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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Diaries of "another Anne Frank" shed light on camp hell

The newly discovered diary of an 18-year-old Jewish girl has offered a haunting insight into life inside a holocaust-era Dutch prison camp in a find archivists are comparing to the Anne Frank diaries.

The writings of Helga Deen describe her last month of imprisonment at the Vught detention centre during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands before she and her family were transported to the Sobibor concentration camp in Poland where they were murdered almost immediately after arrival.

'Even though everybody is very nice to me, I feel so lonely. Every day we see freedom from behind barbed wire,' she wrote in an extract from her 1943 journal made public yesterday by archivists in Tilburg, in the southern Netherlands.

Ms Deen's entries, written as love letters to her boyfriend, were concealed in a green school notebook marked 'Physics'. Inside its pages the youngster paints a haunting portrait of everyday life inside the camp, charting everything from her feelings of powerlessness and despair to arguments between inmates and the taste of the kale stew they were forced to live on.

David Barnouw of the Dutch Institute for War Documentation said the doomed teenager's writings were an extraordinary find: 'Very few diaries have been written in the camps because of the conditions of life there,' he said. 'If diaries were written in the camps they were rarely recovered because people's luggage was taken away when they were deported,' he said.

Ms Deen's diary is only the third so-called camp journal discovered in the Netherlands, and the first written by a woman. In it, she wrote about how the prisoners were deloused and children put on the transports to Auschwitz.

The diary of another Jewish girl, Anne Frank, helped the world to put a name and a recognisable face to the anonymous millions slaughtered in the holocaust. It records the time the Frank family and friends went into hiding in an Amsterdam attic in July 1942 to escape Nazi persecution. They were eventually betrayed two years later and Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945. The diary has sold more than 25 million copies and has been translated into 55 languages.

Ms Deen's diary journal shows how desperation slowly set in. In an excerpt dated 6 June, 1943, just after 1,300 children were deported to Auschwitz and Sobibor death camps, she wrote: 'Transport. It is too much. I am broken and tomorrow it will happen again. But I want to [persevere], I want to because if my happiness and willpower die, I too will die.'

'Packing, this morning a child dying which upset me completely. Another transport and this time we will be on it,' she wrote. It was her last diary entry.

Ms Deen had been in her final year of school in nearby Tilburg when she was sent to barracks 34B of the Vught camp, where she would spend her final weeks before boarding the one-way train to Sobibor. More than 31,000 people - half of them Jews - were held at camp Vught between January 1943 and September 1944.

The journal was brought to the Tilburg archive by the son of her wartime boyfriend, Kees van den Berg, who discovered it after six decades in a brown purse, along with a lock of hair and a fountain pen. 'The purse was like a religious relic for my father. Nobody could touch it,' he said.

Archivists say they have no idea how the diary was smuggled out of the detention camp.