A child of Auschwitz remembers
“It is too difficult. What to tell them? I don’t tell them about the murders. They would have terrible dreams after that. I told them memories of a friend of mine in camp who remembers the canary bird she had to give up.
“I ask the children, ‘Do you have a dog?’, ‘Do you have a cat?’, ‘Do you have a canary bird?’ Can you imagine that you have to give up your dog? That is the way that I am when I am speaking to small children,” she says. “They cannot imagine that they would have to give up their dog.”
In the years after the camps, Weiss had two opportunities to flee communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, once in 1969, when she and her two children visited her musician husband during a year’s work in Denmark.
“He had a very small apartment. The children were sleeping; we sat on the bathroom floor, talking. ‘It is today, or never.’ I was afraid. My husband came back. He always thought that I didn’t want to go, because we passed a terrible time in Czechoslovakia after [the Prague Spring] in ’68.”
But Weiss could not leave her mother. “Maybe if I had returned alone I would have done so. She was just 38 when she came back. But she supposed, and so did I, that she was old because she was a widow and she was afraid to go and start a new life.”
The camps have cast their shadows not only over Weiss but also over her children. “My son was for a long time afraid to read the diary. He knew it, but not exactly. For a long time he was afraid to hear the truth.
“He is terribly afraid all the time about me and his own children, where they are if they late. My daughter can’t listen to reports of accidents or things like that.
“My daughter always says I have a pessimistic view on life, that I am still expecting a tragedy. Maybe I influenced them, passed on my anxieties. Psychologists now work on how the second generation has been damaged. I apologise to them, but I think I am not to blame,” she says.
Helga’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Account of Life in a Concentration Camp is published by Viking