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PRAGUE — The diary of a child who survived four different Nazi concentration camps during World War II has finally been published.
Helga Weiss, now 83, was one of only 100 children to survive Auschwitz out of the 15,000 sent there from the concentration camp in Terezin, north of Prague. She and her mother were sent to four different camps between 1941 and 1945: Terezin, Auschwitz, Freiberg and Mauthausen.
The diary she kept during those years, drawing and writing the scenes she observed and experienced, begins to tell the story of an 8-year-old girl experiencing air raid alarms, the expulsion of Jewish children from school and the sewing of yellow Stars of David on clothing.
When Weiss was 12, she was sent with her family to Terezin, which was essentially a transit hub for Jews that would be sent to Auschwitz and Treblinka.
"We were allowed 50 kg of luggage so we took just our clothes and something important to us. I took two very small dolls, a pad, watercolors and crayons," she told the Guardian.
Her early sketches of her life at Terezin show a happy existence: young girls jostling to see the contents of a food package, and two children happily building a snowman. She smuggled the picture of the snowman to her father, who was in the men's barracks. He sent her back a message: "Draw what you see."
So Weiss began to record life as she experienced it: food lines, people on stretchers, a girl with tuberculosis. She recorded her friendship with a girl named Francka, and she recorded when Francka died.
We were allowed 50 kg of luggage so we took just our clothes and something important to us.
In Sept. 1944, she was told she would be leaving Terezin. Just in time, she got her diary, some poetry written by her father and a novel to her uncle, who worked in the records department and was able to brick them into a wall. Weiss and her mother were sent to Auschwitz, where it was already known that being sent to the line on the right was the only way to survive.
"He pointed — I don't know if it was luck, fate, a miracle. I have friends who are still alive — they are the same age as I am — but their mothers were (sent to the left). So I was lucky twice. Not only that I was not sent, but that I was together with my mother," she said.
Weiss and her mother were sent to Freiberg, and later Mauthausen, until they finally learned that Berlin had fallen. They returned to their home in Prague and tried to return to as normal a life as possible.
Weiss' diary was published exactly as she wrote it during the war. She felt that even though "the writing is childish, the style prolix, naive," it was important to publish it in its authentic form. "May readers treat this diary charitably and accept it for what it is," she wrote: "Helga's Diary: A Young Girl's Account of Life in a Concentration Camp."