Newsletter 4/2015

The Terezín Ghetto and the Fight against Insects

Jo Spier: Disinfection (disinsectization) of the buildings, Terezín, 1943 – 1945; oficial production, Terezin Memorial, PT 4343, © Peter E. Spier, Dr. Thomas Spier, Celine Spier Polak

Jo Spier: Disinfection (disinsectization) of the buildings, Terezín, 1943 – 1945; oficial production, Terezin Memorial, PT 4343, © Peter E. Spier, Dr. Thomas Spier, Celine Spier Polak

The Terezín ghetto was to serve merely as a stop for Jewish prisoners before their final liquidation in the East as planned by the Nazis. Yet, even this “stop” created conditions which contributed to the deaths of thousands of deportees. From the beginning, there were problems associated with the location and survival of huge amount of people, their nutrition and especially hygiene being more than insufficient. The ghetto inmates suffered from lice, fleas, flies, bedbugs. It was not until later that, thanks to the efforts of the prisoners themselves, people were partially deprived of parasites for some time.

Upon entering the ghetto newcomers became terrified of dirt and devastation left behind by the Wehrmacht soldiers after having cleared the barracks. The barracks served as the first home to the Terezín prisoners, whose placement into civilian blocks started as late as in mid-1942. Quarters were gradually furnished with three-storey bunks and became, considering the huge numbers of newcomers, constantly overcrowded – in December 1941 there were 7,350 prisoners, in June 1942 their number climbed to already 21,269 and in September 1942 it amounted to 60,000. People slept crammed together on narrow beds, which created ideal conditions for the spread of diseases and insects.

Petr Kien: Illustration to the report on the state of health, Terezín, 1942; oficial production, Terezin Memorial, PT 10128

Petr Kien: Illustration to the report on the state of health, Terezín, 1942; oficial production, Terezin Memorial, PT 10128

Efforts to maintain cleanliness and prevent the spread of the epidemic were evident from the outset. Jewish autonomy did everything to help the inmates. The Department of Disinfection, created within the health care, gradually grew to as many as 300 workers engaging also the leaders of quarters and houses, who were obliged to monitor adherence to necessary measures adopted in order to conserve water and to maintain cleanliness. Already in the first weeks of the ghetto existence, a station for combating insects was founded in the Hohenelbe Barracks.

Major problems with lice occurred mainly in the summer of 1942, when transports with mostly elderly prisoners from Germany and Austria started getting in. After several days of journey, people arrived sick, dirty and full of lice (a record on an Austrian transport of 21st June 1942 says that the whole thousand of people on were heavily lice-infested). This fact naturally endangered the other inmates.

Disinfection and Delousing

Call for the delousing – blank form, A 1255

To find a way out of the situation was rather complicated. The capacity of the old shower baths in the Hohenelbe Barracks was insufficient for successful delousing. In a closed and crowded city it was impossible to separate the clean from the unclean. Deloused people constantly encountered with the lice-infested at work, at the barracks, in queues for food rations, etc. The winter of 1942/1943 was in this regard very cruel: the delousing process was interrupted several times, once for the lack of personnel as the result of transports to the East, another time for the lack of excipients…

An inspection of the newcomers to the ghetto was indispensable for the success of the delousing process. Those Infectiously ill were sent to isolation rooms in the hospital, those with lice to a delousing station. On 1st May 1943 shower baths in an old brewery were put into service , which made the delousing process more efficient.

The fight against insects involved further important activities such as inspections of homes, workplaces and other places. They should be repeated at certain intervals. However, conditions in the places where investigations were conducted were very poor. The rooms were dark, overfilled with two- and three-storey beds; every little place was stuffed with clothing, bedding, suitcases, boxes and the like. Often there were no sockets for doctors’ lights, moreover, there was a general lack of lights. Old people were hiding warm clothes, hernial belts, etc. in fear of losing them during the inspection. The unclean fled or hid so that their condition was not disclosed.

Notice to the delousing for Silva Passer, August 1944, A 8434

Notice to the delousing for Silva Passer, August 1944, A 8434

Besides people, disinsectization covered also clothing, luggage and bed linen. It was done by means of vapour, sulphur dioxide, Ventox (clear water-like liquid supplied in cans), and from February 1943 also with the use of Cyclone, a hydrogen cyanide supplied to the ghetto from Kolín (town in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia). Some things were disinsectizated while kept in suitcases and boxes.

