Historical articles

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…

Kl

Beit Terezin – A Unique Memorial in Israel

Beit Terezin Museum with a floor mosaic depicting the Terezín Ghetto.

Beit Terezin Museum with a floor mosaic depicting the Terezín Ghetto.

Even though the foundation stone to Beit Terezin (also known as Beit Theresienstadt) had been laid already in the late 1960s, the State of Israel officially recognized it as a Holocaust museum (only the third in the country!) as late as in 2011. The reasons are evident. In a way, Beit Terezin had to carve up its own niche in a country where the Holocaust figures as one of the central themes of social life; it had to prove that it was a full-fledged museological institution whose significance would not diminish in the company of the country´s main state Holocaust museum – Yad Vashem. It was a long journey indeed, driven by modest but persistent efforts. The people who stood and still stand behind this remarkable story deserve profound respect.

There were several reasons for the establishment of a memorial institution commemorating the Terezín Ghetto victims in the 1960s; first and foremost, it was a sense of reverence and responsibility towards the wartime victims from Central Europe. This special purpose was wonderfully served by the kibbutz Giv’at Haim Ihud where quite a number of Czechoslovak, German and Austrian Holocaust survivors found their shelter after the war (interestingly enough, the first Jewish Elder of the Terezín Ghetto Jakob Edelstein with his family1 had planned to travel to and settle in that particular kibbutz after the war – but destiny reigned otherwise – since the family was murdered in the Auschwitz I concentration camp). The second cogent argument for the foundation of the memorial at such a great distance from “the crime scene” was the prevailing way of presenting the Ghetto history in the then Czechoslovakia – in actual fact, its communist regime had systematically suppressed any mention or knowledge of the Ghetto and of its Jewish victims. Indeed, any Ghetto Museum at that time existed solely in the “drawers” of the employees of the Terezín Memorial (school groups were then shown only around the Small Fortress, the Ghetto seemed to be out of bounds to visitors). At the end of the 1960s, Prague´s Pinkas Synagogue containing the names of all the victims was again closed down and it was to be expected that this situation would hardly change after August 1968.

It should be noted that similar memorials gradually appeared in Israel – in this case, Beit Terezin ranks among the broader mainstream of attempts on the part of the Holocaust survivors to commemorate their “lost” community, municipality, ghetto or place of their suffering.

However, Beit Terezin has been exceptional in a way since its foundation: it was not designed solely as a memorial to recall the tragic past; the Theresienstadt Martyrs Remembrance Association (founded in 1966) agreed on building a joint center – a kind of multifunctional venue suitable not only for meetings of the Holocaust survivors but also for memorial ceremonies, research and education. Therefore, an archive, library or a classroom were also planned. A unique quality of the project was its location in the centre of a kibbutz – so that it could also serve its inhabitants for their own cultural pursuits.

Exhibition in Beit Terezin devoted to the children in the Terezín Ghetto.

Exhibition in Beit Terezin devoted to the children in the Terezín Ghetto.

The foundation stone to the memorial was ceremonially laid in 1969 but many years had to elapse before its opening – the key issue was to find financial resources, and there was not much money around (members of the Association agreed, for instance, to chip in one tenth of their monthly salaries). But if you happen to visit Beit Terezin today you will be astounded. The architectural design of the site is truly unique (its author is a former Terezín Ghetto inmate, architect Albin Glaser). The whole memorial stands on a hillock surrounded by tall trees, blossoming shrubs and flowers. Having ascended the hillock you will find yourself in a sun-lit space from which you can easily get to one of the buildings lining the central square. The heart of the memorial is the museum building designed by Glaser as a brick dodecagon structure resembling the Terezín fortification. As you open the big gate you find yourself in a smallish round room and you immediately notice that you are standing in the Terezín Ghetto, which stretches out directly under your feet on the museum´s floor in the shape of a mosaic. The wooden opening panels on the walls (another allusion to the Ghetto where all the furniture was hand-made from wooden planks) contain an exhibition devoted to several main subjects, such as, for instance, everyday life in the Ghetto, its Jewish Self-Administration or transports. When visiting the Beit Terezin compound, you can view, in addition to its central building, other specialized displays dedicated to the life of children in the Ghetto (effectively utilizing various artifacts from the Beit Terezin archives: for example, the children´s magazine Kamarád or game of Monopoly made in the ghetto), Terezín´s music and sport, soccer in particular.

