The following text was written to put across one of the guiding ideas and aims behind our association “Room 28” and its Room 28 Educational Project. One of the central aims is to set up a permanent exhibition as crystallization point for our educatonal project and thus to keep alive the legacy of “The Girls of Room 28” and convey it to young and future generations. Our Educational project has a seperate website. So far it is only in German. But it is planned to offer English, Czech and Portuguese versions.
27 January 2021
The pre-Nazi years in which the “Girls of Room 28” had grown up, were characterized by a trend that had begun in the 19th century and had increasingly granted Jews legal equality, writes Dr. Christian Walda in his contribution to the Compendium to the Room 28 Educational Project. This assimilation trend continued well into the interwar period, by which time most families of Jewish origin felt and defined themselves as Germans, Austrians or Czechs, and were hardly distinguishable from their neighbors.
The "Girls of Room 28" were children from the Czechoslovak Republic and Austria, born around 1930. They were shaped by a social atmosphere in which culture – music, theatre, literature – played a more important role than religion. Many of the girls did not even know that their family was of Jewish origin, and with them thousands of Jews from all over Europe. They were confronted with their 'Jewishness' only through the racist persecution of the Nazi era and were forced henceforward to deal with their 'Jewish identity' and forced to ask over and over again the same questions: "Why? What is bad about being a Jew?"
Seventy-six years after the Holocaust, this question still has to be raised, despite a Holocaust remembrance culture that has been growing in Germany over the past three decades. And we still have to fight against clichés and prejudices, against hatred, racism and anti-Semitism, also, as is evident from the ranks of diffuse groups demonstrating against Corona measures, against frighteningly perverting images of history. With each passing day, we are confronted with a growing readiness to use violence, and with people who perfidiously undermine concepts such as solidarity, mutual consideration, social interaction and political-democratic action.
Room 28 – for us this is a symbol : a "germ of humanity“; it is also
a program: the call to stand up for this germ to grow and blossom and to keep the legacy of the "Girls of Room 28" alive. We do this by means of our multimedia Room 28 Educational Project and events and activities linked to it. Because it is our mission and goal that Room 28 becomes a part of our collective memory.
Flag of the "Girls of Room 28" with their symbol:
Ma'agal, Hebrew for: Circle,
and in a metaphorical sense for: perfection.
Jew, Jewess, Jewish - these words still carry a threatening potential, an explosive mixture of clichés, prejudices, ignorance, hatred, readiness to use violence and the inability to meet a person without prejudice and free of racism. I wish I could say: We Germans have forever learned from history, said Germany’s Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in his speech in commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in January 2020. But I cannot say this when hatred and incitement for violence are spreading. – Sadly. It's not easy with "learning from history."
With the Room 28 Educational Project, we are pursuing precisely this goal: We want young people to learn from the story of the "Girls of Room 28”. We want them to learn about the Holocaust, about persecution of people for racist reasons, about persecution of people with Jewish roots in Germany, in Europe, worldwide and, in particular – as the girls of Room 28 were mainly of Czech, some of Austrian origin – in our neighboring countries Austria and the former Czechoslovak Republic. We want them to learn about what happened in the so-called "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia", in the Theresienstadt ghetto and in the annihilation-camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. However, we also want them to learn about the importance of art and culture in the struggle for self-assertion, for the assertion of one's identity and dignity.
Moreover: We want to make it possible for young people to experience what happened in Room 28, this "island in a raging Sea"; we want them to experience how concepts such as friendship, solidarity, humanity were filled with life by these girls, thanks to the caregivers and fellow prisoners, among them outstanding representatives from the Arts and Culture, the majority of them from the Czech lands; we want them to listen to what the "Girls of Room 28," the murdered and the survivors, have to tell us. All this has been handed down – in authentic documents, in the works created in alliance with the survivors (books, exhibition, theatre-play and further media), and in many sound- and film-recordings. All these elements together form the “Room 28 Projects”. The name covers the works, publications and projects carried out with them, in their spirits or in cooperation with family-members as done in Brazil, in cooperation with Karen Zolko, who realized the exhibition “As meninas do quarto 28”.
