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by Jana Renee Friesova
University of Wisconsin Press, 2002
Review by Su Terry on Feb 24th 2003

Fortress of My Youth

Like The Diary of Anne Frank most diaries about the Holocaust end at the point when the individual is taken prisoner. This is just the point that Fortress of My Youth by Jana Renee Friesova begins. It is a picture of life within the Terezin Camp that is at time sad, at others humorous, at times filled with importance and at other the minutiae of everyday life. This is a coming of age story that will not be easily forgotten.

Fortress of My Youth by Jana Renee Friesova cover from December 1942 until May 1945. Raised a Christian, Jana was surprised to discover that her grandmother’s ancestry branded her a Jewess according the Nazi definition of Aryan purity. Beginning in 1939 with the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazi, 12-year old Jana began her new life as an oppressed minority. First her family was compressed into one room of their once large home, then they were forbidden to travel to visit her beloved grandparents, and finally on December 19, 1942, her family boards a train to Terezin. There she is separated from her parents. First she lived in secret in the attic of her Uncle Joseph’s house for the elderly and finally she moved into the Madchenheim or house for girls. There she was forced to work in the fields with her fellow female inmates, but there too she also made friends, shared secrets, and discover love. Contrary to the usual picture of concentration camp life, Jana paints a picture of life that included schooling, cafes, concerts, and dances. While not blind to the horrors around her or the likelihood of being transported to a death camp, Jana details a life that at time is filled with the ordinary issues and desires of a young teenage girl becoming a young woman.

Jana Renée Friesová is a Holocaust survivor.  She was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. At the age of 15, she and her family was sent to Thereseinstadt and only by quick thinking did her mother save Jana and herself from being transported to Auschwitz where her father died, and she would almost certainly meet her own death.  “She completed her Ph.D. at Charles University in Prague, she taught philosophy and Jewish studies until her retirement. She has worked with the Shoah Foundation, translated books by Nikos Kazantzakis and Judy Blume into Czechoslovakian, and continues to lives in Prague, Czech Republic.” 

 Fortress of My Youth by Jana Renee Friesova is a very unique insider’s view of growing up in a Nazi Concentration camp. Unlike some books that focus only on the worst that could and did happen, this book paints a more positive view of life. It is a good companion work to The Diary of Anne Frank. I highly recommend this novel.

 

© 2003 Su Terry

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.