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By Christie Ham, St. Paul's Anglican
Grammar School, Australia
Inge Auerbacher was seven years old when she, with her parents, was sent to a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. At least one and a half million children were killed during the Nazi Holocaust. The reason most of these children died was because they were Jewish. Fifteen thousand children were imprisoned in the Terezín concentration camp between 1941 and 1945. Of the fifteen thousand children at Terezín, only one hundred children survived; Inge was one of them.
Her book, I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust, is an account of Inge's life. Her story begins on August 22, when Inge and her parents were sent from Göppingen to Stuttgart which was a gathering place for many Jews who were being transported. Inge was the youngest of almost twelve hundred people. They bedded down on a bare floor for two days before reaching their destination, Terezín concentration camp.
On October 10, 1941, Terezín, or Theresienstadt (as it was called in German) was selected as a transit camp for Jewish deportees before their extermination in the east. Many prominent people in the Jewish community were sent to Terezín as their immediate deportation to the killing centres would have aroused suspicion. Eventually, Jews from everywhere were sent to Terezín.
Terezín consisted of big barracks, underground cells and decrepit houses. It was sealed off from the outside world. Communication of any sort was strictly forbidden. Large walls, deep filled water trenches, wooden fences, and barbed wire sealed the camp off from the outside world. The camp was built to house seven thousand people, but sometimes there were sixty thousand prisoners. During the years 1941 and 1945, a total of 140,000 people were sent to Terezín; 88,000 were sent to the killing centers in the east, and another 35,000 died of malnutrition or disease in Terezín. Terezín was an "annex" to Auschwitz and a constant flow of transports left Terezín to feed the gas chambers in Auschwitz.
Inge's life in Terezín was a nightmare. Death and destruction became a part of her everyday life as day-by-day her friends were sent to the gas chambers. Her family was forced to beg and steal to feed themselves and survived on sheer will power. This was not going to kill them. They were plagued by epidemics, and Inge contracted scarlet fever. While sick, Inge spent four months in the camp hospital. She was isolated from the rest of the camp, and Inge lived with the very real fear that her parents would be sent to Auschwitz.
During the last days of World War II, orders were given to build gas chambers at Terezín. The plan was to kill all the remaining Jews. At Terezín they were to kill the Jews by gassing them or by drowning in a specially prepared areas. Not one Jew in all of Europe was to stay alive. It was only a rush of events that spared Inge and some of the other prisoners their lives. The guards fearing capture by the Allies, began to burn all the camp records. The evidence of death had to be destroyed. At the beginning of May, the guards, living outside the barricades, ran away. They made last efforts to kill the remaining Jews by shooting wildly and throwing hand grenades into the camp as they fled.
The prisoners of Terezín were liberated by the Soviet Army on May 8, 1945. Inge remembers the first thing she did was rip the yellow star off her clothes. She had been freed after three years of living in hell. Inge can still see the Russian soldiers singing and dancing on their tanks. "All of us felt joy, pain and relief," Inge wrote. "Who was left in our families? What would the future hold?"
Inge and her family remained in the camp until early July. Then they left on a bus sent to pick up the survivors from the state of Wurttenberg. Out of the original transport of about twelve hundred people, only thirteen survived. Three of them were Inge's family.
When they arrived to the place they remembered as their grandmother's home, they found a new family living there. Thirteen members of Inge's family had been killed; her grandmother was one of them. The family living in Inge's grandmother's house was Christian and prepared a room for them to stay in. Inge remembers the day someone brought them a bowl of freshly whipped cream. Inge and her mother devoured the cream, eating it until it made them sick. The years of hunger had taken their toll; their stomachs could not take the richness of the cream.
Inge's family found a permanent home in Göppingen. When they moved, they were invited by the mayor to visit him at city hall. When they walked in, Inge's mother recognized the Oriental carpet and the mantle clock. They had once belonged to her. After the family's's deportation to Terezín, their belongings had been distributed to different places and people.
Their new home became a gathering place for the American soldiers. The Americans showered the family with gifts of clothing and food, often bringing with them candy and ice cream for Inge, whom they seem to have adored. To Inge's knowledge, she was the only child survivor in Wurttenberg, and on her eleventh birthday she was invited to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Commission Headquarters. She had only one wish, a new doll carriage, even though she felt a little too old for it. She remembered how heartbreaking it had been to give away her other one at the beginning of the war.
Soon after, things began to settle down and her father resumed his textiles business, once again becoming quite successful. Inge's family took the first opportunity they could to immigrate and in May 1946, they sailed to America arriving in New York harbor. "I stood in awe of the blinking lights of Manhattan, which seemed like a wonderland to me. Lady liberty was especially bright as her lamp's light welcomed and guided us to a new life."
This is a book which focuses on a child's perception and experience during the Holocaust. It gives the information in a clear and concise way, not focusing on all the horrors, and dealing with the facts. Inge wrote the book for younger readers and has written the book in a way that permits young people to grasp what the Holocaust was like. The book often asks the question: Where was the rest of the world when all of this was happening? It speaks of the need for peace and the need for people to speak out if they see wrongs being done. If people had spoken up and questioned the treatment of the Jews, lives could have been saved.
When I finished reading this book, I was filled with a feeling of anger towards the world. Why didn't anyone try and stop this? But that is not what Inge wanted. Her hope is that the people who read her story will realize the importance of sticking up for what you believe in. If you see injustice being carried out do something about it. Don't turn your back on it like the rest of the world did during the Holocaust.
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