A child of Auschwitz remembers
“With my head pressed to Dad’s chest I can distinctly hear the beating of his heart. Halting, sad, like the mood this evening. Oh, Dad, if only your hands were so strong that no one could rip me from their embrace,” she wrote.
Within hours, the men were gone, soon lost forever.
A different world
A month later, Helga and her mother made the journey to Auschwitz, believing it to be “a good sign” that they were allowed to take their luggage. Illusions evaporated on Auschwitz’s railway platform: “We can’t be stopping here. Why would they take us to a concentration camp? It’s not as if we’ve done anything. It’s horrible how they treat people here,” Helga wrote.
In all, 15,000 Jewish children were taken to the internment camp in Terezin and then on to Auschwitz. Just 100 survived; life or death was decided capriciously.
Weiss and her mother were finally sent to Mauthausen, where they survived because they arrived just after mass killings had stopped, as the war’s end neared.
“It is a different world,” says Weiss, looking back on the war. “Normally, a person has a life: it is birth until death. But our lives are divided into three pieces. The diary describes the chapter in between, but there was a world behind, and there is a world, or life, after.
“When I look back to my childhood it was a different world, a different life. I think about the girl which existed before. When I am talking about it sometimes I feel I am talking about somebody else, when I shouldn’t be able to express it.
“I feel I am talking about somebody else who is not me, so that I see all the things, all the evidence in front of my eyes,” Weiss says.
“Now when we are old, the more we are coming back to our past. I live on the fourth floor. Every day I have to climb the steps. Sometimes, in my old age, it is a little difficult. And when I cannot get my breath I always think about the prisoners in Mauthausen, in the quarry. They had to walk with heavy stones on their back.
“Now, every day when I am climbing the stairs, I remember these people. Sometimes I forget names but never the faces. Never the faces. Sometimes I see on the street a piece of bread, or piece of food thrown away. In the camps a piece of bread could save somebody’s life.”
Weiss finds time to speak with schoolchildren in the Czech Republic and in Germany, although she doesn’t say too much about her past to the youngest of them.