The complex comprises the above-mentioned archives whose key asset is a card index listing more than 150,000 Ghetto inmates; it also features other graphic or musical artifacts, documents, photographs etc. The archives library contains some 5,000 books, periodicals, documentaries, photocopies of sheet music etc.

Since 1993 the Education Center, offering educational programs not only to Israeli schoolchildren of various age groups but also to their teachers, university students, servicemen or senior citizens, has been a major part of the memorial. The aspirations of the founders of Beit Terezin, as expressed in its deed of foundation, namely the words: “…we do not want to erect a statue just to commemorate them (our deceased friends), an object symbolizing past suffering that would not be a bridge to the future… “, have come true to the full. The dedicated and patient work pursued by many generations has come to fruition – Beit Terezin is a modern institution that has found its own path into the 21st century.

Kl

From the Terezín Memorial´s Depository

Cinerary Urn of Hermine Mayer as a Recollection of One of the Fates of Austrian and German Jews in the Terezín Ghetto

Cinerary urn of Hermine Mayer today, Terezín Memorial, PT 377.

Cinerary urn of Hermine Mayer today, Terezín Memorial, PT 377.

One of the few 3D collection items, recalling the fate of more than 47,000 German and Austrian Jews deported to Terezín in 1942, is the cinerary urn of Hermine Mayer. The urn was found in 1958 near the former Richard underground factory where the Nazis had ordered one part of the ashes of the deceased Ghetto inmates to be buried in November 1944.

Hermine was born on November 21, 1864 at Hostomice pod Brdy as the first child of Wilhelm and Julie Kauders. The family moved from Hostomice to Spálené Poříčí where Wilhelm taught at a German Jewish school, at least between 1867 and 1876, and where Hermine´s six siblings were born. In later years, the family moved to Höchst (now a quarter of Frankfurt am Mainz) where sisters Hermine and Mathilde Kauders set up a shop selling textiles in 1894. In the fall of 1896, Hermine married Max Mayer and three children were born to the couple – Gertrude (1898), Erich (1900) and Curt (1905). Max died in 1910 and after his death Hermine managed to run the shop herself for another two years. In 1916 she moved with her children in Höchst to a new house on Konrad-Glatt-Straße. Gertrude attended a local secondary school and thanks to her further studies she attained qualification of a certified accountant, and then worked as a secretary in a Jewish company. This business was forced to wind up at the end of the 1930s. Gertrude figured among the founding members of the Jüdischen-Jugend-Bund Höchst, mostly co-organizing its youth evenings. After finishing their studies at a high school, her brothers Erich and Curt worked as tradesmen.

Cinerary urn of Hermine Mayer – after its find in 1958, Terezín Memorial, Documentary Dept. – Photoarchive.

Cinerary urn of Hermine Mayer – after its find in 1958, Terezín Memorial, Documentary Dept. – Photoarchive.

After the Nazis came to power in Germany the regime gradually introduced measures aimed at forcing the Jews out of the country´s economic and social life. First, in September 1939, Hermine and Gertrude Mayer had to move into one of the houses in which the Jews from Frankfurt were concentrated, and then, on September 16, 1942, they were deported by transport XII/3 to Terezín. By that time, Hermine already suffered from severe gout and was committed to a wheelchair. Living in the Kavalír barracks, where old Terezín Ghetto inmates languished, she rapidly lost her will to live and died on October 3, 1942. On October 16, 1944, Gertrude was deported by transport Er to Auschwitz where she probably perished in its gas chamber immediately after arrival.

Stolperstein devoted to Hermine Mayer, source: Internet.

