Newsletter 3/2018

“Aussie“ and “Tommy“ in the Small Fortress

Fates of Two POWs Imprisoned in Terezín

There were more than 200 POWs from Commonwealth countries among the inmates who passed through the Gestapo Police Prison in Terezín during World War II. This subject was discussed in an article called Prisoners of War from the Commonwealth in Terezín published in the Terezín Yearbook No. 45/2017. In this edition I would like to trace the specific fate of at least two Commonwealth soldiers, namely Denis McMahon and Thomas Moles.

Denis McMahon

Attestation Form – Denis McMahon´s application for the Australian Army; SOURCE: National Archives of Australia (hereafter NAA): B883, VX41156; MCMAHON DENIS MICHAEL

Attestation Form – Denis McMahon´s application for the Australian Army; SOURCE: National Archives of Australia (hereafter NAA): B883, VX41156; MCMAHON DENIS MICHAEL


The Australian Denis Michael McMahon was born in the small town of Gunbower in the state of Victoria on January 11, 1913. With his wife Ruby Florence they had two children. McMahon joined the army in the town of Caulfield on June 26, 1940. Following a compulsory army training course he set out from Melbourne to the Middle East on September 15, 1940. After nearly one-month voyage his ship landed in the then Palestine on October 12, 1940. There he underwent another spell of military training, and early in April 1941 he was deployed, together with his unit 2/8 Infantry Battalion, in Greece. After the lost battle near the town of Vevi in northern Greece the battalion had to fall gradually back. Due to the losses sustained the unit could no longer take part in further fighting on the Peloponnese Peninsula. Together with his comrades-in-arms, McMahon was evacuated from the town of Kalamity on the night of April 26, 1941.
Personalkarte – personal card of the prisoner of war Denis McMahon; SOURCE: NAA: B883, VX41156; MCMAHON DENIS MICHAEL

Personalkarte – personal card of the prisoner of war Denis McMahon; SOURCE: NAA: B883, VX41156; MCMAHON DENIS MICHAEL

He was among the 394 troops of his unit who, after their transport ship had been sunk, were taken to Crete. On the island they were later attacked by the Germans. Following a lost engagement near the town of Khania they had to retreat southwards to the Sfakia area where, as a rear unit, they waged a delaying fight, covering the ongoing evacuation of British troops. Denis McMahon was captured during this action. On August 19, 1941 he was registered as a POW in the Stalag VII A prison camp at Moosburg in southern Bavaria. During his incarceration in the camp he was sent to work in Munich. Another site on his way through occupied Europe was Stalag VIII B Lamsdorf (now in the Polish town of Lambinowice) whither he was sent on March 14, 1943. He was assigned to do forced labor in this camp as well. He gradually passed through the labor commandos E 563 and E 543, working in the local mines. In January 1945, he set out, together with his fellow prisoners from the Stalag VIII B, on an evacuation march westwards.
Service and casualty form – form B103 of the service record of Denis McMahon, that shows his combat deployment and his subsequent imprisonment in the prisoner camps, Source: NAA: B883, VX41156; MCMAHON DENIS MICHAEL

Service and casualty form – form B103 of the service record of Denis McMahon, that shows his combat deployment and his subsequent imprisonment in the prisoner camps, Source: NAA: B883, VX41156; MCMAHON DENIS MICHAEL


Nothing is known about his fate during the march. But judging by the fact that he was finally imprisoned in the Police Prison in Terezín´s Small Fortress, we can justifiably claim that he had attempted to escape from the march but was unsuccessful. His stay in Terezín is documented by an entry on March 7, 1945 when his name appeared in the prison´s Kassabuch (i. e. Cash-book, it contains records about the movement of the prisoners´ money in the police prison in the Small Fortress, author´s remark). This was followed by an approximately one-month imprisonment in the Small Fortress and on April 4, 1945 he and other POWs left for another march heading to the Bavarian town of Weiden. McMahon survived that march as well and lived to see the end of the war. Traveling via Britain, he returned to his family in Australia on August 8, 1945. Denis McMahon died at the age of 87 years on October 6, 1999.

Thomas Moles

Scant evidence has been preserved on the presence of Commonwealth soldiers in the Small Fortress in Terezín. One of the most interesting items is the inscription preserved on a piece of board of a bunk bed in a cell in the Fourth Courtyard where POWs were kept. The short inscription reads as follows: ”T. H. G. MOLES ENGLISH PRISONER OF WAR IN GERMANY. ESCAPED AFTER 5 YEARS WORKING DOWN MINE. RECAPTURED AFTER 10 DAYS LIBERTY. THROWN IN CONCEN … (end of the word illegible) LAGER. 28. 2. 45.“ This inscription reveals only a few moments from Moles´s harsh wartime fate. And yet, thanks to this information, we have managed to trace down Thomas´s previous wartime history.

