Did my mother never talk about her experience from the Terezín ghetto?
No, that was a big problem. When I heard something during her lifetime – she died in 1977 – that she was Jewish or that she was in a concentration camp and I wanted to ask her about it, she just always turned me down and told me that she wouldn’t talk about it now. . That now is a bad time and that maybe later. Unfortunately, this never happened, so no one knew about it. When I did an interview with women who still knew her from Terezín, they said that she wanted to protect her three sons by not telling them anything.
You started searching for her unknown destinies sometime in 1998. Where did you go?
It was hard because I didn’t know where to start. Then I happened to find one of the survivors from Terezín, named Ela Weissberger. She advised me to contact Hannelore Brenner, a German writer in Berlin who wrote the book Girls from Room 28. I wrote her an e-mail and she immediately wrote it back to me, sending me a whole page of women to contact. Then it was like building a snowman: it starts with a little ball, then it’s a snowman.
What did you learn about your mother’s stay in Terezín?
I learned how she got there, how she got there, how she lived there, what she did there, where she worked, who she met. In fact, for most of the survivors who wrote their memories, the memories were the same. The girls – they still call themselves girls, even when they were ninety – said they had the same program. In the morning, they got up and went to the gardens, because most of the girls worked in the gardens or in agriculture. When they returned for the evening, they had some teachings and then went to bed. This is how it went every day.
I was mainly interested in the psychological pressure on the young girls. What were they thinking about in the fourteen – where are they all of a sudden? A lot of women explained that to me quite well. They told me that the biggest problem was fear. Fear of what will happen tomorrow. They had to deal with it every day. Sometimes they didn’t even want to be friends, because the status of women prisoners, young and old, was constantly changing. They came – they left – they came – they left, it kept changing. Sometimes a few girls came to their room and then they had to be gone tomorrow. So it was very difficult for those young girls to make friends. And hygiene was poor, even though the goal of the caregivers who cared for the children was to keep them in some human way.