After 62 Years, an Eye-Witness Account of Theresienstadt Appears in English

July 13, 2017 | Peter Filkins
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During the three years he spent as an inmate of the Theresienstadt Ghetto, the Prague-born German-language writer H.G. Adler (1910-1988) did what he could to document the horrors that went on there; after surviving the final months of the war at Auschwitz and various forced-labor camps, Adler used his notes and collection of documents to compose his 1955 study Theresienstadt 1941-1945: The Face of a Coerced Community. Unlike other ghettos, which were meant to hold Jews until they could be murdered conveniently, in the hope that some or most would die of disease or starvation in the meantime, Theresienstadt—hellish though it was—served as a Potemkin ghetto where Red Cross personnel (and others) were allowed to visit, and thus given a pretext for feigning ignorance of European Jewry’s fate. Adler’s book is being published in English for the first time. Peter Filkins writes:

Should you wish to know the average daily caloric intake from potatoes for children (168 calories) in Theresienstadt, you will find it here. Should you wish to know the names of the first council of elders at the ghetto’s founding in late 1941, as well as their duties, individual character traits, and nationalities, you will find it here. Should you wish to learn about the sham bank set up in Theresienstadt, or the equally dubious café, post office, grocery, and clothing store, you will find it here. You will also find samples of poems written by inmates, the titles of hundreds of lectures delivered, descriptions of the many concerts given, and a detailed account of the efforts made to dupe the International Red Cross when it inspected the ghetto in June 1944. And of course, if you wish to learn about the deportations and the fate of the 140,000 prisoners who passed through Theresienstadt (only 15 percent of whom survived), you will find that here as well.

There was and remains no book quite like Theresienstadt 1941-1945. . . . Part history, part sociological study, and part psychological analysis (the book’s three sections are organized under these disciplines), it is encyclopedic in scope yet riveting in its underlying narrative; relentlessly objective and quantitative in its research, yet searing in its moral indictment of the Nazi and Jewish leadership alike; and in the end it both argues the dangers of the modern bureaucratic state and simultaneously rises to the level of what Hermann Levin Goldschmidt called a prophetic “indictment” of what Adler referred to as “the latest unfathomable calamity to befall the Jewish people.”

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