As If It Were Life: A WWII Diary from the Theresienstadt Ghetto Hardcover – 25 Nov 2009
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The eyewitness account of Philipp Manes offers a unique insight into the life of the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt and the cultural activities that flourished there and helped people to endure a cruel and ultimately fatal situation. "Prof Raphael Gross, Director, Jewish Museum and Fritz Bauer Institut Frankfurt and Leo Baeck Institute, London" The publication of this excellent translation of Philipp Manes's Theresienstadt Chronicle makes accessible a hugely important document of the Holocaust. Manes's prose is eloquent and elegiac, and his attention to detail careful. This unique account is essential reading for anyone interested in comprehending how the victims of the Third Reich sought to negotiate life in one of its least well-understood institutions of persecution. "Prof Donald Bloxham, Edinburgh University" The murder of European Jewry had many facets. Terezin in Bohemia was the de luxe showcase (transit)camp scheduled to hoodwink the Red Cross and similar organizations. This diary by an elderly German Jew who had a leading position there is one of the most authentic documents helping to understand the sho'ah. "Walter Laqueur, author of The Terrible Secret" The publication of Philipp Manes' diary is an extraordinary event and its significance in historical and literary terms can hardly be overstated. . . . It is above all the courageous directness and freshness of this record, its spirit never faltering in the face of misery, which affects the contemporary reader most strongly. . . In the midst of incessant suffering, art and theatre acquire an ability to transcend, thanks solely to the power of words. This power makes itself felt in Philipp Manes' diary, which is arguably the most important reason why this book deserves to be read today. "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung""
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A rare testimony sheds new light on the intricacies of the Nazi machine
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In February of 1944 Manes began to write down the account which we now have before us. He was unaware of the horrors happening to Jews elsewhere. The name Auschwitz does not occur, though the `ghetto' of Birkenau does.Read more ›
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In February of 1944 Manes began to write down the account which we now have before us. He was unaware of the horrors happening to Jews elsewhere. The name Auschwitz does not occur, though the `ghetto' of Birkenau does. When the deportations accelerated in the autumn of 1944, he believed the story that the deportees were temporarily wanted for war work in Germany and would be back in "approximately six weeks", and even in October 1944, a fortnight before his own deportation in the last convoy to Auschwitz and the gas-chambers there, he writes that "we all [deportees and those who still remained behind in Theresienstadt] have the prospect of seeing each other again, in the new, large camp in Germany."
Though the mood darkens towards the end of the book as deportations gather pace, what seems to concern Manes most is not so much the fate of the deportees as the effect it has on the loss of key figures in the Jewish administration and in his panel of lecturers. For Manes had run a hugely popular series of evening lectures (over 500 of them), many of them given by some of the many scholars and professional people in the camp. (Others were responsible for the vibrant musical and theatrical life which were so famous a feature of Theresienstadt.) Manes was immensely proud of, and also rather vain about, his work to keep up the spirits of the community.
Altogether, he has a tremendous work ethos. The literal meaning of `Arbeit macht frei' could have been his own motto (he says that work "ennobles", and stops people from worrying; and it is astonishing how often he uses the word "happy" when he describes people going to work.) He gives unstinting praise to all the others who worked in so orderly and efficient a manner (if also bureaucratically) in the Jewish administration, the kitchens, the workshops, the medical centres, in the fields, and in looking after the children. It proves that "when called into action, the Jew tackles the job whole-heartedly and simply says, `order carried out.'" He is proud of what Jews can do, of how former professional men can learn to become artisans. And from some of the lectures he has organized he learns to identify himself with the history of the Jews and their faith, about which previously he knew very little.
At the same time he remains relentlessly and patriotically German ("too emphatically German" for some of his colleagues). "Our sacred love of the fatherlands kept us from losing courage [as soldiers in the First World War]. So it should be now." He suffers when he hears rumours of German cities being bombed and at "the terrible adversity that will befall [Germany] in the next weeks, when hostile armies will enter German soil." In connection with the deportations, he writes that "for the defence of Germany five thousand strong and willing workers will serve again wherever they are placed, with no holding back. No force or threat of punishment needed."
The Germans got the Jews to run the camp; so "shouldn't we therefore be grateful to the German authorities because we really do not feel the power of their command?" As the internees came with nothing, all the facilities like the great hall, made available for performances and lectures, the musical instruments or the 49,000 books in the library were supplied by the Germans - from the hoard they had confiscated from the Jews! So were the raw materials for "beautifying" the town before the Red Cross inspection (which he never mentions), though the labour was of course Jewish. For this, too, he expresses gratitude to the Germans.
He records all the problems I mentioned in the first paragraph; but he remains relentlessly upbeat: he enjoys the beauty of Nature in the spring and in the summer, and even the colourful laundry fluttering cheerfully on the clothes-lines; repeatedly he takes pleasure in the healthy, beautiful and vigorous young boys and girls, whom more than once he describes as "the guarantors of the future". And frequently he describes his fellow-internees as being equally cheerful (with every now again reproving those who complain.) Perhaps the most painful sentence in the book is his reflection, the night after one of the deportations, that those who have gone "are, hopefully, doing well in their new homes. After all, God's sunlight reaches everywhere."
His optimism and his "emphatically German" nature make this account almost more painful than if he had been a more sensitive and suffering soul; but as a recording of one man's experience of Theresienstadt, it is compelling reading: hence my five stars.
Philipp Manes Autobiography " As if it Were Life " has succeeded in bringing to the fore, in vivid detail, the Ghetto conditions experienced by the incarcerated Jews of Theresienstadt.
The majority of them perished, a minority survived.
Thank You Philipp Manes.
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