Newsletter 1/2015

Last months of the Terezín Ghetto, Gestapo Prison and of concentration camp Litoměřice

Prisoners on the benches at the Terezín square in the time of liberation, FAPT 4588

Prisoners on the benches at the Terezín square in the time of liberation, FAPT 4588

Towards the end of 1944 many people already felt that the end of the war was approaching. In the Battle of the Bulge, western allies troops thwarted the attempts of the German Army to control the Western Front, and a few weeks later the Red Army launched a massive winter offensive on the Eastern Front. Although everything was moving towards the ultimate collapse of the Third Reich, no-one could predict precisely when the end would come. As written by the British historian Ian Kershaw in his monograph titled The End: Germany 1944-1945 (Brno, Jota 2013): “After the failure of the Ardennes Offensive there was no more place for real optimism and faith in the good end of the war for Germany. Except for lunatics, stubbornly hoping for wonder-weapons or disintegration of the anti-Hitler coalition, the Germans understood well that the days of the regime would soon be numbered. However, nobody around Hitler, who at all times insisted on continuing the fight, was able or willing to do anything about the situation. Thus, the heavily breathing regime went on.”
Kylies, J.: Tiredness in cell 41, April 1944, PT 2021

Kylies, J.: Tiredness in cell 41, April 1944, PT 2021

The measures and events which took place in the Terezín ghetto during the first months of 1945 may seem rather contradictory to anyone unfamiliar with different ghetto’s roles (reception/transit, decimation, alibi/propaganda). On the one hand, the Nazi management supported buck-passing events: recall the February departure of 1,200 prisoners to Switzerland, April transport of Danish inmates organized by the Swedish Red Cross or the April second delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, again preceded by beautifying activities. On the other hand, there were considered plans for the disposal of prisoners in a gas chamber, which was not completed though, and in the adjusted area of part of the fortification ditches surrounding the Terezin Main Fortress called the “Duck Pond” (see Newsletter 1/2010). Transports to the ghetto were not ceased either. They were bringing Jews from mixed marriages, who had been protected from deportations until then, together with people classified as Jews of mixed race under the Nuremberg racial laws. The situation in the ghetto began to deteriorate generally more with the arrivals of so-called evacuation transports from the concentration camps in liquidation. They nearly doubled the number of inmates and raised new demands on accommodation, food and particularly medical sector in the ghetto. Prisoners arriving by evacuation transports were in fact of very poor health, often infected with serious diseases, such as typhus fever, which threatened to escalate into an epidemic. Eventually that exactly happened. The epidemic was first combated by Jewish doctors imprisoned in the ghetto, later also by members of the Czech Help Action (CPA) and the Red Army medics. This catastrophic situation was not reversed even by the fact that on 2nd May 1945 the ghetto and the Small Fortress went under the official protection of the International Committee of the Red Cross represented by its delegate Mr. Paul Dunant.

Caricature of F. Luksch: MD Karel Raška, FAPT 7627_7_1

Caricature of F. Luksch: MD Karel Raška, FAPT 7627_7_1

Similarly tragic was the situation in the Gestapo police prison in the Small Fortress during the last months of the war. Just like in the ghetto, the Nazi prison headquarters speculated here about the possible ways of mass liquidation of prisoners, however, for technical reasons, those plans were eventually dropped. The health condition of prisoners was rapidly deteriorating. Reports on this matter reached in various ways the medical circles of nearby Roudnice nad Labem as well as Prague. There, particularly doctors working in the resistance groups became interested in the prisoners’ health situation. After the establishment of the Czech National Council as the supreme body of the Czech home resistance, medical assistance to prisoners of the Small Fortress was formed. Its organization was entrusted to MUDr. Karel Raška, epidemiologist of the National Public Health Institute in Prague. On 2nd May 1945, on the day when the Gestapo headquarters in Prague ordered to shoot 52 prisoners in the Small Fortress (see Newsletter 2/2010) who, in their point of view, should no way live to see the liberation, Raška along with other colleagues arrived at the gate in order to convince the prison commanders about the need for outside medical interventions. According to available evidence, the prison seemed to be infected with typhus fever. After two days of negotiations he finally succeeded, and from 4th May a medical team of the Czech Help Action from Prague began to work in the police prison in the Terezin Small Fortress, soon joined by a group of medics from Roudnice nad Labem. In this way they started a several-week fight against the epidemic of typhus fever, which claimed many more lives.
Formal sitting of doctors and medical personnel of the Czech Help Action in Terezín, June 1945, FAPT  7627_3_3