In case of lice infestation of quarters, the whole rooms with all the luggage, clothing, beds, etc. were gassed. That way things did not have to be moved to delousing stations. So-called “cleaning service” was responsible for proper cleaning of all rooms, which involved washing the wooden bunks and inserts thoroughly with Lysol water. Gassing was done with the use of the aforementioned chemical means. Although residents were given guidance on how to air a gassed quarter and when to move back, a few people even died as a result of staying in an insufficiently aired room after delousing.

Jo Spier: Caricature of the king of the infection diseases, Terezin, 4. 2. 1944; Terezin Memorial, PT 5212, © Peter E. Spier, Dr. Thomas Spier, Celine Spier Polak

Jo Spier: Caricature of the king of the infection diseases, Terezin, 4. 2. 1944; Terezin Memorial, PT 5212, © Peter E. Spier, Dr. Thomas Spier, Celine Spier Polak

Intrusive insects posed a problem around the ghetto in all age groups. Articles about catching fleas and other vermin appeared in youth and children’s magazines as well, e.g. the children’s magazine Domov (Home) published an article under the headline “A New Kind of Sport” dealing with the endless nocturnal struggle of a man with the flea superiority.

The section Rambles through Terezín in the magazine Vedem describes the operation of a Delousing Station. Fleas, lice and difficulties associated with them became a popular inspiration for the Terezín black humour. With time most of the prisoners became extremely skilful in catching fleas and learned to end their lives between the nails of two fingers. Wives and girlfriends went to the quarters of their men to help them catch fleas on the bunks. There was a custom and necessity to air the blankets and pillows in quarters in the morning in an effort to banish intrusive insects.

The satisfactory situation in 1944 was soon terminated with an influx of evacuation transports to the ghetto in April 1945. People in these transports were hardly recognizable, skinny, sick, filthy, many without shoes, constantly endangered by their tormentors. These people brought lice again into the camp and, in addition, the typhoid epidemic too. The SS made it impossible to carry out the necessary measures to establish quarantine blocks, therefore the lice-infested and deadly ill newcomers often mingled with the original Terezín prisoners. Very soon a new epidemic flared up in the area of Terezín, spread by intrusive insects, the typhus.

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Source:
Terezín očima hygienika (Terezín Viewed by a Hygienist), memoir of J. Pacovský No. 760.
Bondy Ruth: Life with Insects, in: TSD 2005, p.151 – 161

Chl, Se

Conference of Grammar School Students in Banská Bystrica

From the student´s conference in Banska Bystrica, September 2015, photo: Jan Špringl, Terezin Memorial

From the student´s conference in Banska Bystrica, September 2015, photo: Jan Špringl, Terezin Memorial

Two years ago, the Terezín Memorial was addressed by the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) located in Banská Bystrica with a request to cooperate on a joint Slovak-Czech project

aimed at grammar school students in the Czech and Slovak Republics. The project was subsequently adjusted so that the registered Czech students worked on the issues related to the Slovak history during the Second World War, and, on the contrary, the Slovak students dealt with the Czech history of 1939-1945. Their findings were to be eventually presented at a conference in Banská Bystrica.

Participating institutions (The SNP Museum, the Terezín Memorial and the Lidice Memorial) compiled a list of appropriate themes for the students registered in the project, and, at the same time, provided the young researchers with basic sources in electronic form to help them process the issues. The rest was up to the students themselves, possibly their teachers. The project was joint by two schools in the Czech Republic (Grammar School of J. V. Jirsík in České Budějovice and Grammar School in Kladno) and three schools in the Slovak Republic (Grammar School of Jozef Gregor Tajovský in Banská Bystrica, Evangelical Grammar School in Banská Bystrica and Grammar School of Andrej Sládkovič in Banská Bystrica).

