Terezín: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson is about the World War II Terezín transit camp, called Theresienstadt by the Germans. Using excerpts from secret diaries and memoirs, as well as artwork from artists who were imprisoned there, the author lets the camp inhabitants tell the story of their experiences firsthand.
What first catches your eye about this book is the art, which is to be expected because Ruth Thomson was inspired to research the book when she found prints by the Czech artist Leo Haas. Haas, as well as other Jewish artists imprisoned at Terezín, secretly recorded life in the camp while being forced to produce propaganda art for the Germans. Thomson had seen the art and wanted to learn more about the place where it was created.
It turned out that this transition camp was where thousands of Jews were held before being sent to the death camps. Many of the prisoners were forced to work on projects, such as splitting the mica that was used as airplane windshields. At night the prisoners tried to keep their spirits up with secret meetings, lectures and plays.
Thomson does not shy away from the grim details of the thousands who died at the camp, many of starvation and disease. In one heartbreaking section, she describes how artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis taught hundreds of captive children how to make collages, puppets and draw and sew. She managed to hide two suitcases full of some 4000 pieces of art by children before she was sent to Auschwitz in 1944, thus saving them, but not herself, for posterity.
Towards the end the Germans used Theresienstadt as a “show camp” to convince the Red Cross and others that they were treating their prisoners well, even though in reality the conditions were horrific.
Terezín will be useful for mature middle graders studying the Holocaust. It is an eyeopening account that is likely to stay with you.
It has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category.
Reading level: Ages 10 and up ( I would say 12 and up).
Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press (February 22, 2011)
Be sure to look for more information about children’s books at today’s Book Talk Tuesday.