Part of a board from a cell of Terezín´s Police Prison bearing the English text written by Thomas Moles; Terezín Memorial, PT 8870

Part of a board from a cell of Terezín´s Police Prison bearing the English text written by Thomas Moles; Terezín Memorial, PT 8870


During WWII he served in the Second Battalion of the Welsh Guard. In May 1940 his unit was speedily deployed to defend the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France where his battalion had landed on May 22. His unit immediately joined the fighting, defending the northern sector of the city. After an engagement lasting several hours there were signs that the defending units could no longer resist the onslaught of the German troops belonging to the Second Panzer Division, commanded by Lt.-General Rudolf Veiel. That was why the order was given for the evacuation of the British troops, which proceeded on May 23 and 24, 1940. But Thomas Moles was not among the evacuees, he was one of the men who took up defense positions around the pier and the railway station in the port, waiting for another ship. They managed to resist for another 36 hours. But no ammunition, coupled with the knowledge that due to the developments on the battlefield no other ship would come, made the remaining British defending troops to surrender. The captured soldiers including Moles had to set out on their reluctant journey to German captivity. He then spent most of the war in the Stalag VIII B Lamsdorf. As we know, he was assigned to work in the mines. During the winter of 1944/1945 the POWs were moved from the territory in the East, threatened by the advancing Red Army, further to the West. During this exhausting transfer he made his escape attempt, which turned out to be unsuccessful, and Moles was recaptured after 10 days and eventually sent to the Terezín prison. He was incarcerated there for about a month. Just like Denis McMahon, Moles and other inmates left the fortress on April 4, 1945.

The two stories are just fragments of the history of the soldiers from Commonwealth countries who passed through the gates of the Police Prison in Terezín, especially in the years 1944 and 1945. However, their wartime experiences greatly differed. Some of them were taken prisoner immediately after being deployed in action, others were already seasoned combatants at the time of their capture. But these differences disappeared during their imprisonment; what these men experienced during their captivity in the Small Fortress probably figured among their worst memories of the Second World War.

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Beit Theresienstadt in Terezín

Employees of Beit Theresienstadt in the Terezín Memorial; pictured on the left is Mr. Jan Roubínek, Director of the Terezín Memorial, shaking hands with Mrs. Dita Krausová (center); on the right is Mrs. Tamy Kinberg, Director of Beit Theresienstadt. Photo: Radim Nytl, Terezín Memorial.

Employees of Beit Theresienstadt in the Terezín Memorial; pictured on the left is Mr. Jan Roubínek, Director of the Terezín Memorial, shaking hands with Mrs. Dita Krausová (center); on the right is Mrs. Tamy Kinberg, Director of Beit Theresienstadt. Photo: Radim Nytl, Terezín Memorial.

Very special and welcome visitors stayed in the Terezín Memorial between May 14 and 16, 2018, namely staff and guides of the Israeli memorial Beit Theresienstadt (more about the memorial – Terezín Newsletter No. 1/2018).

During their stay in Terezín the employees of our allied institution were introduced to the Terezín Memorial´s activities, plans and projects. They viewed its exhibitions, while a lot of time was also reserved for visits to the specialized departments of the Terezín Memorial and for discussions and exchanges of experience with the local researchers and specialists.

One of the highlights of the meetings was a debate with Mrs. Dita Krausová, former Terezín Ghetto inmate and the main character of the book by Antonio G. Iturbe La bibliotecaria de Auschwitz (The Auschwitz Librarian).

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Terezín Commemoration 2018

An act of remembrance marking the last wartime execution in Terezín on May 2, 1945. Photo: Radim Nytl, Terezín Memorial

An act of remembrance marking the last wartime execution in Terezín on May 2, 1945. Photo: Radim Nytl, Terezín Memorial

The traditional Terezín Commemoration was held in the National Cemetery in front of the Small Fortress in Terezín on May 20, 2018. This act of remembrance is organized by the Terezín Memorial in conjunction with the Central Committee of the Czech Union of Freedom Fighters, the Terezín Initiative, the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, the Ústí Region, and the town of Terezín. Czech Minister of Culture Ilja Šmíd took over the auspices of the Terezín Commemoration 2018.
Terezín Commemoration 2018. Photo: Radim Nytl, Terezín Memorial

Terezín Commemoration 2018. Photo: Radim Nytl, Terezín Memorial


The Commemoration was opened at 10:00 a.m. with a ceremony of laying wreaths and flowers. After hearing the national anthem, its participants were welcomed by Mr. Jan Roubínek, Director of the Terezín Memorial; the act of remembrance was then inaugurated by Mr. Jaroslav Vodička, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Czech Union of Freedom Fighters. The key speech was delivered by Mr. Radek Vondráček, Speaker of the House of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, which was followed by Christian and Jewish prayers. The whole program ended with the performance of the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Act III of G. Verdi´s opera Nabucco, performed by the Děčín Choir.

