Journal, By Helene Berr

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The Independent Culture

This is the daily record of an intelligent, sensitive young woman in a terrible time. At the start, Berr's diary could be that of any Sorbonne graduate in Paris. She writes a thesis on Shakespeare, plays the violin, reads Dostoyevsky and Keats, but Berr is marked out: "I think it is cowardly not to wear it... I want to do whatever is most courageous. This evening I believe that means wearing the star."

As the Gestapo net closes, Berr imagines the sealed cattle trucks: "In what must be a stifling atmosphere, in the smell of slops, the smell of bodies." She is puzzled by German soldiers who act politely to her, even though "They have one aim, which is extinction." She realises, "They have stopped thinking... They have forgotten the principle of causality." Incarcerated in Belsen, Berr died five days before the camp was liberated.

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