Hélène Berr


Born: March 27th, 1921
Died: Believed to have died in April of 1945 at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Parents: Antoinette Berr (mother) and Raymond Berr (father)
Siblings: None
Career Interest: Author
Diary Title: The Journal of Hélène Berr

Eleven children! What ever are they going to do with the younger ones? If they deport them to put them to work, what use are the children? Is it true they are put in German workhouses? They don’t send wives and children with the non-Jewish workers who go to Germany. The monstrous incomprehensibility and illogical horror of the whole thing boggle the mind. But there’s probably nothing to work out, because the Germans aren’t even trying to give a reason or a purpose. They have one aim, which is extermination.

– Hélène Berr [1]

Hélène Berr was twenty one years old when she first began her diary, and she would continue writing in it until she was sent to Drancy internment camp. Hélène expresses a number of different feelings throughout her diary, as her diary serves as a testament to her life in a way she felt she could not or should not portray to her friends. Hélène’s diary evokes an intense emotion out of the reader as she struggles to feel confident in who she is. The persecution of Jewish people added another factor that would further exacerbate her search. However, her diary serves as an important testament as to the life in France under the Nazi regime.

In an addition to Hélène’s diary, a part was added by David Bellos titled, France and the Jews, of which he notes the particular condition of Jews in France:

Persecution of the Jews in Occupied France proceeded by incremental steps of which the true import was hard to see in advance. There were restrictions on employment, on the use of shops, on travel outside Paris, on travel on the metro, then simply on being out on the streets. To begin with, anti-Jewish legislation made a sharp distinction between citizens and noncitizens, deepening a significant and retrospectively painful division in the Jewish community itself. In truth, established French Jews did not see themselves as belonging to a “community” that included recent Jewish immigrants-mostly poor Jews from Eastern Europe. Noncitizens among the Jews resident in France became more numerous when, in October 1940, Vichy rescinded the liberal naturalization law of 1927 and then, in October 1941, gave its abrogation retroactive effect. Many thousands of people who held French nationality suddenly found themselves stateless, which turned them into pariahs without legal identity and no means of support. It was these people-foreigners and denaturalized Jews-who prepared to be the main target of the measures.
– David Bellos[1]

Hélène suffered greatly under the Nazi regime, but her suffering, which she documented in her diary, helps illustrate the lives of those Jews who were in France. She shares stories of rumors that spread around from those she knew, and her final diary entry reads:

More or less the same story as what the young man at Enfants-Malades told me. Horror! Horror! Horror!

– Hélène Berr[1]

Hélène also wrote about the rumor told to her about other prisoners of the Nazi regime:

He also told me, about the pits of Katyn, that he had witnessed identical scenes. In 1941, thousands of frightfully deprived and starving Russian prisoners came into his P.O.W. camp. Typhus took hold and hundreds dropped dead each day. Each morning Germans went round with guns finishing off those who were no longer able to stand up. So the sick, trying to avoid this fate, used to get themselves propped up by their healthy comrades. The Germans used their rifle butts to smash the hands of the men holding their comrade upright. The sick fell to the ground, they piled them onto carts, striped them of their boots and clothing, hauled them to a pit, unloaded them with pitchforks and threw them into the pit alongside the corpses. A sprinkling of quicklime and that was that.

– Hélène Berr[1]

Hélène’s diary serves as a testament to the atrocities of the Nazi regime of which she and others faced, and this writing serves to memorialize the victims whose names we may never know. Hélène wanted to be an author, and her writing shows that drive. The way she expresses her feelings and conveys the on-going lifestyle in France captivates any reader.

She would survive Auschwitz concentration camp, but she would die at Bergen-Belsen, the same place that Anne Frank died. It is said that Hélène died just five days before liberation. Despite this, her memory and the memory of hundreds of others will continue to live on in her writings.


[1] Hélène Berr – The Journal of Hélène Berr – ISBN 978-1602860940