Stolperstein devoted to Hermine Mayer, source: Internet.

The sons of Hermine Mayer managed to emigrate from Germany in time. Erich with his family moved to France and after that country was occupied by Nazi Germany he joined the French underground resistance movement. Later on, he succeeded in leaving Europe and joined de Gaulle´s Free French Forces. He fought in Africa and after the invasion of Normandy he took part in the liberation of the country that had given him shelter before the war. He died in Dijon in October 1979. Curt had immigrated to Palestine and in the early 1980s he was still living in Jerusalem.

The so-called Stolpersteine, cobblestone-size concrete cubes bearing brass plates with the names of the victims of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime, set in the pavement in front of the relevant houses, have also been placed since 2009 in front of the building in Konrad-Glatt-Straße No. 3 in Höchst where Hermine and Gertrude Mayer had spent 23 years of their lives.

Ra

Eva Štichová – her life story

(June 27, 1927 – November 5, 2017)

Eva with her classmates from a Karlín school (second right), first half of the 20th century, Eva Štichová´s private archive.

Eva with her classmates from a Karlín school (second right), first half of the 20th century, Eva Štichová´s private archive.

Eva was born in 1927 in Nový Bohumín as Eva Beldová. At the age of two she moved with her parents to Prague, while the family still maintained close ties with their relatives in the Těšín district and Silesia. During her vacations Eva would often come back to stay with her granny.
Eva´s parents hailed from an area known for its profoundly religious Jewish community, which was also reflected in the Belda family life. In Prague they maintained a kosher household, the family used to go to a synagogue for major holidays. Her father worked in the Bromografia company publishing art books and photographs. Eva attended a Czech school, her friends being Czech children without any regard for their religious conviction. However, later on she had to leave the school because of her Jewish origin and since then she befriended mostly Jewish youngsters who shared a similar fate with her. In 1941 she began working in a factory manufacturing condensers. It was there that she first came into contact with the underground resistance movement in which she became involved.

Eva in the 1930s, Eva Štichová´s private archive.

Eva in the 1930s, Eva Štichová´s private archive.

She received an order to a transport to the Terezín Ghetto in the fall of 1942. She left for Terezín alone even though her father and the rest of the family volunteered to join the transport to keep them all together.
In the Ghetto Eva lived in the girls´ home L 410, working in a vegetable garden, locally known as ”Crete“. Here, too, she was engaged in the underground work, being in touch with people who greatly influenced her future opinions. These were, for instance, Irena Krausová, Truda Sekaninová, František Grauss and many others.
Eva´s parents and her elder sister Helga were deported to Terezín in early March 1943. But already in the fall of 1943 her parents were put on the list for a transport to the East. They perished in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp while Eva, at that time, had not the faintest idea of their fate.
In the summer of 1944 Eva worked for some three months as an assistant to Friedl Dicker-Brandejs in her art classes. Eva would prepare teaching aids or write headings for children´s drawings. Watching Friedl teach her children proved to be an unforgettable experience for Eva.

Eva came to Terezín in a transport codenamed Bf under the number 11, Terezin Memorial, APT 7394.

Eva came to Terezín in a transport codenamed Bf under the number 11, Terezin Memorial, APT 7394.

Later on Eva was also assigned to a transport to the East, her summons came in the fall of 1944. She left the Terezín Ghetto in a transport designated En on October 4, 1944. Eva always recollected her journey in this transport with a very heavy heart since she had travelled with adults but also with some 500 children, most of them orphans. Eva was very lucky to pass the selection in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and she was soon sent to work in Freiberg. She was in a factory manufacturing wings for jet fighters. With the approaching battlefront the Nazis tried to transfer Eva and her fellow inmates to Flossenbürg. But that camp had already been liberated by the US Army before Eva´s transport from Freiberg could get there. A long and stressful journey, which eventually ended in the Mauthausen concentration camp, awaited the women prisoners, all of them in a sorry state. Eventually, Eva lived to see the camp´s liberation by the Americans on May 5, 1945.
Eva was seriously ill during the first days of peace. Fortunately for her, she was treated by a Czech inmate – surgeon professor Podlaha who operated on her, thus saving her life. Eva returned to Prague on May 19, 1945 but she did not find any member of her family. Later on, one of her cousins and her sister Helga came back. However, Eva refused to return to her parental home and then managed to get small a bedsit. Trying to make up for the lost time she enrolled in the Women´s Teacher Training Institute in Prague. This school predetermined her professional career until the end of her working life.

