this?[...]The end, the end, the end; that is what everything sings to me.

April 14, 1945
Today I saw the boys going through town, how they tried to absorb every little stone in their attempt to take with them everything that they experienced here; everything. How well I understood them. Then, they stood at the window of the sluice-gate and handed cigarettes to the girls, from the window of the same sluice-gate in which I was sluiced. They were in a state of complete intoxication. They have lost their senses.[...]I am so stuffed with experiences that I can no longer write objectively. Everything flows together in the overwhelming excitement that agitates us. I wish I didn't have to sleep or work so that I could just drink in these days. Sometimes I wish they wouldn't come to an end. Only one thought makes me shudder.

April 17, 1945
[...]All of a sudden we feel so secure and guarded and protected by a world that knows about us. The Germans are getting prepared. At the train station, everything that has wheels is being repaired: crates and trailers, a field kitchen, a railroad car for poultry, rabbit cages, et cetera.[...]

There is a bonfire in the courtyard of the Sudeten barracks. Sweating SS men are throwing 10-20 kg. packages of files down from the windows. They stand there in a line, like the Jews a year ago and sweat it out. Above, they patrol and collect stray pages blowing about.[...]

April 18, 1945
The psychosis has gone so far that tonight rumor spread that the SS had already left the city. Immediately, the people with Aryan kin surged out of the barracks, woke up everyone else, and ran through the city, beating against the windows and yelling, "Wir sind frei...At' zije Ceskoslovensko" [We are free...Long live Czechoslovakia], etc. Within a half hour, the entire city was up and noise filled the streets. Lights in the windows; people ran every which way in the same state as when they got up out of bed.[...]

April 24, 1945
[...]News from Ze'ev: Klinger--Kaufering (Munich and Innsbruck), there with him until January 5. He sang in the cabaret; he was doing very well, enough to eat, looked unchanged. Who can understand what that means for me. Save him, O God, that we may have many children-nothing more than that, nothing.

May 2, 1945
[...]In the evening a rebellion in the West barracks; at night in the 'Hamburg' barracks. Kitchen smashed, pharmacy destroyed, sanitation room robbed. It's true; these people have taken Europe's destructive insanity into their blood. They are the unfortunate carriers of all of this war's meanness and unhappiness. Each of them is a living personification of those characteristics and drives that brought about this endless destruction and horror. They are the tragic, the endlessly tragic product of these times. The war and the curse that is attached to the world are manifested in them.[...]

May 19, 1945 [Final entry]
Hans Schimmerling. We have played it out to the end. You were right.

Translation © Alexandra Zapruder 2001

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For the complete text of Alice Ehrmann's diary in German, go to the Institute for Theresienstadt Studies.

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