14 November 2020
In the night of 13/14 November 2020, the life of a wonderful woman came to an abrupt end. I am still much too shaken and I struggle with tears for words. My sympathy goes out to her children Eva and Eric and grand-daughter Sara and family. Even though Helga Kinsky, née Pollak, turned ninety years old on 28 May 2020, I feel as if she was torn out in the middle of life. There was nothing to suggest that this would happen. The day before, we spoke on the phone, as so often, and I was always glad and reassured that she was still in good health, still interested in life and people and everything that was dear and important to her.
Countless people have come to know, appreciate and love Helga over the past decades - as a Holocaust survivor and contemporary witness, always ready to share her experiences especially with younger people, as the author of a touching diary written at the age of 12-14 in the Terezin ghetto, and above all as a wonderful, wise and immensely engaging, charming woman. Many people took her to their hearts; she was so special. Adorable.
Many fragments of memory swirl in confusion in my head as if shattered by a violent quake - memories of the annual meetings in Spindleruv Mlyn and Prague, of my visits to Vienna and of the innumerable journeys we made together, journeys that took us all over Germany and abroad, to Israel, London (Haberdaser's Aske's Boys' School) , Brussels (European Commission), Geneva (United Nations). Memories of readings, exhibition openings, speeches, international projects, often along with her friends from Theresienstadt, who beame known as "The Girls of Room 28". A theater-play, a book and the exhibition all entitled "The Girls of Room 28" tell their story since 2004, and without Helga's authentic diary the story would not have been told. It is impossible to say how often she gave interviews and testimony about her childhood in Vienna, Kyjov, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau and in the working-camp Oederan in Saxony, how often we were invited together to read from the book "The Girls of Room 28" and from her precious Theresienstadt diary.
Not long ago Helga asked me: "Where have we been? I cannot think of all the places, all the people who invited us." I promised to update the list I made ten years ago for her 80th birthday, while being well aware that so much more happened in the last years in Vienna ever since that unforgettable matinée on 29 January 2017, when we staged "our reading" for the last time together., along with our beloved Berlin ensemble "Zwockhaus", who presented songs from Ilse Weber and the Theresienstadt Cabaret. The event in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, to which Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen spoke the Welcoming words, marked both, the highlight and the closing of our common public appearance. Never was Helga's story told in a more touching way, in a more captivating atmosphere than in Vienna's Stadtsaal on Mariahilferstasse, the very street in which she spent the first eight years of her childhood until, in mid-1938, her parents decided to give her in the care of their Czech family in Kyjov, Moravia, and in the very street, where her father Otto Pollak owned and managed the concert-cafe Palmhof. With songs that evoked the atmosphere of this special place on Mariahilferstrasse, our performance was also dedicated to the memory of her father.
Without us having planned it, the event was recorded and, thanks to the initiative of a friend, slightly changed in the studio of the Austrian Radio (ORF) and released as a ORF double-CD: "Helga Pollak-Kinsky. Theresienstadt". Helga and I and our friends Maria Thomaschke, Winfried Radeke and Andreas Jocksch (Zwockhaus), we all felt that this was the most emotional performance and not repeatable.
I was so happy for her when, after many years of unceasing commitment in Germany, Helga and her friend Flaška (Anna Hanusová) were awarded, in 2013, the "Bundesverdienstkreuz" (Federal Cross of Merit on a Ribbon) of the federal Republic of Germany, followed, in 2016, by the Golden Order of Merit of the State of Vienna and, in 2019, by the Golden Order of Merit of the Republic of Austria.
As for her Helga's precious diary - I am glad that, after many unsuccessful attempts to find a publisher for this unique document, Helga supported the idea that I publish the book in the frame of our common project of remembrance. This is how Edition Room 28 came into existence. Now, looking back, I feel that this happened, as so many things within our project, as if by force majeure, and that it just had to be that way. Those who know about Room 28 Projects and the Room 28 Educational Project and our little but important association Room 28 e.V. , especially of course its members and friends, do well understand this point. The diary of Helga and Helga herself played a pivotal role in what became the project with and about "The Girls of Room 28". Without her and her diary the story of the girls would not have been told. And this is why I am eternally grateful and cherish the memory of Helga, an outstanding personality, a wonderful woman and very special friend.
I know of course, we all know, that life comes to an end one day. But the knowledge of it does not take away the shock, the pain, the grief and sadness when a loved one is torn away from life, the more so in so sudden unthinkable way. I imagined and believed that you will live for many more years to come, Helga! I hoped and wished it so much. In my life you play such an important role; you are an essential part of it.
In my memory you live on, and I know, also in the memory of those who appreciate and adore you - and there are many, there are thousands of people who do! And your diary and all the "stones of remembrance" we created, and the values, hopes, your spirit, all that made up your wonderful personality and Charism, will continue to work and make a difference now and in the future and in the hearts of many people. I am infinitely grateful that we have met. Thank you, dearest Helga.
New publication 2021
New Polish editions
Book-rights available: English, Portuguese and more...
Translated by Renate Müller. She also translated the book "As Meninas do Quarto 28" from German into Portuguese.
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