Eva Štichová, Eva Štichová´s private archive.

Eva Štichová, Eva Štichová´s private archive.

For Eva Mauthausen did not spell only the end of her hardships experienced at the end of the war; the place also brought into her life a ray of hope and eventually enough strength to live on. While in the camp she met another man, aksi a prisoner, Dr. Zdeněk Štich whom she married later in 1945. Her husband´s family cordially received then 18-year Eva who started her ”normal“ life. Eva´s sister also got married and left for the United States. Eva applied herself to bringing up her two children and spent many happy years side by side her beloved husband. In addition to her family, she derived a lot of pleasure from teaching her pupils, a career that spanned nearly three decades.
After the foundation of the Terezín Initiative Eva Štichová became involved in the work of this association. She co-authored a reader called Cesta – cíl neznámý (Journey – Destination Unknown, Academia Prague 1995) and she made very good use of her teaching experience also in the past few decades during countless debates with pupils and students at schools, in the Terezín Memorial and elsewhere.
Eva Štichová´s enormous strength lay in her indomitable life optimism and her laughter which she shared during meetings with her audiences – pupils, students and adults alike. This image of her shall always stay imprinted in our memories.

Se

Paintress Charlotta Burešová

Charlotta Burešová: Girl in a Hoop Skirt, 1942-1945, Památník Terezín, PT 3423, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Charlotta Burešová: Girl in a Hoop Skirt, 1942-1945, Památník Terezín, PT 3423, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Charlotta (Lotka) Burešová was born in Prague on November 4, 1904 into the family of tailor Gustav Kompert and his wife Steffi. She studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in a class of F. Krattner and at the College of Applied Arts in a class of J. Schusser. She married lawyer Radim Bureš; their only son Radim was born to them in 1927. After the war, son Radim worked as a pediatrician and married lawyer and later well-known Czech politician Dagmar Burešová (who served as the Czech Justice Minister). Before WW II Charlotta fully settled into her husband’s milieu; according to her later words she perceived her identity as follows: “As a matter of fact, before the war I never came into any closer contact with the Jewish community. My husband was ´Aryan´, and so were our acquaintances.1

After the occupation of Czechoslovakia their marriage was formally dissolved, even though both partners continued to communicate, also during Charlotta´s imprisonment in the Terezín Ghetto, as corroborated by her recollections for the Terezín Memorial recorded in 1972: “One of the gendarmes (his name was Čipera) even mediated contact with my husband. I burnt all those secret letters in Terezín, while my husband has kept the secret messages from me.“1

Charlotta Burešová: Portrait of Hana Kellnerová, 1942-1945, Památník Terezín, PT 5525, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Charlotta Burešová: Portrait of Hana Kellnerová, 1942-1945, Památník Terezín, PT 5525, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Lotka Burešová was taken to Terezín by transport AAs that left Prague on July 20, 1942. Shortly after her arrival she fell seriously ill with an eye disease. After recovery she was employed, also thanks to her artistic training, in a painters´ workshop where she also obtained accommodation after a time. The workshop was situated on the elevated ground floor of the building standing left of the Terezín church (L 410). Her colleagues in the workshop included Otto Kaufmann–Karas who also devoted himself to music and her younger friend Hana Kellnerová. At first, Charlotta painted pictures on tiles according to postcards and later she could go in for free creation. Burešová and Karas also worked on direct orders from SS officers who also used to come to the workshop. Karas applied himself to landscape painting, Burešová to portraiture and figural painting.

