The University of Wisconsin Press

Memoir / European History / Jewish Studies


Fortress of My Youth
Memoir of a Terezín Survivor
Jana Renée Friesová
Translated by Elinor Morrisby and Ladislav Rosendorf

A girl's adolescence as a Nazi prisoner in Czechoslovakia, recounting horrors, passionate love, and survival

Jana Renée Friesová was fifteen when she was imprisoned by the Nazis in the Czech ghetto town of Terezín (Theresienstadt). Her memoir unfolds before us, the poignantly familiar picture of a young girl who, even under the most abominable circumstances, engages in intense adolescent friendships, worries with her companions over her looks, and falls in love. Raised a Catholic by secular Jewish parents, she did not even know she was a Jew until the German occupation of her country in 1939 when she was twelve.

Whereas Anne Frank's diary ends with deportation to a concentration camp, Fortress of My Youth is the story of another young girl who tells us how she and her family were taken to Terezín, what food she ate there, what work she did, how her friends died from disease, how thousands were sent from there to Auschwitz, how her family members were killed, and how she escaped the gas chamber. But she also tells of love, joy, and sacrifice: musicians, writers, and intellectuals among the inmates who were determined to pass on their cultural heritage to the youth in Terezín; a network of Czechs outside the walls who smuggled in food; her singing in performances of Smetana's Bartered Bride and Verdi's Requiem, the most profound experiences of her life.

"Fortress of My Youth is more than just another story of wartime inhumanity in dark years which saw human freedom and dignity crushed. Rather, Friesová pens a very illuminating picture of the triumph of the human spirit, the power of human hope, the keeping of culture and art alive, and the forging of friendships and acts of compassion that transcended even the desire for physical survival."—Garry Fabian, Australian Jewish News

"Friesová's unique account, as one of the few young people to escape the camp with their lives, is a tribute to the courage of those who endured such inhuman despotism. It is destined to rank with Anne Frank's consummate account."
—Wayne Crawford, The Mercury

Jana Renée Friesová was born in 1927 in Prague, Czech Republic, where she still lives. After completing her Ph.D. at Charles University in Prague, she taught philosophy and Jewish studies there until her retirement. She has worked with the Shoah Foundation, translated books by Nikos Kazantzakis and Judy Blume into Czech, taught yoga, and worked as a counselor.

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cover of the Friesová book shows a photo of internees at Terezin and an inset photo of jana as a girl framed by a yellow star of David

First paperback edition
August 2011
200 pp.   6 x 9
29 b/w photos, 1 map

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Paper $19.95 s
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Updated June 15, 2011

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