The Terezín Commemoration is held every year, always on the third Sunday in May, at the end of the International Days of Remembrance and Resistance as a legacy of the so called Buchenwald Oath. This contained a declaration, made by the just liberated inmates of the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, stressing that they would not cease commemorating the wartime events until all the roots of Nazism have been eradicated.

At 9:00 a.m. on May 20, 2018 wreaths were also laid in the former execution ground in the Small Fortress to mark the anniversary of the last and also the biggest wartime execution, held there at the very end of the war on May 2, 1945.

Based on Terezín Memorial´s press release

The Hana Greenfield Memorial

Ceremonial announcement of the results of the Terezín Memorial´s competitions in 2018

Stranger, Eliška Hlaváčková (15 years, Brno high school - Slovanské náměstí), third category – Erik Polák Award

Stranger, Eliška Hlaváčková (15 years, Brno high school – Slovanské náměstí), third category – Erik Polák Award


The winners of the Terezín Memorial´s 24th literary competition and its 22nd art contest known under the name The Hana Greenfield Memorial and held this year under the common theme: Home, took place in the cinema of the Ghetto Museum in Terezín on June 6, 2018.

The chief source of inspiration for the participants´ competition entries this time was the fate of Egon Ervín Kish, a well-known Czechoslovak journalist and refugee of Jewish descent. After the country´s occupation by Nazi Germany Kisch lived in France, then in the United States and Mexico. He returned home from Mexico after the Second World War.

Novinář Kisch, Michal Bláha (21 let, SŠ-COPt Uherský Brod), 3. kategorie – 2. místo

Novinář Kisch, Michal Bláha (21 let, SŠ-COPt Uherský Brod), 3. kategorie – 2. místo


While reflecting on his fate, the participating students were given an opportunity to contemplate the following questions and subjects: the true meaning of the loss of one´s home for refugees at that time, the kind of difficulties refugees had to cope with in a foreign country, how did locals probably perceive such refugees, how easy or difficult was it for them to integrate into a new society, what are the chief problems people, fleeing their home countries for different reasons, have to grapple with today, and what is the meaning of “home” for us nowadays etc.?
Happy Home, Kateřina Pilařová (7 years, Chrášťany elementary school and kindergarten), first category – fifth place

Happy Home, Kateřina Pilařová (7 years, Chrášťany elementary school and kindergarten), first category – fifth place


We received as many as 978 competition entries during the school year 2017/2018, out of which 758 were artworks and 220 literary essays.

In addition to most of the winners, the ceremony announcing the competition results was attended by many official guests. Mrs. Michaela Vidláková, representing the Terezín Initiative, an organization associating former inmates of the Terezín Ghetto, addressed the young artists with a speech interspersed with her personal experience. The Brno Children´s Choir, led by its choir leader Valeria Maťašová and with the piano accompaniment by Galina Aleshkevich, gave a concert featuring works by Leoš Janáček and Antonín Dvořák, parts of Bizet´s opera Carmen and the song Flowery Horse, composed by the former Terezín prisoners Karel Reiner and Norbert Frýd.

During the summer of 2018 the winning works of art were on display at an independent exhibition in the foyer of the Ghetto Museum cinema. The lists of the winners are available on the website of the Terezín Memorial in the section Vzdělávání (Education).

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Acknowledgment

Terezín Memorial´s Department of Education would like to thank for the contributions in support of its youth educational programs

We would like to thank those whose donations have contributed to the educational programs of the Terezín Memorial since the beginning of this year.

Robert H. Arnow (USA) devoted his contribution in support of organizing the youth literary and art competition – the Hana Greenfield Memorial in 2018.

Heinrich Ludwig Logeman sent his monetary gift to cover the costs associated with the stay of volunteers coming to the Terezín Memorial for their one-year stay from the Austrian association Gedenkdienst and the German organization Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste, respectively.

Furthermore, we would naturally also like to thank all the other donors for their gifts supporting the Terezín Memorial´s projects other than its educational programs.

Department of Education, Terezín Memorial

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