Formal sitting of doctors and medical personnel of the Czech Help Action in Terezín, June 1945, FAPT 7627_3_3

When the last members of the SS and supervisory personnel left the Terezin Small Fortress and ghetto on 5th May 1945, the suffering of many prisoners was still not over. On 8th May 1945, Soviet troops heading for Prague arrived in Terezín, but they were not the first military units passing through after the Nazi administration of the ghetto and Gestapo prison had departed. These were divisions of the German Armed Forces, which were retreating before the Red Army. For prisoners, with merely a few hours to spare before the arrival of their liberators, they meant just another danger to life and limb. For example, one passing SS convoy shelled a hospital in Vrchlabí barracks, and another building near the gendarmerie barracks in this town was hit with a shell as well. Red Army soldiers, along with their doctors, returned to Terezín on 10th May.

“Riding hall” in flames during the fight against epidemic typhus fever, branch of CC Flossenbürg in Litoměřice, May 1945, FAPT 105_2

Towards the end of the war evacuation transports were also coming to a branch of the Flossenbürg concentration camp nearby Litomeřice. However, this camp was, unlike Terezín, eventually evacuated itself. As a result of the arrival of many new prisoners, similarly to the ghetto, the living conditions worsened and mortality significantly increased. Not only for that reason a crematorium in the operation of nearby brickworks was set up: one of the buildings was rebuilt just for that purpose. In addition to many dead prisoners of the Litoměřice concentration camp  the corpses of people shot down on 2nd May 1945 during the last execution in the Small Fortress were cremated here as well. In late April 1945, Jewish prisoners were moved to Terezin and others were gradually removed to the station in Lovosice, where they waited several days in terrible conditions for the dispatch of railway transport. At the turn of May, another transport was under preparation, but it did not leave in the end. Subsequently, a most unusual thing in the entire existence of Nazi concentration camps happened. On 6th May 1945, prisoners were issued a certificate of release and were walked from Litomerice over the bridge over the Elbe to the town of Terezín, leaving only approx. 1,200 ill prisoners behind in the camp, who were also nursed by the Czech Help Action staff and Red Army medics after the liberation.


Seminar for teachers at the Memorial Ravensbrück

	Workshop in the House of the Wannsee Conference, October 2014, photo: J. Špringl

Workshop in the House of the Wannsee Conference, October 2014, photo: J. Špringl

In early October 2014, the Ravensbrück Memorial hosted for the 5th time the 3rd grade seminar for Czech teachers organized by the Terezin Memorial in cooperation with the Czech Ministry of Education and German partners.
The first day of the seminar included a visit to the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. Participants had an opportunity to see the local exhibition accompanied by commentaries from experts as well as to look into the room where the actual meeting of the Conference took place in January 1942. As the next part of the programme, teachers worked with historical sources within the workshop Perpetrators of the Holocaust. At the conclusion of this meeting, teachers and lecturers discussed the pedagogical aspects of teaching about the Holocaust.

The second day of the seminar was dedicated to the former concentration camp Ravensbrück. As part of the morning session, teachers had a chance to look in the depository to learn more about the archives activities, and at the same time, they could inspect some of the presented historical documents. Afterwards, all of them joined a photographic workshop, followed by a tour of extensive expositions accompanied by commentaries of experts from the Ravensbrück Memorial.

At the end of the seminar several participants presented their interesting school projects, which certainly became an inspiration for them and an impulse for their further work with students. The busy schedule of the seminar enhanced not only teachers’ scale of knowledge and information, but also their approaches to the methodology of education about the Holocaust.