Charlotta Burešová: Sketchbook with drawings – Portrait of Otta Kaufmann-Karas, 1942-1945, Památník Terezín, PT 5549, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Charlotta Burešová: Sketchbook with drawings – Portrait of Otta Kaufmann-Karas, 1942-1945, Památník Terezín, PT 5549, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

The studios were then moved to Jägergasse 9 where Charlotta lived next to an art restorers´ workshop; two of her Dutch colleagues, Cohen and Morpurgo, were employed there. Works of art confiscated by the Nazis were repaired in the workshop. As for the other artists who lived and worked there, special mention should be made of Jiří Valdštýn–Karlínský. Burešová painted here ten portraits of the Jewish Elders. She made portraits of Benjamin Murmelstein, Leo Baeck and Jakob Edelstein, the latter only according to a photograph.
She was summoned to the SS Command in Terezín in July 1944 in connection with a cause involving a group of artists around Leo Haas and Bedřich Fritta. She was not arrested since her involvement in making the drawings seized by the Nazis had not been proved. From that moment until the end of the war her direct superior was the Dutch caricaturist Jo Spier.

Charlotta took part in designing costumes and a curtain for some theater performances prepared at the end of the existence of the Terezín Ghetto. Specifically for the children’s play with songs called Broučci (The Beetles) and for the staging of Rusalka (The Water Nymph) and Lašské tance (The Lachian Dances); however, the two latter performances were not staged.

Charlotta Burešová: Football, 1942-1945, Památník Terezín, PT 5531, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Charlotta Burešová: Football, 1942-1945, Památník Terezín, PT 5531, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

She left the camp on May 3, 1945 when her husband came to Terezín in a car and took her back to Prague.

In the postwar period the paintress devoted herself to traditionally styled still lifes and paintings bearing children’s motifs. During the 1950s and 60s she often illustrated school textbooks and books on psychological and educational themes. She died in 1983.

There are more than 50 of her works in the Terezín Memorial’s art collections (portraits, sketches, genre scenes, costume designs) from the time of her incarceration, plus three paintings made shortly after the war. These reflect the artist’s experience of the time of the dictatorship in the country.

St

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1 Památník Terezín, Sbírka vzpomínek, č. 638 (Charlotta Burešová).

Doris Grozdanovičová – Her Life Story

Doris with grazing sheep during her imprisonment in the Terezín Ghetto, 1943, Památník Terezín, FAPT, A 4423.

Doris with grazing sheep during her imprisonment in the Terezín Ghetto, 1943, Památník Terezín, FAPT, A 4423.

She was born in Jihlava on April 7, 1926, into the family of Karel and Růžena Schimmerling. In 1933 the family moved to Brno where father worked in a bank and later in an insurance company. Doris had a brother named Hanuš who was five years her senior. Both finished their elementary schooling in Brno, while her brother managed to pass his school-leaving examination in 1939. The family had to leave their original apartment in November 1941 and moved into a three-room apartment in Offermannova Street where other Jewish families had already occupied one room each. The family was then deported to Terezín by transport U on January 28, 1942. By that time, Terezín was still inhabited by its original civilian population and the Jewish inmates stayed in the town’s barracks. As Doris recollects, it was in the Schleuse (sluice, in fact a processing point for incoming or outgoing transports) where the family was separated: father and brother were sent on to the Sudeten Barracks, while brother soon afterwards lived in different houses where he also served as an educator. The two women were accommodated in the Hamburg Barracks. Later on, thanks to her labor deployments, Doris passed through a number of other dormitories – she lived in the so-called Western Barracks as well as in the much requested garrets where she stayed either with her friends or alone. Already in the Ghetto the family was grief-stricken when, soon after arrival, their grandmother died of pneumonia; as time went by, the mother began to suffer from health problems and she died after an operation in February 1944. Doris herself had no health complaints. True to say, she underwent hepatitis in the camp and suffered frostbites during the winter months due to incessant work in the open air. But as she herself says, her outdoor labor eventually toughened her and made her stronger.

