Newsletter 2/2018

Ilse Weber and Her Legacy

Ilse Weber with her family, Jewish Museum in Prague.

Ilse Weber´s correspondence, written during the 1930s and 40s, was published as a book in 2012. These are primarily letters sent by Ilse to Britain, to her best friend Lilian von Löwenadler, daughter of a Swedish diplomat, and later also to her son Hanuš. The letters are very open and sincere: readers will learn many details concerning the everyday life of the family, her recollections, opinions of politics and literature, insights on the life in the border region, and many other aspects.

The Weber family lived in Vítkovice near Ostrava. At home they spoke German but their sons Hanuš and Tomík attended Czech schools and both spoke fluent Czech… As for Ilse, she undoubtedly felt her kinship with both the German culture (she was fond of wearing the dirndl, for instance) and the Czech one (she admired Masaryk, loved Karel Čapek and exchanged letters with him). In her letters Ilse mentioned that as a practicing Jewish family they celebrated Chanukah, Pesach, and Prophet Elijah visited the family (instead of St. Nicholas) etc.

Commemorative flyer – Simchath Thora, October 1943; Terezin Memorial, so called Heřman collection, PT 3912, © Zuzana Dvořáková.

During the 1930s, Ilse quite definitely began to espouse the views of Czechoslovakism. She clearly saw the dangers coming from Germany through the Heinlein Party – she wrote on March 28, 1938: Lilian, you should not forget that there are Germans in this country, Germans with whom we have lived in peace and friendship but since the early days of the Henlein movement all of them are Hitler´s supporters. I know none of the Germans who were my friends until recently who would not be lovingly looking up to Germany… Soon afterwards – probably sometimes in early June 1938 – she experienced a dose of Czechoslovak anti-Semitism and wrote: Our children are, of course, Czech but we, adults, spoke German together, after all, it is our mother tongue. And the Czechs are now saying: “How can you speak that language when the Germans harmed you so much?” On the other hand, they ridicule our attempts at speaking Czech: “Look at those Jews! They know how to adapt themselves!” And the street demonstrators recently did not shout only “Germans out!” They did not forget us either…

Memorial album: 1 Jahr Hamburger Kaserne, 1943; Terezin Memorial, PT 5424 (pages 68 and 70).

The situation was still worse after “Munich” (signing of the Munich Agreement in September 1938 – editor´s note) – her letter from October 10, 1938 reads: Anti-Semitism has been spreading alarmingly here. People are shouting at us: “The Jews are to blame for everything! The Jews have sold us out!” Where is the logic of this? But hatred needs no logic… 

From her early years, Ilse showed three different penchants: to children, literature and music. Thanks to her hard-working nature she managed to combine all three preferences, and the results came in several successful books of fairy tales and radio programs for children. The birth of her sons in 1931 (Hanuš) and 1934 (Tomík) affected her professional career but did not put a premature end to it. Her letters show that in spite of her concern for the family Ilse maintained her contact with the Czechoslovak Radio. Nonetheless, the turbulent era gradually put paid to those activities as well, for instance on February 13, 1938 Ilse wrote: …For next month I was promised by Ostrava Radio station a program of reading from my “own works” and I am also expected to prepare a program for children on Mother s Day (in May). So far I haven´t got any children to work with, that amiable teacher I have been working so well for years seems to have recently caught the germ of anti-Semitism and has been prevaricating. What a pity!…

During the late 1930s the overall tone of her letters darkened considerably, their main theme was the hopeless situation in which the Jews had found themselves. Ilse patiently explained to her distant friend how was life in a border town with many German inhabitants, describing the ethnic clashes during the crisis, the tragedy of Jewish refugees after Munich etc. Efforts for “leaving the country” came to be ever more significant subjects of her letters – indeed, the Webers had made several systematic attempts at emigrating, and invested considerable financial means, but all to no avail (to Ilse´s great despair). The only plan that eventually went off (even though several months had elapsed before the parents took the desperate step): at the end of May 1939 the little Hanušek left the country in one of “Winton´s trains” on his way to Britain to meet “Aunt Lilian”.