The conference was held on 16th and 17th September 2015 in the newly opened education centre of the SNP Museum in Banská Bystrica. The first day was dedicated to students’ papers and presentations of their schools. In terms of historical themes, the Czech students viewed the Slovak National Uprising from the perspective of the uprising and Holocaust survivors in the Slovak Republic. The Slovak students then processed the following topics: Reflection on anti-Jewish laws and regulations in the memories of the Jewish population in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich terror in the memories of the Terezín ghetto prisoners, and the formation of Terezín and Lidice as memory sites in postwar Czechoslovakia. The second day of the conference consisted of tours and activities in the expositions of the SNP Museum and a visit to the national cultural monument Kaliště – a settlement burnt down in March 1945.

Šp

 

Seminar for Czech and Polish Teachers at the Terezín Memorial

Participants of the seminar at the attic in the Magdeburg Barracks, September 2015, photo: Pavel Straka, Terezin Memorial

Participants of the seminar at the attic in the Magdeburg Barracks, September 2015, photo: Pavel Straka, Terezin Memorial


From 2nd to 4th October 2015, a seminar for Czech and Polish teachers, jointly conceived with the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, took place at the premises of the Terezín Memorial under the title Terezín – The Place of Memory. In addition to supplying the participants with lectures on less accented issues related to the Terezín ghetto (postwar reflection on the Holocaust in different European countries, cinematic reflection on Terezín, the development of Terezín as a place of memory, projection of the Polish-Czechoslovak film Border Aisle dealing with an uprising in the Warsaw ghetto) and a tour around the former Terezín ghetto, the seminar brought a unique opportunity for the Polish and Czech teachers to meet for human and professional reasons. Experience was shared not only during the workshop, built on comparison of methods used in Polish and Czech schools, but also in the evenings after the end of the official programme.

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Education Seminar for Czech teachers at the State Museum in Auschwitz-Birkenau

During guided-tour in the State museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, October 2015, photo: Jaroslava Tihlařiková

During guided-tour in the State museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, October 2015, photo: Jaroslava Tihlařiková


From 8th to 11th October 2015, the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in cooperation with the Terezín Memorial and the Czech Ministry of Education hosted the 3rd level of the educational seminar in Poland. During a two-day intensive programme, thirty-nine teachers from various parts of the Czech Republic completed their knowledge on the Holocaust, the teaching methods of this tragic era in human history and the possibilities of mediating the eventful history of the Auschwitz concentration camp to their students.

Most participants appreciated tours around the former camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, as well as a complementary guided tour of places which are inaccessible to visitors of the Auschwitz I memorial site. Accompanied by the historian of the Auschwitz Museum Mr. Miroslav Obstarczyk, teachers visited, among others, block No. 10, where inhumane pseudo medical experiments were exercised on women prisoners, looked in the former gardens of the camp commandant Rudolf Höss, got to the registration centre of the camp and took the opportunity to climb one of the camp watchtowers.

In the section devoted to workshops, participants of the seminar were introduced to the archival and collection funds of the museum and learned about the educational activities of the Auschwitz Museum. In terms of teaching experience, equally beneficial were the presentations of projects implemented by the fellow educators in their schools.

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Project Being at School in the War Years (1938 – 1945)

At the present days a project called Being at School in the War Years (1938 – 1945) is going on at schools of the Czech Republic. It is organized by the Terezin Memorial, the Czech Republic, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, The National Pedagogical Museum and the J. A. Komenský (Comenius) Library in Prague, the Czech Republic, the Terezin Initiative Institute in Prague, the Czech Republic and The National Institute for Further Education, Prague, the Czech Republic.

There are 19 teams and individuals who are involved in this project (pupils, students and their teachers) and they explore and do the research on the topic connected with the project (e. g. – the history of their school, fate of the students or teachers etc. during the years 1938 – 1945 on the territory of the former Czech lands).

Project has several waves, at the moment the participants are doing the research part, then they have to prepare the scenario of the exhibition display about their topic, in June all the teams will meet in the Terezin Memorial at the conference dedicated to their research and during summer and autumn 2016 they will finish their exhibition displays.

The team of organizers has created the facebook profile of this project, where the topic connected with the schools during 1938- 1945 are inserted as well as the information about particular teams and their work on this project.

https://www.facebook.com/skolakemvevalecnychletech/timeline?ref=page_internal

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Editorial board: Naďa Seifertová, Ludmila Chládková, Jiří Kleker
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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.