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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

The story of Jindřich Jetel, one of the executed man in the Ghetto Terezín

A wedding photo of Věra and Jindřich Jetel. Private archive of Ludmila Chládková.

A wedding photo of Věra and Jindřich Jetel. Private archive of Ludmila Chládková.


Events That Shook the Ghetto

During the three and a half years of its existence (from November 24, 1941 until May 1945) the Terezín Ghetto passed through specific developments and changes. The following article is aimed at tracing its very beginnings.

From the first days it was the Nazi Command that wielded ultimate power and held the key position in the Ghetto. It also issued all the instructions and especially numerous bans. On December 6 the SS Commander Seidl issued an order for the separation of male and female inmates. Women with children under 12 years of age were transferred from their original site in the Sudeten Barracks to the Dresden Barracks; the Magdeburg Barracks was reserved for the Jewish Self-administration. From then on, any contacts between men and women were prohibited, while children and adolescents were allowed to visit their parents only once a week.

Other bans resulted from the fact that until the middle of 1942 Terezín´s original civilian population also lived in the town. They were forbidden by the Command to speak with the Jews, help them or come into any contact with them. But soon enough cases of violation of such orders were discovered – some local citizens were found to have helped the inmates by sending out their letters and arranging meetings with prisoners´ family members. As early as on December 2, 1941, inmates´ postal contact with the outside world was prohibited under the threat of death penalty. However, on December 7 the Ghetto Commander received specific information on the smuggling of correspondence, complete with the names of the persons involved. That was why many inmates were locked up in the Command cellars, the so-called bunkers; this was followed by investigations and negotiations with the Terezín Command’s superiors in Prague on the mode of punishment.

A copy of the first letter of Jindřich Jetel to his wife that was sent from Terezín, part 1. Private archive of Ludmila Chládková.


The thousands of prisoners received information on everything that was going on in the Ghetto, and primarily on what was prohibited, in the shape of printed orders of the day (Tagesbefehl = TB). The Jewish Self-administration began issuing them on December 15, 1941, while addressing the problem of illegal mail relatively very often: TB No. 8 and 9 from December 23 and 24, 1941 respectively briefed the Ghetto inmates on the new arrests due to the smuggling of letters, while the official quarters warned that all mail would be stopped. Soon afterwards, TB No. 12 reported on the ban of mail ordered by the Commander. For its part, TB No. 23 from January 10, 1942 announced: As ordered by the Security Service Commander, nine inhabitants of the Jewish Ghetto had been sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence has been carried out today…
A copy of the first letter of Jindřich Jetel to his wife that was sent from Terezín, part 1. Private archive of Ludmila Chládková.

A copy of the first letter of Jindřich Jetel to his wife that was sent from Terezín, part 1. Private archive of Ludmila Chládková.


This cruel statement was preceded by days and sleepless nights when the Jewish Self-administration had to arrange the construction of gallows behind the Aussig Barracks, find a hangman and have a mass grave dug out before the execution. In addition to the victims themselves, the Jewish Council of Elders, gendarmes as well as SS-men, including the Camp Command, were present at the execution. The convicts received the sentence “for the defamation of Germany“ bravely, some of them shouting “this won’t win you the war“. Kaddish, a prayer for the dead, was secretly officiated in the flat of a Jewish Elder after the execution.

Another seven men were executed for the same reason and in the same manner on February 26, 1942. In the following years there were no other executions in the Ghetto, while violations and trespassings against the prison rules were punished in less drastic ways.

Fate of Jindřich Jetel

One of the nine men executed in the Ghetto on January 10, 1942 was Jindřich Jetel. Between 1992 and 1994 his wife Věra gave us several written documents on the whole case. In them she aptly described their marriage “as a wee bit of happiness and so much tragedy“.

Jindřich, born in Prague in 1920, was a Jewish half-breed, registered with the Jewish Religious Community. Coming from a clerical worker family, he was an electrical engineer by profession. Věra Kurzová, born in Vršovice in 1916, who was of Aryan descent, also joined the Jewish Religious Community before the war. She worked as a private clerk. Both knew each other since their studies and despite opposition of their families they eventually married in Prague on June 5, 1941.

Commenting on the events in Terezín, Věra Jetelová said that after Jindřich´s departure in transport Ak I on November 24, 1941 she received from him several letter assuring her that everything would be all right. In a letter from November 25 he described accommodation in Terezín, work in stuffing mattresses with straw as well as his satisfaction with having a washroom with running water. But he also wrote he had missed his wife and her constant chattering. On November 27 Jindřich wrote to ask for a larger soup dish. Just as other women Věra Jetelová set out to Terezín in December. She came there together with Mrs. Stránská (her husband was also later executed). They saw their husbands, gave them parcels and talked to them across the fence at the barracks. They could not know they were being watched and would be detained. Two gendarmes took them to a guardroom at the Sudeten Barracks. When ordered to hand over clandestine letters from several other inmates from the Ghetto the two women were asked to deliver to their families in Prague, the gendarme began throwing the letters into a large stove. All the signs were that the incident with the letters would not be officially resolved. Then the gendarme, by that time in the presence of a German soldier, wrote a protocol. The women were released and cautioned never to try to visit Terezín again. Before their departure they caught sight of a group of detained men, including their husbands. Then Věra experienced many days filled with apprehensions about the fate of the men in Terezín. All the contacts ceased, a food parcel sent to Jindřich before Christmas was returned to her completely mouldy. Her Prague acquaintances, women whose husbands were also imprisoned in the Ghetto and who had learnt about the execution of the nine selected inmates on January 10, 1942, tried to keep Věra in the dark about this. She learnt the cruel truth much later. She received an official confirmation of the execution of her husband from the Jewish Religious Community in Prague only one and a half year later.

A current location of the memorial with the names of the executed men in the Ghetto Terezín – the Jewish cemetery in Terezín, 2012, photo: Radim Nytl, Památník Terezín.

A current location of the memorial with the names of the executed men in the Ghetto Terezín – the Jewish cemetery in Terezín, 2012, photo: Radim Nytl, Památník Terezín.


At the end, Věra Jetelová wrote: When I met Jindřich, we had no idea what a threat was hanging over us and the whole world. For her, Terezín then turned out to be forever a place of the worst injustice that could not be forgotten.

Chl

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