My Years In Theresienstadt

Gerty Spies,Juttar Tragnitz

Theresienstadt, located in Czechoslovakia, was a peculiar concentration camp. It was publicized as a retirement city, a place for privileged and prominent Jews to sit out the war. In reality, it was a collection point, a Schleuse or sluice, for arriving and departing transports, most of them destined for Auschwitz. Prisoners suffered from disease, starvation, exhaustion, overcrowding, and the persistent threat of deportation. Between 1941 and 1945, about 33,000 people died in Theresienstadt of disease and malnutrition, while about 88,000 were transported to the death camps in the East. The desperate need for self-preservation caused by the isolation and deprivations of camp life mobilized prisoners to cope in their own special ways. Some placed their emphasis on nourishment, others developed asocial traits of behavior, while others retained their cultural interests. These creative activities helped artists as well as amateurs block out the fear and uncertainty while helping to restore the dignity otherwise denied them. From this maelstrom of inhumanity, Gerty Spies found her salvation in writing. Isolated from the outside world and surrounded by death, she retreated into her inner self to concentrate on human, cultural, and spiritual values. Her ability to transcend and triumph over mental and physical degradations, to keep her own integrity, to defeat the evil that tried to destroy her loving nature, and to maintain her faith in human beings gives Gerty Spiess narrative extraordinary power. Throughout her ordeal, Spies displays an unwavering belief in the decency, goodness, and sincerity of all people. No trace of cynicism, malice, or enmity finds a place in her life or work.Despite living for three years surrounded by horror, Gerty Spiess loving and kind disposition enabled her to forgive - but not to forget. Returning to Germany after the war, Spies reconciled her experiences under the Nazi regime with a new, full life as an artist among newfound frie