A Boy in Terezin: The Pri­vate Diary of Pavel Wein­er, April 1944-April 1945

Pavel Wein­er; Pavel Wein­er and Karen Wein­er, trans.; Deb­o­rah Dwork, intro.
  • Review
By – 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 Fuhrer 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. 

Discussion Questions