Historical articles

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

Lisa Miková: her life story

Lisa, 1924 – 1930. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

Lisa, 1924 – 1930. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

Lisa Miková was born in 1922 into a Prague family of assimilated Jews. According to her own narrative, even though she visited the synagogue with her mother and her family celebrated some Jewish feasts, during the Christmas holiday they decorated a Christmas tree just as the families of Lisa´s friends. In her childhood, Lisa perceived no differences between herself and her non-Jewish pals whatsoever, but that was to change radically in the future.

Lisa’s father built his own business in Prague and her mother helped him out. Lisa spent a happy and harmonious childhood. She learnt to speak several foreign languages including Spanish. At the time when emigration was still possible for the family her father did not want to leave the country. In Prague he used to meet Jews coming from the Sudetenland who urged him to leave Czechoslovakia: You have to go away, you’ve got to flee! You mustn’t stay! But my father was a convinced Czech… and said: Nothing like that can happen in our country,1 Lisa later recollected his words.

Lisa with her parents, 1940. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

Lisa with her parents, 1940. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

All hopes for freedom and escape from Czechoslovakia were then dashed by the events following March 15, 1939. For Lisa and her family this particular date spelt the end of all hopes for life in freedom. The borders were closed and just like other Jews in the Protectorate Lisa´s family too came to know the cruel impact of the steadily escalating anti-Jewish measures. Father was forced to pass his business into the Nazi hands and, for a time, he served as an employee of the new owner. At the same time, his access to his own bank accounts was blocked. We wanted to emigrate but nobody wanted to take us,2 says Mrs. Miková.

Lisa, 1939. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

Lisa, 1939. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

Lisa and her family were deported to Terezín on January 31, 1942, the day of Lisa’s 20th birthday. Thanks to her artistic talents she was given a job of a draftswoman in the Technical Office where she met not only distinguished Terezín painters, whose drawings have preserved an inestimable testimony of the true face of wartime life in Terezín. But, first and foremost, she met there her future husband František Mautner (who changed his name to Mika after the war). He worked there as a technical engineer. He came to Terezín with the very first transport Ak 1, the so-called Aufbaukomando. The men who arrived in this transport enjoyed certain privileges and František believed that he would be protected from further transports. To protect his beloved Lisa he decided to marry her in Terezín. He had her name added to his own prison card as his wife and Lisa could then bear his surname.

Another privilege enabled the newly married couple to live together in a tiny “cubby hole“, built by František himself in the attic premises of one building. Lisa celebrated her wedding still with her parents and her mother-in-law. Their next of kin “baked“ for the bride and bridegroom a wedding cake made of bread, saved from previous meals, and spread with marmalade. That was their first wedding in Terezín.

Lisa with her husband, 1945. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

Lisa with her husband, 1945. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

Since the number of non-religious weddings in Terezín was mounting, the situation was becoming uncontrollable for the Nazis. That is why they decided that all civilian weddings concluded in Terezín had to be repeated within two months, and specifically at a town hall in the presence of an official of the Jewish Self-administration and two witnesses. By that time Lisa’s parents were no longer in Terezín. In 1943 they were deported by transport to Poland and Lisa has never seen them again.

While Lisa was still working in the Technical Office she did not know that her husband and some other painters were engaged in underground resistance activities. At her husband’s request she herself drew small maps of the Ghetto with some of its objects marked in different colors. Her husband did not want to tell her what these plans really meant and then he began to regard her continued work in the drawing room dangerous. That was why Lisa went to work in the Ghetto’s farming section. She later learnt that the plans had been smuggled out of the Ghetto in preparation of an eventual uprising. In addition to other accomplishments, she and her husband managed to save extant drawings made by Bedřich Fritta, works portraying the genuine living conditions in the Terezín Ghetto.

Later on the Jewish Self-administration appealed to childless Jewish couples to adopt deserted Terezín children. Lisa and her husband decided to adopt 12-year old Ruth Spier from the German town of Paderborn who was then living in a local children’s home. Her father was a German, her mother a Jewess. When her mother died, father sent Ruth to an orphanage from which she was sent to the Terezín Ghetto. After the war Ruth went to live with her aunt in Britain where her father later contacted her. Still later on, she settled down with a Polish family in Israel. Mrs. Miková has been keeping in touch with her up to this day.

Lisa, 1973. Private archiv of Lisa Miková.

Lisa, 1973. Private archiv of Lisa Miková..

