Diary From Bergen-Belsen
March 1944 - April 1945
A rare and detailed Holocaust testimony, comparable with Last Stop Auschwitz
At the age of twenty-four, Renata Laqueur and her husband Paul Goldschmidt, two Jewish members of the Dutch resistance, are arrested and, after a short internment in transit camp Westerbork, deported to concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Though it is strictly forbidden, Laqueur manages to record her camp experience in four notebooks and, shortly after the couple’s liberation, write up her remaining notes in detail. More than a story of survival, Diary from Bergen-Belsen is the surreal portrait of a sensitive and intelligent young woman attempting to transcend her harrowing reality, made all the more powerful by her emotional restraint and ruthless pen.
After four months at Westerbork, Renata begins her diary with the train journey to Germany, where she and her husband must soon battle disease and starvation, violence and humiliation. She lucidly notes down her reactions and depicts the camp’s deteriorating conditions, the absurd quality of their isolated existence as well as the tragedy of her prime years senselessly wasted there. All the while, memories and thoughts of art and music, the physical act of writing, provide a source of emotional strength. She does everything to care for Paul, who is dangerously close to death; however, by December 1944, Renata is too physically weak herself to continue writing. In the overcrowded camp, death takes on terrifying proportions: the crematorium is overwhelmed, piles of corpses fill the camp.
Before the English and Canadians arrive in April 1945, she and Paul are packed, along with 2,500 other emaciated and dying prisoners, into a train and shipped through devastated Germany. The nightmarish journey will last two weeks, until they are finally liberated by the Russians, near the village of Tröbitz, where she records her journey and catches typhus while volunteering in a field hospital. Once back in the Netherlands, she types out her diary as a national war document, reliving the monstrous, dream-like world she passed through.
For this new edition, Paul’s daughter, Saskia Goldschmidt, a Dutch author, has provided an invaluable introduction, afterword and notes that detail Renata’s life before and after the diary, the fate of her and Paul’s marriage, and Renata’s struggle with trauma and guilt. Returning to the original notebooks at the Bergen-Belsen memorial archive, Goldschmidt has also included, for the first time, an intimate final portion of the diary which candidly addresses the pain and rage that Renata, like so many other camp survivors, attempted to suppress throughout her life.