Tending Lambs

Doris tending her sheep in the Terezín Ghetto, 1943, Památník Terezín, FAPT, A 4424.

Doris tending her sheep in the Terezín Ghetto, 1943, Památník Terezín, FAPT, A 4424.


From the very beginning of her stay in Terezín Doris was assigned to work in agriculture, initially in gardening, later working in the fields. But she spent most of the time as a shepherd girl (some of the former inmates have been calling her “the lamb“ to this day). A herd of sheep numbering 300 heads appeared there in the early summer of 1942. The assigned shepherd girls had to tend the sheep completely, i.e. feed, milk and shear them. During grazing each girl had to look after a heard of some 70 sheep. They even had a shepherd dog named Tiger to help them. Their working day started at seven in the morning and ended at five in the evening, followed by some free time. One of the girls always brought their food portions from the Ghetto to the pasture – but most of all – the girls looked forward to the bucket of food for the shepherd dog because its contents came from the SS kitchen and proved to be much tastier than food for prisoners. Doris used to take a book with her to the pasture, and in addition to tending the sheep she used her time for education and broadening her horizons – after all, she was imprisoned in Terezín at the age between 16 – 19 years; under different circumstances she would have been studying at a grammar school by that time. During her leisure time she would join her friends and make use of the offer of Terezín´s cultural life – operas, cabarets and concerts. In 1943 she also rehearsed for the performance of a fairytale story Princezna Pampeliška (Princess Dandelion), directed by Irena Dodalová. But in the end the performance did not materialize.

Shepherd Girls in Danger

Doris Schimmerling´s registration card in the files of the Czech Help Action; she received the card after her liberation in the Terezín Ghetto in 1945, 1945, APT A 12735/Kartotéka.

Doris Schimmerling´s registration card in the files of the Czech Help Action; she received the card after her liberation in the Terezín Ghetto in 1945, 1945, APT A 12735/Kartotéka.


Doris experienced a period of stress and uncertainty after October 7, 1942. At that time, a man appeared in the field behind Terezín, near the place where Doris, Eva M. and Hana S. were grazing their sheep. He came to help the Ghetto inmates by giving them food. It was Eva standing nearest the benefactor who took over his food parcel. During the evening return to the Ghetto, the gendarmes checking the inmates discovered the food “contraband” on Eva; she was detained and imprisoned in the Dresden Barracks. Doris and Hana were interrogated the following day. In the end, both shepherd girls escaped unpunished, since there was no evidence that they had actually spoken with the civilian or taken anything from him. As time went by, the fear of being assigned to a punitive transport disappeared as well, and the shepherd girls could get back to their work. Only Eva stayed in the jail for a whole month; still, she did not betray the civilian named Karel Košvanec. She maintained contact with the man until the end of the war and his food parcels helped many inmates survive in the Ghetto without persistent hunger.
Doris with her son Jan during their visit to the Urban family in 1963, private archive of Doris Grozdanovičová.

Doris with her son Jan during their visit to the Urban family in 1963, private archive of Doris Grozdanovičová.

A picture of the sheep in Terezín has been preserved to this day. A photo of Doris with her herd of grazing sheep was secretly taken by a civilian foreman driller called Jaroslav Toman. He gave the picture to Doris only after the war and today it figures as an inseparable part of Terezín history.

What Happened Next?

Then came autumn of 1944 and Doris was left alone in Terezín, the only member of her family. Her father and brother Hanuš had been sent to the East with the last transports. Something quite surprising happened just before the camp’s liberation: a Czech gendarme named Josef Urban, who served in the camp at the end of the war, offered to adopt Doris. He and his wife would have liked to look after the deserted girl, especially when their own daughter had died three years earlier. In May 1945 the gendarme arranged a repatriation order for Doris to the town of Kostelec nad Orlicí, where she was supposed to live. But the adoption was never realized.

Doris at present with her own collection of sheep figurines, private archive of Doris Grozdanovičová.