Seminar for Czech teachers at Yad Vashem in Israel

In late October and early November 2014, a group of 18 teachers from all over the Czech Republic took part in an educational seminar held in the Yad Vashem Memorial in Israeli Jerusalem. This seminar, organized by the Yad Vashem Memorial, the Czech Ministry of Education and the Terezín Memorial, is always the highlight in the four-grade structure of seminars focused on teaching about the Holocaust, which are standardly offered to Czech teachers by the Terezín Memorial and the Czech Ministry of Education in collaboration with other Czech and foreign organizations.
The seminar was open with a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. The following eight days, however, were full of workshops, lectures and tours of individual exposures at Yad Vashem Memorial. The topics of educational blocks were diverse, yet connected chronologically and thematically as if lined with a red thread. Among the most fascinating were a lecture on traditional Judaism, a presentation introducing the inter-war life in Poland, up to one of the last lectures with the focus on “Allies and the Holocaust”. Equally interesting was also a presentation on the criteria of granting the title of Righteous Among the Nations, as well as the approaches of Yad Vashem to teaching about the Holocaust. Within the workshops, teachers obtained a lot of materials and ideas for their own teaching.

On Friday evening, the group attended prayers in one of the Jerusalem synagogues. Saturday was devoted to understanding Israel, teachers visited the fortress of Masada and the Dead Sea.


International Seminar for Czech teachers at Terezín Memorial

From 27th to 30th November 2014, the Terezín Memorial hosted the 14th annual seminar on “Holocaust in Education”, attended by 36 Czech teachers. While the first stage of seminars titled “How to teach about the Holocaust” is lectured only by Czech experts, lecturers for this second stage are invited from foreign institutions as well. Their aim is to supply Czech listeners with methodology and approaches to the issue of teaching about the Holocaust used in their home organizations. Nevertheless, as usual, Czech lecturers were not missing, along with representatives of the Jewish Museum in Prague and the People in Need foundation.

Several participants also shared their experience in teaching. Great admiration was again expressed to pupils and their teachers Mrs. Cimrmanová and Hamzová from 3rd elementary school in Slany, who presented their work on the project “Neighbours Who Disappeared”.

In the evenings, inspiring cultural performances were on the programme. Besides the projection of Transport from Paradise (1962), a film by Zdeněk Brynych, Friday belonged to the opera Brundibar by Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister, performed by the Disman Radio Children’s Choir and accompanied by pianist Michael Macourek. On Saturday Jaroslav Achab Haidler from the dramatic group of Činoherní Studio in Ústí on Elbe appeared in his one-man show Mr. Theodor Mundstock, an adaptation of a same-name novel by Ladislav Fuksa.


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Random Quote

Úterý 19. ledna 1943
Cesta byla mizerná. Vstávala jsem velice brzy, ale tak tak jsem byla hotová. Byla jsem tak navlečena, že jsem se nemohla pohnout. Tatínek, teta, Trude a Lea se vezli na saních v Kyjově na dráhu. Strýc Karel a Maří táhli saně a já tlačila. Byli jsme rádi, že jsme se dostali na dráhu, tolik napadlo sněhu. Sháněli jsme zavazadla, ale bylo poměrně málo šumu, myslela jsem, že budou všichni jako bez hlavy. Ve vlaku nebylo místa na sezení. Tatínek při nastupování spadl a zdvihla ho paní doktorová Schöntalová, která velice plakala (je árijka).
Když se vlak rozjížděl, začala všechna kyjovská mládež zpívat české národní písně, za brblání Němců. Jeden četník, který stál u vlaku, byl velice pohnutý a přešel kolem vlaku, každému známému přál šťastný návrat. Za jednu a tři čtvrtě hodiny byli jsme v Uh. Brodě. Nemohla jsem unést svůj baťoh. Dali jsme ho tedy na nákladní auto, tatínek, Trude a Lea jeli také.
… Vzala jsem si 2 chlebníky a a 2 tašky a šla jsem. Když jsem došla do reálky, kde jsme byli kasernovaný, myslela jsem, že upadnu. Paní Vepřekovská mě zavedla k tetě. Ležíme na jedné matraci…
— (Z deníku Helgy Pollakové, popisuje odjezd Židů z Kyjova ke shromaždišti v Uherském Brodě), Brenner-Wonschicková, Hannelore: Děvčata z pokoje 28, Přátelství, naděje a přežití v Terezíně, Barrister & Principal, Praha, 2006, ISBN: 80-87029-03-8.