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Culture

A Historical Snapshot of Fear and Doubt

The diary of a Dutch teenager awaiting deportation from an internment facility to a Nazi death camp in 1943 has resurfaced in a local library in the Netherlands.

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Helga Deen's diary reveals her feelings as deportation loomed

A Holocaust-era diary containing the hopes, doubts and fears of a Jewish teenager imprisoned in a Dutch internment camp in 1943 has been rediscovered in the Netherlands.

The journal of 18-year-old Helga Deen details the final month of her detainment in the internment camp in the Dutch town of Vught between April-July 1943 and includes love letters written to her boyfriend, Kees van den Berg, whose son Conrad donated the diary to the city of Tilburg's regional library earlier this year.

After being stored in the archives, the diary was recently unearthed and brief extracts from the document have appeared in the daily newspaper De Volkskrant. Parts of the diary will be on display for one day on October 30 in Tilburg, and the archive is negotiating with museums to show it elsewhere.

"(Deen) kept the secret diary for her boyfriend in order to help him understand what she was experiencing," said Yvonne Weling of the Tilburg Regional Archive. Deen, her brother, father and mother were shipped off to a Nazi concentration camp in Sobibor, Poland, that July. All four later died at the camp. Helga was recorded as having died on July 16, 1943.

Weling said van den Berg had written back to Deen on some of the blank pages of the diary, concealed within a school notebook marked "Physics" and apparently transferred the diary back and forth between the pair. He kept the diary after Deen was deported, and saved it along with a lock of his girlfriend's hair.

No facts but emotions

Helga Deen

Helga Deen.

In the diary, Deen recorded some of her day-to-day experiences for Van den Berg, but even more of her emotions, Weling said. "Maybe this diary will be a disappointment to you because it doesn't contain facts," Deen wrote to Van den Berg. "But maybe you'll be glad that you find me in it: conflict, doubt, desperation, shyness, emptiness."

Among other entries, Deen's diary recorded the relief she felt after her family was once not selected for deportation -- and the fear they might be chosen next time. "We are homeless, countryless and we have to adjust ourselves to that way of life. What we have seen in these last months is indescribable, and for someone who hasn't been there, unimaginable," she wrote.

A document of the human spirit

"I feel so alone. Every day we see freedom from behind barbed wire," Deen wrote in one extract. On June 6, 1943, only weeks before she was deported, she wrote: "I can't stand it any more but if my willpower dies, I die too."

The diary's final entry, written on July 2, 1943, contains a mysteriously illegible phrase ending "... between the packages, because we're leaving soon," apparently referring to an attempt to smuggle the diary out of the internment camp in Vught for the last time.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank.

The diary has drawn comparisons with the most famous Holocaust-era diary, the one written by Anne Frank, the daughter of a German-Jewish family who hid in an Amsterdam attic for 25 months. The Diary of Anne Frank went on to become an international best-seller.

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