The subsequent events in Terezín affected Lisa just like they did thousands of other Ghetto inmates; and one day she too learnt that her husband had received a call for transport. But her love for her husband prevented her to obey the urgent wishes of her own father to stay on in Terezín and in no case voluntarily report for transports to the East. When her husband left on September 28, 1944 the Nazis announced several days later that the wives of these men could voluntarily report for transport. The Nazis claimed that their men were working on building sites and that their wives would get jobs in kitchens, washhouses or do some light construction jobs. Responding to the Nazi call, Lisa reported for the transport and left for Auschwitz. Hardly surprisingly, she didn’t meet her husband in the camp. Three weeks later she was deported to Freiberg, working there in a factory manufacturing aircraft wings. After an air raid on the nearby Dresden, the factory was closed and the women inmates were sent, after some time, to the camp in Flossenbürg. On their way along the borders of the former Czechoslovakia the women spent nearly two weeks without food and drink. As Lisa recollects, their hardships finally ended thanks to a courageous act by the stationmaster at Horní Bříza near Pilsen. The stationmaster did not allow the train to leave the station, claiming to the commanding SS officer that the track ahead had been bombed and was blocked. He insisted on his claims even though the SS-man was aiming his gun at him. Lisa later learned that the local stationmaster feared that if he had let the train leave his station, the inmates would have been taken to Flossenbürg and all shot dead there. Eventually the transport left in the opposite direction via České Budějovice to the Mauthausen concentration camp. The women arrived in wretched conditions. They had nothing to eat and drink for several days. The Czech inmates in Mauthausen gave Lisa and other new arrivals bread from their own reserves and water, having thus saved their lives. All the inmates drew strength and hopes from the fact that the US troops were approaching. Lisa recalls how other inmates kept encouraging them and constantly repeating: You have to persevere, you have to keep up.3 Mauthausen was liberated by the US troops on May 5. But the inmates had to stay on for another two weeks to recover their strength and be able to go home.

Back in Prague, Lisa was reunited with her husband. While arranging new documents for Lisa and her husband local clerks proceeded from the latest information available before their departure for Terezín when both of Lisa and her husband were still single. The wedding documents from Terezín were lost and the clerks told them: we are terribly sorry but if you want to be married, you have to remarry. And so I got married for the third time,4 Mrs. Miková recollected after the war.

Lisa during the meeting at the seminar for teachers „How to teach about the Holocaust?“, 2016, photo: Jana Havlínová, Památník Terezín.

Lisa during the meeting at the seminar for teachers „How to teach about the Holocaust?“, 2016, photo: Jana Havlínová, Památník Terezín.

Most of her family members did not survive the war. Those who did survive stayed in England after the war. During the first years after the country’s liberation Lisa studied a secondary library school in Leipzig by correspondence and for the rest of her life worked in a bookshops. She has one son named Petr.

Do

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[1] Transkript Miková, str. 2.
[2] http://www.ghetto-theresienstadt.info/pages/m/mikoval.htm
[3] Transkript Miková, str. 38
[4] Transkript Miková, str. 42.

“The Sun of the Camp“– the story of Zdenka Nedvědová-Nejedlá

MÚ AAV, AAV ČR, f. Zdeněk Nejedlý, The collection of photos, k. F3, inv. č. 133, graduation photo of Zdenka Nejedlá, June 1927.

MÚ AAV, AAV ČR, f. Zdeněk Nejedlý, The collection of photos, k. F3, inv. č. 133, graduation photo of Zdenka Nejedlá, June 1927.

In addition to lack of food, work exhaustion and mistreatment by the supervisory personnel, the inhuman conditions of imprisonment in Nazi repressive facilities also brought along dismal hygienic and medical care. To provide sick prisoners with at least the minimum of needed care, the official authorized doctors were helped by numerous doctors, medics and nurses from among the prisoners themselves. Their uneasy aim was, under the given conditions and in shortage of basic medicines, medical supplies and facilities, to create at least seeming conditions for treatment. Among these doctors-prisoners were Mr. and Mrs. Nedvěd, whose human and professional approach remained in the memories of many prisoners.

Miss Zdenka Nejedlá, later Mrs. Nedvědová, was born on 20th August 1908. Despite the humanistic inclinations of her father Zdeněk Nejedlý, she decided to study medicine. At a medical school she met same-age Miloš Nedvěd, whom she married not long after passing the final exam at the university. Soon, their loving relationship was blessed with a baby daughter Hana.