Doris at present with her own collection of sheep figurines, private archive of Doris Grozdanovičová.

When Doris´s brother had luckily returned from concentration camp, they were reunited and together went to Brno (their father perished in Auschwitz, mother died earlier in Terezín). Both Doris and Hanuš decided to study. Within one year Doris finished her grammar school, having made up for the three lost years, and passed her school-leaving examination in 1946. She then graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy (Arts) of the Masaryk University in English and philosophy, while Hanuš specialized in agriculture.

After her studies Doris began to work and live in Prague. In her job of an editor in the Československý spisovatel (Czechoslovak Writer) publishing house she made ample use of her good command of English and German, translating and acting as an interpreter.

Doris during a debate with Přerov grammar school students, January 2017, private archive of Přerov grammar school.

Doris during a debate with Přerov grammar school students, January 2017, private archive of Přerov grammar school.

She has pursued these activities up to this day. She has a son Jan Grozdanovič from her marriage who is a lawyer working in the Czech Republic and England. The family comes complete with two grown-up grandsons. Doris still visits the relatives of gendarme Josef Urban, particularly during Christmas.

Doris lives a rich and varied life. She is an active member of the Terezín Initiative and an executive editor of its magazine. She frequently narrates her unforgettable experiences during debates with students at home and abroad. Encounters with Mrs. Doris are very impressive and unforgettable indeed.

Chl

Correspondence Between the Protectorate and the Ghetto

Charlotta Burešová: Inside the post-office, 1944, Památník Terezín, PT 5544, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Charlotta Burešová: Inside the post-office, 1944, Památník Terezín, PT 5544, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

For the Ghetto Command, correspondence through postal services, as a tool of communication between inmates and the outside world, was the most closely monitored sector subjected to special regulations. Following various restrictions imposed in the first months of the Ghetto’s existence, regular postal service began to develop in September 1942. When corresponding with the outside world, prisoners had to adhere to a number of continuously adjusted conditions, but essentially it was vital to meet the following rules: easily legible messages had to be written exclusively in German and were not allowed to exceed thirty words or a single page of a small postal card. The field of prohibited topics was also strictly defined – texts with political content were inadmissible, writers were not allowed to use abusive language about the Reich and its leading representatives, the ban also covered any negative information on the living conditions in the Ghetto etc. Generally speaking, these restrictions inevitably resulted in more or less uniform messages claiming that the writers were well off.
Charlotta Burešová: At the post-office – parcel counter, 1942 - 1945, Památník Terezín, PT 12468, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Charlotta Burešová: At the post-office – parcel counter, 1942 – 1945, Památník Terezín, PT 12468, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.


Special attention was accorded to censorship. The inmates used special postal cards for writing letters, getting them through Terezín´s Jewish Self-Administration. A written letter then went into the hands of a censor in the camp’s Jewish Self-administration. The censor checked the content of the letter and stamped it with letter “Z“ (referring to the German word Zensur = censorship) and with its own censor’s number. In this way, the censor assumed responsibility for the harmless content of the letter, which could then be passed on to another round of censorship, this time at the SS Command. Only after being checked by SS officers could letters be sent off from Terezín. If the addressee was an inhabitant of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia the letter was sent from Terezín by courier service to Prague’s Center for Jewish Emigration, where employees of the Jewish Community collected the letters, sorted them out, and only then sent them by mail to addressees.

Charlotta Burešová: Post-office in Terezín, 1944, Památník Terezín, PT 5540, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.

Charlotta Burešová: Post-office in Terezín, 1944, Památník Terezín, PT 5540, © MUDr. Radim Bureš.


Owing to the Ghetto’s enormous captive population and also due to the limited capacities of the prison office staff, who censored the mail, registered it etc., the inmates were allowed to send letters only within well-defined cycles. The length of such cycles was continuously changed and ranged approximately from two to three months. If a writer violated the regulations given for postal correspondence, for instance due to his letter’s content or layout, it was returned to the writer by the prison censor with the possibility of promptly writing a new letter. If a second letter also failed to meet the stipulated rules, the writer had to wait for his turn in the next cycle. In spite of the given cycles, introduced due to time-consuming administration of the prison correspondence, its overall volume reached enormous dimensions.