In this report is mentioned that due to the tireless work of Ilse Weber, who worked here as a carer, the children sickroom with 20 beds was established here in May 1942 and about 369 were treated in the course of time.

The situation of the Weber family was rapidly deteriorating: after the outbreak of the war life in Vítkovice proved to be impossible for the Jews. Her husband Willi found accommodation in Prague and as we learn – from Ilse´s letters to Lilian and later (when Lilian had entrusted Hanuš to the care of her mother in Sweden) to “aunt Gertrude” – about the troublesome life in Prague: Ilse got a job as a seamstress making shopping bags and swimming caps. But she devoted her free time, on Fridays and Saturdays, to her true passion – care for children. She would go to the children´s refuge run by the Jewish community, where – in Ilse´s own words – “her music playing made her virtually indispensable”…

Brief an Mein Kind, one of the most famous poems by Ilse Weber, Terezin Memorial, so called Heřman collection, PT 4109, © Zuzana Dvořáková.

In February 1942, Ilse, Willi and Tomík were deported to the Terezín Ghetto where – according to Willi´s testimony after the war – Ilse´s literary work reached its pinnacle. According to him, Ilse´s concerns and depressions gave way to active work – in Terezín, Ilse asserted herself as a nurse serving in children´s sick bay where (just as earlier in the Jewish refuge in Prague) she primarily played her guitar (smuggled into the Ghetto) to the children and rehearsed various performances. Moreover, after her “working-class” intermezzo in Prague, she got back to art: she began writing dozens of poems and songs, some heart-rending confessions and raw descriptions of the reality of the Ghetto, while her other works were designed to strengthen the hope of her fellow inmates. In the view of many Holocaust survivors who had known her, quite a number of those poems/songs became “folk melodies” and turned out to be ”the property of all the inmates” in the Ghetto.

Only several “neutral” letters from Ilse came to Sweden from Terezín, the last one in September 1944. Shortly afterwards, Willi left by transport to work allegedly somewhere near Dresden (such was the official explanation of the Terezín SS Command), while the real destination was the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Willi hoped that his departure would save the rest of his family from another transport. Yet, shortly after Willi had left Terezín, Ilse with Tomík volunteered for another transport. As a result, Ilse and her younger son fell victims of the last ”liquidation“ wave of transports from the Terezín Ghetto to Auschwitz. Still, her own life story and her literary heritage (buried in Terezín and dug up by Willi after the war) could not be silenced – this is the story of a loving and active life, of a sensitive and suffering woman, story of a devoted mother, and also of constant fighting for what is better in human nature, a story of scoring an inner victory…


From the New Arrivals in the Department of Collections of the Terezín Memorial for 2017

Leo Haas: Vilém Cantor at the filing cabinet, 1943, © David Haas, Daniel Haas, Ronny Haas, Michal Haas Foell.

A major addition to the collections of the Terezín Memorial is a set of 39 drawings and paintings on paper, created in the Terezín Ghetto. In 2017, the collection was donated to the Terezín Memorial by Mrs. Věra Pešinová. These are works of art from the estate of her parents: Vilém Cantor (1907-1981) and Greta Cantor (1912-2001), incarcerated in Terezín from the winter of 1941/42 until the camp´s liberation. Vilém Cantor worked in the Ghetto as head of its Transport Department, which formed part of the Central Secretariat.

The set comprises varied works of art in terms of their subjects – portraits, views of Terezín and of the individual Ghetto objects (gates, ramparts, ditches, barracks), drawings depicting interiors (kitchen, boiler room, prayer rooms), drawings of meetings organized by officials of the Jewish Self-administration etc. These are works by Leo Haas (1901-1983), Bedřich Fritta (1906-1944), Otto Ungar (1901-1945), Karel Fleischmann (1897-1944), Rudolf Saudek (1880-1965), Malvína Schalková (1882-1944), and Otto Samisch (1905-1944). In terms of artistic quality, it is definitely worth to highlight Ungar´s impressive painting of a man and a woman with their luggage, sitting in a transport train taking them to the Terezín Ghetto. The rest of the artworks are unsigned but in view of their art value they were doubtlessly created by the leading artists of the Terezín Ghetto. Many of these works are also noted for their major documentary value.


