Even if your hands fall off, you are not permitted to let go

Alice Ehrmann

Born in Prague in 1927, Alice Ehrmann was 16 the day she was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, a camp established by the Nazis in 1941. Soon after arriving, she met and fell in love with an old acquaintance and fellow prisoner named Ze’ev Shek, and shortly before he was moved to Auschwitz the next year, he asked her to finish a role he had taken on: the collection and preservation of written testimony and paperwork relating to the camp and its operation, so future generations could better understand the horrors that were unfolding. He also asked her to keep a diary, and so, from 18th October 1944, until the ghetto’s demise in May of 1945, she did exactly that. Below is just one entry.

Thankfully, both Alice and Ze’ev survived. They married in 1947.

The Diary Entry

Women drag sections of the barracks up the stairs to the ramparts. Ice, wind; some are bent down to the ground. Some break out in hysteria, scream that they can no longer hang on. The psychosis grows and can only be suppressed by great effort. [SS officers] Haindl and Rahm are there almost the entire day. Even if your hands fall off, you are not permitted to let go; even if you croak. And you won’t either; the two of them are in front of you and behind you constantly. Just seeing them, you know that their mere presence will drive you on until you drop dead. Galleys. We are not merely enslaved; we are slaves, drudges, our strength in the possession of murderers.

Further Reading

Alice Ehrmann’s diary is held at the Beit Terezin archives in Israel along with the papers of many other Theresienstadt prisoners. In 2002, a selection of Ehrmann’s diary entries were translated by Alexandra Zapruder to be included in her profoundly moving book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, alongside the words of 14 other diarists whose ages range from 12 to 22. Difficult but essential reading.

Diary entry excerpted from Alexandra Zapruder’s Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust (p. 408). Published by Yale University Press in 2002. Reprinted with permission.

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