MÚ AAV, AAV ČR, f. Zdeněk Nejedlý, Miloš Nedvěd, k. 3, inv. č. 161, photo of the Nedvěd’s family, undated.

MÚ AAV, AAV ČR, f. Zdeněk Nejedlý, Miloš Nedvěd, k. 3, inv. č. 161, photo of the Nedvěd’s family, undated.

While Zdenka’s affection for small patients resulted in her decision to open a paediatric practice, her husband Miloš immersed, with the same ardour, in studying medical science and research. Soon he became a respected internist at a prominent propaedeutic clinic. From the youth, similarly to their left-wing parents, both of them were engaged in party activities and organizations of the Communist Party.

Nevertheless, the escalated time of the late 30s was not favourable to their carefree family life. They could not put up with the occupation of the rest of the Czech lands, and from the beginning they became involved in the underground movement. In their medical surgeries in Prague, they secretly spread illegal publications and distributed food for the families of the arrested. Unfortunately, the Prague Gestapo soon learned about their activities and arrested Miloš in April 1942 and a few days later also his mother and wife. Small Hana spent the rest of the war in the care of their close relative Mrs. Václava Pohanová.

MÚ AAV, AAV ČR, f. Zdeněk Nejedlý, Miloš Nedvěd, k. 1, inv. č. 46, correspondence of Hana Nedvědová to Miloš Nedvěd, the letter from December 1943.

MÚ AAV, AAV ČR, f. Zdeněk Nejedlý, Miloš Nedvěd, k. 1, inv. č. 46, correspondence of Hana Nedvědová to Miloš Nedvěd, the letter from December 1943.


After half a year’s stay in Pankrác Prison, all three were transported to the police prison in Terezín and then separated. While Marie and Zdenka Nedvědová were placed in the third courtyard, Miloš went to the first courtyard. For their medical education they were almost immediately assigned to perform local health services, which brought along a number of advantages. Not only did they not have to do physically demanding work, but their positions also allowed them to meet while consulting the diagnoses of sick prisoners. Later on they found even more opportunities to meet for at least short moments, e.g. with the possibility to use men’s showers in the first courtyard on Saturdays. “We stripped in the bathroom hall and then should go straight to the showers. To the right there was a door leading to the male infirmary. Men had the keys of that door. I sacrificed showering and when the right moment came, the door opened a little and I could speak to my husband“[1], described Zdenka after the war. These small things and especially the care of sick fellow inmates helped them survive their time in Terezín. Although staying there for only less than six weeks, the testimonies of many prison patients prove that they did their work responsibly and conscientiously. After the war Petr Osvald recalled: “At work I injured my finger and I got blood poisoning in it. Dr. Nedvěd cut my wound and cleaned it, saving so my finger. Dr. Nedvěd was respected in the fortress; he managed the infirmary carefully, and when working he even put on a white coat“.[2]
PT, A 492/1, postcard of Miloš Nedvěd to Václav Pohan from 1. 1. 1943.

PT, A 492/1, postcard of Miloš Nedvěd to Václav Pohan from 1. 1. 1943.


Nevertheless, soon unexpected news came and both of the married couple were put on a transport to Auschwitz. When they arrived in Birkenau in January 1943, they were shocked by the conditions that prevailed there. Just like in Terezín, both of them worked in infirmaries and under non-standard conditions had to heal sick fellow prisoners. However, this work became fatal for Miloš. He was infected with typhus and eventually died in March 1943. Unhappy Zdenka learned the sad news a month later when her body was slowly recovering from typhoid infection. Half a year spent in Auschwitz took away not only her husband but also a lot of her physical strength. Yet, she did not give up hoping that one day she would manage to reunite with her daughter and parents again.

FA PT, 5340/3, photo of Zdenka Nedvědová-Nejedlá made upon her arrival to Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1943.

FA PT, 5340/3, photo of Zdenka Nedvědová-Nejedlá made upon her arrival to Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1943.


FA PT, 4335, the photo made after the liberation of KT Ravensbrück. Zdenka Nedvědová-Nejedlá  is standing  on the very left, May 1945.

FA PT, 4335, the photo made after the liberation of KT Ravensbrück. Zdenka Nedvědová-Nejedlá is standing on the very left, May 1945.


In mid-August 1943, a rumour went around the camp that all local Czech women prisoners were to be transported to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück. Soon after Zdenka’s arrival at that new location, she took care of the sick again. Not only did she try to provide adequate care, but she also encouraged the others in their hope for better times. This part of her nature made her very quickly popular among the women inmates, who gave her a nickname “The Sun of the Camp.” Selflessly she helped both sick women and babies born in the camp.