Workshop – Psychological Roots of Anti-Semitism

The workshop entitled ”The Psychological Roots of Anti-Semitism“ is based on the outcome of a research project carried out by social psychologists who examine the psychological processes leading to extreme forms of violence towards different groups of society. In the course of the workshop, its attendees were introduced to such terms as stereotype, division of people into groups (social categorization), and prejudice. Equipped with thus acquired findings, the participants should be able to understand how could ”ordinary“, educated and –in their previous lives – “moral“ people turned into perpetrators of evil, which culminated in the mass murders of Jews in gas chambers. At the same time, they should be able to explain why the Jews in particular came to be a persecuted group in Europe. The seminar participants will also be acquainted with other factors co-generating an environment conducive to the outbreak of wars and genocide. The methodological basis of the workshop is the method of value education, based on open communication, work in a group proceeding from joint decision-making, as well as search for one´s own answers in a process teaching students to cultivate their inner values and attitudes.


New Worksheets offered by the Terezín Memorial´s Department of Education

Pracovní list s regionálními prvky pro práci se školními skupinami, Vzděl. odd. Památníku Terezín.

Working sheet with the features of the region, Educ. dept. Of the Terezin Memorial.

Basically, there are two types of worksheets newly available for study during the educational programs for elementary schools and lower grades of high schools at the youth seminars, prepared by the Memorial´s Department of Education.

The first kind of the new worksheets serves for interconnecting the region in which the individual students live with the former Terezín Ghetto. At their disposal are 15 worksheets relating to the individual assembly points in the former Protectorate from which Jewish transports were leaving for the Terezín Ghetto.

Pracovní list s regionálními prvky pro práci se školními skupinami, Vzděl. odd. Památníku Terezín.

Working sheet with the features of the region, Educ. dept. Of the Terezin Memorial.

One specific worksheet is also devoted to the border regions seized by the German Third Reich following the Munich diktat. The students will be given a copy of a transport list with the task of finding for themselves, under a specific number, one person about which they will try to get more information from the available personal documents or Holocaust survivors´ testimony.

The other type of worksheet has been prepared for work during visits to the former Ghetto and is focused on providing additional information on the Ghetto´s key functions – notably as a reception and transit facility, as a decimation camp, and a source of Nazi propaganda. To be found in the worksheet will be various documents, excerpts from the Ghetto´s youth magazines and diaries, paintings made in the Ghetto, photographs etc. The pictorial section is supplemented with assignments relating to the given pictures, all this helping to recreate the atmosphere of the Ghetto.


Seminar How to Teach about the Holocaust

Art-dramatic workshop for teachers, seminar „How to teach about the Holocaust“, spring 2018.

The 18th seminar How to Teach about the Holocaust was held this year in the Jewish Museum in Prague and in the Terezín Memorial. The three-day seminar, attended by some seventy teachers form Czech elementary and secondary schools, was held in two rounds (from February 23 to 25, and from March 9 to 11).

Its participants heard lectures on the history of Jewish settlements in Bohemia and Moravia, on the Terezín Ghetto, on the psychological aspects of genocide, on the Roma Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and naturally on the methods of teaching about the Holocaust. The program came complete with three workshops introducing samples of activities offered by the Terezín Memorial and the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno, plus guided sight-seeing tours of Prague´s Jewish Town, the former Terezín Ghetto, and the former Gestapo Police Prison in the Small Fortress. A genuine highlight of the whole event may be seen in the participants´ meeting with the former Terezín Ghetto inmates Hana Hnátová and Helga Hošková.


Review: Michael Gruenbaum/Todd Hasak-Lowy: Somewhere There is Still a Sun

Cover of the book Somewhere There is Still a Sun (Někde ještě svítí slunce), the Czech version, publishing house P3K 2017.

Cover of the book Somewhere There is Still a Sun (Někde ještě svítí slunce), the Czech version, publishing house P3K 2017.

Less than two years ago the Terezín Memorial´s Newsletter reported on the publication of a book written by Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowy and called Somewhere There is Still a Sun. At its end, the report expressed the wish for the book to be translated into Czech within a short time so that the Czech readers too could find an easy access to the story. The wish evidently came true and a book under the Czech title Někde ještě svítí slunce recently appeared on the shelves of Czech bookstores.

