Academic helps tell Holocaust survivor’s account

A UNIQUE account of life inside a concentration camp written by a young girl is to be published this week after being translated into English by a Yorkshire academic.

Holocaust survivor Helga Weiss’s diary began when she was just eight years old and features six years of her life as she and her family endured the Nazi invasion of Prague and being sent to a concentration camp.

In 1944 she was then sent to Auschwitz along with her mother and father and left her diary with her uncle who bricked it into a wall to preserve it.

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Although her father was never heard of again, both she and her mother survived Auschwitz.

Now her story is being retold along with pages she wrote after the war as a teenager and a more recent interview.

Helga’s Diary has been translated from Czech into English by Professor Neil Bermel, head of the School of Languages and Cultures at Sheffield University.

Helga, now 83, said: “I am very happy indeed with Neil Bermel’s responsible, clear and precise translation of my diary. Thanks to his work, I hope that my diary will speak to many people and that through my story they will learn something of the truth of the Holocaust. I believe this to be important in order that we not forget the past and can prevent such a thing ever happening again.”

In 1938, when her diary begins, she is among the 45,000 Jews who live in Prague during the German occupation. It gives an insight into life under the Nazi regime as her father is denied work, schools are closed to her, and she and her parents are confined to their flat. Then deportations begin, and her friends and family start to disappear.

In 1941, she and her parents are sent to the concentration camp of Terezín, where they live for three years. Here she documents their daily life – the harsh conditions, disease and suffering, as well as moments of friendship, creativity and hope – until, in 1944, they are sent to Auschwitz.

When she arrived at Auschwitz, she managed to convince Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death, that she was older and fit for work – a decision that would save her life.

Reconstructed from her original notebooks and loose-leaf pages on which she wrote after the war, the diary is being published in its entirety, with by an interview and illustrated with the paintings she made during her time at Terezín.

Prof Bermel said: “For a translator, a work like Helga’s Diary is a tremendous opportunity and responsibility. Your goal, first and foremost, is to convey one person’s account of events in a faithful, readable form and in your language, but, of course, this is a story that unfolds against the backdrop of a horrendous chapter in human history and that’s always at the back of your mind.”