Friday, March 19, 2010

The Girls of Room 28

The Girls of Room 28: Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt by Hannelore Brenner is a remarkable memorial to girls who lived together in one room, in one building at the children's camp at Theresienstadt, a "model" transit camp a short ride from Prague. While this was not a death camp, many died there or left there by rail to their deaths in Auschwitz. This is a story of their lives in the ghetto and often how they arrived there at the hands of the Nazis. They were young, mostly 12-14 during their stay in Room 28. They were trying to grow up in the worst of times. Today fifteen or so of the women who survived meet yearly to remember and share the best of times they have had as survivors.

The book is filled with primary sources: photos, journal entries, drawings, copies of documents. It is an amazing resource even beyond the tribute the materials pay to friendship and love. In the beginning, one of the survivors remembers what the young girls had promised one another as they were forced to leave Room 28:

"On one of the first Sundays after the war we shall wait for each other under the Bell Tower in the Old Town Square in Prague." This is what Flska and her comrades had promised one another when they had to say goodbye in Theresienstadt. They reinforced their promise with words that resonated like an incantation and a secret password.

You believe me, I believe you.
You know what I know.
Whatever may happen,
you won't betray me,
I won't betray you.

These women carry all of the young girls with them, even today, until the last one is gone. Throught their mutual experiences, they are bound to those who are no longer alive and to each other. Theirs is an intimacy that goes beyond space and time.

One experience that binds these women and many others from the Children's Home in Theresienstadt was the children's production of Brundibar. On July 7, 1943 there was a transport of children from the Prague orphanage. After a performance of The Bartered Bride in their honor, Rafik Schachter and Rudolf Freudenfeld decided they would cast and perform the children's opera Brundibar at Theresienstadt. This process was magical and as many children as possible participated. This is an opera of triumph, of good over evil. Young children won out over an evil adult. The first performance was on September 23, 1943 and there was an audience of over three hundred. It was magical and the performances continued weekly until the last performance in August 1944.
Read an excellent article on the opera here. According to the article, the cover of the book The Girls of Room 128 shows the original cast of the opera. There are many videos of new performances of the opera Brundibar which brought joy and hope to those who lived under the oppression of the Nazi hatred. Also, please see my next review of the children's book Brundibar.

TITLE: The Girls of Room 128: Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt
AUTHOR: Hannelore Brenner
TRANSLATED BY: John E. Woods and Shelley Frisch (from German)
PAGES: 320
TYPE: non-fiction
RECOMMEND: A wonderful resource for middle and high school students interested in the Holocaust.

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