For many years, especially between 2004 and 2017 – the survivors of Room 28 have made our project of remembrance a living one. Countless times they gave testimony in places all around the world, sharing their experiences again and again, and sharing their hope and values, especially with young people. Today, in 2021, when almost all women of this special circle of friends are no longer with us, we must find ways and support to keep their unique legacy alive – in the interest of young people and future generations, and as an essential part of our collective memory.
Helga Kinsky (1930-2020). Quote from the radio-feature ”The Girls of Room 28” by Hannelore Brenner produced by Südwestrundfunk Baden-Baden. (2003).
Photo: Helga, Vienna 2011. © Johanna Tinzl
The big problem is that I do not understand. I cannot understand why people hate the Jews, and why they did what they did. I never get an answer to that; because there is no answer. We are people like all others.
Handa Drori (*1930) Quote from the Compendium to the Room 28 Educational Project. Photo: Handa Drori (right) with Hanka Weingarten, September 2006 in Špindlerův Mlýn, Czech Republic.
As one of the girls from the 'Twenty-eight' – this is how we called our Room - I hope that our project will achieve its objective. This is important for us for two reasons: Firstly, because we want to save from oblivion the girls who lived with us in our Room and did not come back from the concentration camps. Secondly, as a warning for the next generations. And also as an example of how easily a new Holocaust could happen if well-meaning people are too unconcerned and allow fanatics to come to power. I wish everyone that such evil times will never recur.
Judith Rosenzweig (1930-2019). The quote is from the radio-feature "The Girls of Room 28" (2003) Photo: Judith 2015 in Stuttgart.
I always say, thinking of my eight grandchildren: I played a trick on Hitler. He did not win. He did not destroy us. But it's hard for me to say today in which direction all is going. Because it repeats itself again; again this hatred among people, hatred against ‘the strangers'. What is that: the stranger, the foreigner? Everybody is human. Nobody chooses the color he is born with. Nobody chooses the mother or father he gets. People come into the world without doing anything to it. The child is not to blame for its father or mother. And nor the father; he is also a child of a mother. Nobody has chosen that. Why don't people believe this? I cannot understand this.
„As meninas do quarto 28" is a tool for a better world and future."
Erika Stransky (1930-1944)
a girl of Room 28
Karen's text on her aunt Erika, who was murdered in Auschwitz, how she found out about Erika's last years in Theresienstadt and why she created a new exhibition for Brazil is told in the Compendium to the Educationl Project. You can download her text below.
Prof. Peter Gstettner, Klagenfurt. Educationalist.
The “Room 28 Projects” are more than just memories of a dark time....(they) also touch on questions of humanity and empathy, solidarity and the development of social competence under the precarious living conditions in concentration camps."
Prof. Detlef Pech, Humboldt University of Berlin. Educationalist.
The development of the personality, the humanization of the human being, needs a counterpart. And the power this can have is represented by the story of the "Girls from Room 28".
Dr. Christian Walda, former director of the Jewish Museum in Rendsburg
The exhibition "The Girls from Room 28" was an important way for us to awaken the interest of young people in particular in the Shoah. The story of these girls in Theresienstadt made it clear to them that culture is not a luxury, but the basis of our humanity.
This is a unique project focusing on the solidarity, compassion, and resilience which developed as a reaction to the abnormal situation of living in a Ghetto with the constant threat of transportation to the East.
Thomas Rietschel, Cultural manager
This project is so important in our time. It strengthens us and our environment when we live for ideals, for something that is bigger than us. And we can grow and gain (resistance) strength in the confrontation with art. The girls of Room 28 had these experiences in the Theresienstadt ghetto. Some of them survived the extermination camps and saw it as their obligation that their story be told on, especially to children and young people who are now as old as they were in the Theresienstadt ghetto at that time. All children and young people in our country should know the story of the "Girls from Room 28."
Gabriel Fawcett, Historian and translator of the exhibition into English
We are standing at the threshold of a future with no more holocaust survivors living among us. BUT their legacy will surely live on in ‘The Girls of Room 28’ more powerfully than any other project I have ever encountered.