by Pavel Weiner
with introduction and notes by Debórah Dwork
Reviewed by Mimi Frank on March 29, 2012
A Boy in Terezin is the diary of Pavel Weiner, a twelve-year-old Czech boy who was incarcerated with his family in Terezin. The diary covers the last year of Pavel’s three-year imprisonment in Terezin, the year before he was liberated. He and his mother, and an uncle who was in the United States, were the sole survivors of their family from the Holocaust.
Pavel’s diary is filled with the normal ruminations of a boy coming of age. He is preoccupied with sports and describes in detail the various soccer matches held in Terezin by the boys. His occasional sullenness and arguments with his parents would be common with many boys his age. He has on-again, off-again friendships with other boys in his barracks. All of this can be attributed to the angst of adolescence. However, let us remember that this teenager was held captive in a make-believe environment controlled by Nazis. So, along with the normal teenage growing pains, Pavel also had daily worries of hunger, pain, atrocities, and even death. Although not necessarily dwelt on in the diary, these worries are an undercurrent throughout it.
Terezin (called Theresienstadt by the Germans), was a Nazi transit camp. It was also propagandized to the world, by the Nazis, as “the town the Führer gave the Jews.” Several commissions of impartial observers and Red Cross personnel came to inspect Terezin. The Nazis perpetrated a major hoax by cleaning up the town and installing cafes, banks, grocery stores, etc. to fool the observers into believing that this was a normal town. It was all just a façade, like a Hollywood movie set.
It was in this environment that Pavel Weiner lived and tried to flourish for three years of his young life. He was adamant about learning and keeping up his studies, even paying for piano lessons with precious food. He didn’t just languish and stagnate in Terezin, but rather looked for every opportunity to grow, learn, and become a valuable member of the community.