Story by Martin Evans for The Telegraph, October 16, 2011:
In 1944 Helga Weiss and her mother were transported to Auschwitz, where they came face to face with Josef Mengele – the Angel of Death – who was selecting children and older women for the gas chambers.
Weiss, who was in her early teens at the time managed to persuade Mengele and the other guards that she was older than she appeared and her mother was much younger.
The subterfuge meant the pair were directed to the forced labour camp rather than the gas chambers and Weiss became one of just 10 per cent of children from the Nazi controlled Czech ghetto of Terezin to survive the holocaust.
After the war, Weiss became an internationally renowned artist, whose married name Weissova-Hoskova, is celebrated around the world.
But her incredible story of survival became somewhat overshadowed by her professional success and her diaries from the time were never made public.
Last year however the British publisher Venetia Butterfield of Viking, who also publishes Anne Frank’s diary, heard about the story and met with Weiss first in London and then in Prague where she now lives.
She asked to see a sample of the writing in one of her exercise books and sent it for analysis.
She told The Observer: “Accounts of the past are so often shaped by the knowledge of what was to happen next. What is so important about the diary is that it is Helga’s reality. It is a very different thing from a memoir.”
Helga’s diary is to be published by Viking in June next year.