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Book Review: Last Days of Theresienstadt

A diary/memoir by Eva Noack-Mosse, translated by Skye Doney and Birute Ciplijauskaite

Reviewed by Deborah Little Cohn

In January 2021, Covenant member Skye Doney, one of the translators of Last Days of Theresienstadt, discussed the book during a virtual Covenant Adult Education class. He explained that Eva Noack-Mosse (1902 - 1990) kept a diary over the five months following her deportation in February 1945 from Germany to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and concentration camp located in Terezin, Czechoslovakia. She was the cousin of George L. Mosse, a prominent professor of European History and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, beginning in 1955, for over 30 years. Skye Doney is currently the Director of the George L. Mosse Program in History at UW-Madison.

As a Jew, Eva Noack-Mosse was in a more “privileged” position during the Nazi regime because she had married Moritz Noack, a non-Jew, in 1934, prior to the banning of “interracial” marriage by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. German Jewish women who had married gentile men prior to the banning of such marriages, found themselves protected from actions leveled at other Jews including wearing the Star of David to signify that they were Jews. By the second half of 1944, however, threats to those in protected categories increased. In February of 1945, the Nazis deported some Jews in mixed marriages, including Noack-Mosse, to Theresienstadt.

Theresienstadt served as a waystation for Jews on their way to the extermination camps as well as the final destination for a number of prominent Jews. Given her journalistic training and excellent typing skills, upon her arrival at Theresienstadt, Noack-Mosse was assigned to a job in the camp’s central administration office where she had access to the camp’s records and statistics, providing her with a unique perspective on the breadth of deportations from Theresienstadt (at least 90,000) to Auschwitz and other locations as well as the number of deaths (at least 35,000) that occurred through due to illness and brutal living conditions at Theresienstadt itself.

During the months she spent at Theresienstadt, Noack-Mosse chronicled her own personal experience as well as her observations of the experiences of those around her. Her access to camp statistics enabled her to include them in her secret diary. She also wrote about the transformation of the camp during the previous summer (before her arrival) in order to give an International Commission visiting the camp the impression of a clean and cheerful environment.

Although the Nazis surrendered on May 7, 1945, Noack-Mosse remained at Theresienstant until July 1, 1945, continuing to work in the central office and living under quarantine as the camp was dismantled. During those weeks, she fielded inquiries from many individuals seeking their missing relatives while recording her observations in her diary. By early July of 1945, she was able to return to life with her husband in Germany. After the war, she added new observations to her diary and eventually sent it to her cousin George Mosse, hoping that he could facilitate its publication. The University of Wisconsin Press finally published the diary/memoir in 2018.

Throughout her sobering account of her internment at Theresienstadt, Noack-Mosse demonstrates resilience, concluding with the following profound reflection:

It is not worthwhile to cry over most of the things one loses. But there are certain things that one should never cease to cry about losing. And one should never allow one’s conscience to go to sleep. When there is injustice, when evil occurs nearby, do not close your eyes. And in order to help ensure that what has happened will never happen again, I have written about what I have seen and experienced.

Last Days of Theresienstadt offers a unique real-time accounting of life in one concentration camp toward the end of the war coupled with Noack-Mosse’s later reflections.

Check out Last Days of Theresienstadt and many other books from the Covenant Library!

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