In addition to inmates´ official correspondence in the Ghetto, there also existed an illegal channel through which prisoners dispatched and received mail from their relatives and friends. Some of the local gendarmes and other individuals were engaged in this clandestine system of letter delivery.

Postal card from the Terezín Ghetto from Margarete Zemanek to Ida Svobodová, dated 24. 5. 1942, with the sign of the sensor, 1. page, APT A 7859/K43/Gh.

Postal card from the Terezín Ghetto from Margarete Zemanek to Ida Svobodová, dated 24. 5. 1942, with the sign of the sensor, 1. page, APT A 7859/K43/Gh.


One of the persons selflessly helping inmates was, for instance, Josef Bleha from Terezín who had a small tobacconist’s shop in the town. The early days of his contacts with the inmates dated to the very beginnings of the Ghetto and continued even after the abolition of the town of Terezín in February 1942 and after Bleha´s subsequent moving to neighboring Bohušovice. In the spring of 1943, the Gestapo had ferreted out his illegal contacts and Josef Bleha was arrested and jailed in the Gestapo Police Prison in the Small Fortress. He was later deported to a German concentration camp. He had returned to Bohušovice after the liberation but he kept silent about his wartime support of the Terezín inmates. In recognition of his acts of humanity Josef Bleha received postmortem the title “Just Among the Nations”, awarded by the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem.
Postal card from the Terezín Ghetto from Margarete Zemanek to Ida Svobodová, 2. page, APT A 7859/K43/Gh.

Postal card from the Terezín Ghetto from Margarete Zemanek to Ida Svobodová, 2. page, APT A 7859/K43/Gh.


The prison postal services handled, apart from private letters also the camp’s official mail, parcels etc. Parcels addressed to inmates sometimes came to Terezín opened or their contents were partly stolen; moreover, the local SS Command occasionally seized some deliveries and never gave them to the inmates. This applied especially to parcels sent to the Ghetto by various foreign organizations without the designation of a specific addressee. The situation was better with parcels addressed to specific inmates; acknowledgements of receipt, introduced in mid-1943, contributed to greater probability that the addressee would get his delivery. The same period also saw the introduction of the so-called “allowance stamps” used by the SS Command for regulating but, in actual fact, for reducing the number of parcels sent to the Ghetto.
Allowance stamp, ATP A 12769/K45/Gh.

Allowance stamp, ATP A 12769/K45/Gh.


Many inmates were not at all affected by the above measures since they had nobody outside the Ghetto to send them any parcels. Those lucky ones, who had happened to receive parcels before the introduction of allowance stamps more frequently, were suddenly deprived of them since the acquisition of an allowance stamp had, once again, been subordinated to the stipulated cycles, outside of which parcels could not be sent to Terezín. But these allowance stamps had yet another function – thanks to the accurate system of record-keeping listing the actual senders of parcels, the Nazi Police in the Protectorate had a good knowledge of those inhabitants in Bohemia and Moravia who sympathized with the Jews jailed in Terezín in this way.

Each sender was obliged to insert into his parcel a precise list of contents to be checked out during the delivery in Terezín in the presence of the addressee. Parcels were not allowed to contain prohibited goods, such as cigarettes, tobacco, watches etc. In spite of all those restrictions, parcels meant a considerable improvement of recipients´ living standards. For their part, fellow prisoners often felt envy because parcels not only improved addressees’ material wellbeing but also gave them so urgently needed food. Food parcels in particular were a special temptation for the inmates employed in the Terezín post-office. Some of them, tormented by hunger, could not resist the temptation even though captured thieves were given severe punishment.

The central post-office in the Ghetto changed its location several times during the war. For instance, the building of the former armory, the ground premises of object L 414 in the town square (today’s house No. 612) and other buildings were used for that purpose.

Šm

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