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Friday, 25 October 2013

Remembering Theriesenstadt



When I wrote The House on Schellberg Street I did quite a lot of research about Theriesenstadt. Some details stand out:
  • It was a model concentration camp and was spruced up to fool the Red Cross.
  • It was considered by many to be a ghetto rather than a camp.
  • It arranged football matches.
  • It had an orchestra. (But so did Auschwitz!)
  • It housed many creative practitioners and much art work and music came out of it.
  • It wasn’t essentially a death camp  
I’ve now had to revisit some of the research and there are a few less savoury details emerging.   
·         It also provided “striped pyjamas”.
·         Inmates slept in crowded conditions just like in other concentration camps.
·         Heads were shaved.
·         It was a transit camp – many, such as Clara, were held there for a short while before being transported again to the death camps.
·         A gas chamber was installed there towards the end of World War II.
And then we have Clara in the middle of it all, not really knowing what to make of it.
Clara for me has become very much a vehicle for asking how and why.
Already as I write these rather demanding scenes I’ve had her and a companion resist escaping when they have a chance as they are transported.  They have no money and they are in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language, at a time when they don’t know exactly how terrible the place is that they’re going to.
Later she asks herself why they don’t try to overcome the guards. There are so many more of them than there are guards. Then she looks into the cold blue eyes of one of the soldiers and realises that at any given moment it is only one guard and one Jew; the guard is the stronger.
I have, I believe, just three more chapters to write to get to the end of the story, though I may also slot two extra earlier ones in.         

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