The plot of the book is based primarily on Michael Gruenbaum´s childhood memories, namely those from the period between 1939 and 1945, particularly the time of his stay in the Terezín Ghetto. He was deported to the Ghetto together with his mother and sister in 1942. His memories, narrated in the first-person style, come across in the book as a readable adventure story for boys. Fortunately, this is not the kind of novel trying to provide the most attractive description of such adventures, while insensitively manipulating with the reality of the life in Terezín. More probably, the authors used a greater amount of artistic license in presenting the main character who is supposed to look slightly more naïve than the actual model of the figure. Thanks to the frequent questions he asks, the main character gives space to a subtle presentation of many specific aspects of Terezín life, for instance the difference between theft and the so-called swiping (šlojznutí). However, the book is not a mere description of various routine as well as extraordinary events that happened in the Ghetto, it also seeks to capture how such events were perceived by different Terezín Ghetto inmates.

The book can definitely be recommended not only to all readers who want to understand what had happened behind the walls of the Terezín Ghetto but also to readers keen on quality literature for children and youth.

Published in the Czech language by the publishing house P3K, 2017.


The Great War through the Eyes of Painters

letacek_vystava00Exhibition marking the centenary of the end of World War I

Terezín Memorial, foyer of the Small Fortress cinema
September 13 – November 28, 2018

The First World War brought death and suffering to dozens of millions of people. The exhibition depicts this war conflict through the works of art from the collections of the Terezín Memorial. The key exhibits in the first part of the display are drawings and paintings by Theodor Lindner and Hans Denk depicting combat operations and everyday life of the Austro-Hungarian troops from the Cheb-based Infantry Regiment No. 73 in the Serbian, Russian and Italian battlefields. This particular unit fought in the same battlegrounds as the Terezín Infantry Regiment No. 42, but unfortunately no works of art are available in the Terezín Memorial featuring this regiment. On display in the second part of the exhibition, dedicated to the battles waged by the Czechoslovak Legions until the end of World War I, are cycles of lithographs by Otto Matoušek entitled Zborov and Bakhmach. The Czechoslovak Legions were formed in Russia, France and Italy as a voluntary army fighting on the side of the Entente powers against Austro-Hungary and Germany. The successes scored by the Legions made a decisive contribution to the international recognition of the rights of the Czechs and Slovaks to their own independent state and significantly supported the Czechoslovak politicians in exile in their activities. The displayed artworks are supplemented with many other exhibits.

Hans Denk (* 1888 Greiz, † 1971 Heilbronn) graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna; in his career he focused mainly on portraiture and posters. Since his childhood he lived and worked in Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad) where he also designed the painterly decorations of the local Russian church. Just as Theodor Lindner, Denk spent the First World War fighting in the ranks of the 73rd Infantry Regiment. After World War II he was probably moved to the US occupation zone in Germany.

Theodor Lindner (* 1882 Düsseldorf, † 1956 Düsseldorf) attended the Düsseldorf College of Applied Art between 1902 and 1904. He applied himself primarily to genre painting with subjects depicting life in the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries. During World War I he served in the Cheb-based Infantry Regiment No. 73 (as an Austro-Hungarian national). He was seriously wounded in the Russian front on June 30, 1915 and that is why his works from the second half of 1915 are missing in the set of his art capturing the campaigns waged by the Regiment No. 73.

Otto Matoušek (*1890 Plzeň, † 1977 České Budějovice) studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts between 1910 and 1914. In 1915 he began his military service in the Pilsen-based 35th Infantry Regiment and left for the Russian front where he was soon taken prisoner. Following his application, in July 1916 he enlisted in the Czechoslovak Legions, passed a training course for commissioned officers and then held various command posts. After his returned home he stayed in the Army and ended his CO career due to poor health in March 1938. During World War II he joined the underground Nazi resistance movement, was arrested in March 1943 and imprisoned until the end of the war. The themes associated with the Czechoslovak Legions figured prominently in his works.

Department of Collections, Terezin Memorial

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