With the end of the war, all women prisoners of the camp were sent on a death march, with the exception of sick women and nursing staff, who were allowed to stay. This way the camp’s hospital, led by the unofficial commander Zdenka Nedvědová, became the main camp point. Thanks to her determination and the common will of all, the camp was kept in order until the arrival of the Red Army. Instead of leaving the place along with the other released women inmates, she decided to stay after the liberation for some time yet to help build a functioning hospital. She went to Prague on one of the last transports at the end of May 1945. Immediately after returning to her homeland, she sought out her daughter Hana and also her parents, who had returned from emigration.

MÚ AAV, AAV ČR, f. Zdeněk Nejedlý, The collection of photos, k. F6, inv. č. 458, Zdena Nedvědová with her daughter Hana, September 1945.

MÚ AAV, AAV ČR, f. Zdeněk Nejedlý, The collection of photos, k. F6, inv. č. 458, Zdena Nedvědová with her daughter Hana, September 1945.


War experiences aroused Zdenka’s need to deal with the past. Therefore, soon after the war, she joined the Association of Liberated Political Prisoners in Prague and did not hesitate to testify about the horrors perpetrated in the concentration camp Ravensbrück even in front of the British military court.

Although Zdenka was affected by the loss of her husband, brother and brother-in-law, she soon returned to her original profession and worked as a paediatrician again in Prague quarter Podolí. She was dedicated to the issues of health and educational care until 1964, when she retired.

After the war, she continued to be politically active in the Communist Party. However, after she had publicly condemned the Soviet occupation in 1968, she left the party. She died at the age of almost ninety on 14th June 1998.

More about the fates of Zdenka Nedvědová and Miloš Nedvěd is to be found in “Terezínské listy” (Terezín Yearbook) No. 43/2015.

Ha


[1] Terezín Memorial, Collection of Memoirs, No. 1225 (Zdenka Nedvědová).

[2] Terezín Memorial, Collection of Memoirs, No. 979 (Petr Osvald).

The Terezín Ghetto and the Fight against Insects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disinfection and Delousing

Call for the delousing – blank form, A 1255

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————-

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

Chl, Se

Evelina Merová – her life story

Evelina Merová, 1935, private archive of Evelina Merová

Evelina Merová, 1935, private archive of Evelina Merová

Evelina Merová was born on 25th December 1930 to an assimilated Jewish family of Ilse and Emil Landa (Father’s original surname being Löwy). She had a ten-year-older half-sister Lisa. The Landas lived in a modern three-bedroom apartment in Prague’s quarter Letná until 1939, when they had to move out. Father worked his way up to own a company which processed horsehair. Eva, as she was called in short, went to a Czech school and exercised in Sokol. However, the feeling of security, in which she grew up, began to shake with the events of 1938 when, following the annexation of Austria, the relatives of Landa family arrived in Prague among other Jewish refugees bringing along discussions about the war. The persecution of the Jews came in stages through various regulations and orders. The first painful moment for Eva came when she had to give away her canary Punťa. In summer 1940 she already was not allowed to attend Czech schools, nevertheless her father enrolled her in time in the only Prague’s Jewish school. After the classes children often played in the old Jewish cemetery or at the only sports ground where Jews were allowed, the Hagibor.

Eva with her parents, Prague 1937, private archive of Evelina Merová

Eva with her parents, Prague 1937, private archive of Evelina Merová

As the family of Landas were on the list of the deportees to Terezín as well, the whole family had to come to the gathering point at the Prague’s Veletržní Palace on 28th June 1942, and a few days later, on 2nd July, they were deported by transport AAl to the Terezín ghetto. In Terezín, Eva stayed with girls of her age in Kinderheim (children’s home) signed L 410 in room No. 28. “When I think of the really bad years of the war and the Holocaust, there is always a bright point, a beam of light, on my mind – our Heim in the ghetto, our room 28. I spent eighteen months in Terezín. It is not much in an adult’s life, but in the life of a child who is barely twelve it’s almost an eternity. In Terezín, I was deprived of my childhood. I became an adult. I began to think. I came to Terezín as a little eleven-year-old girl, but when leaving the ghetto in a December transport to Auschwitz, I felt almost an adult. The Heim helped me endure much hardship, however, only fifteen girls out of nearly sixty who then occupied room No. 28 were so fortunate. “In the Heim, she was taught drawing by Friedl Dicker- Brandejsová, a well-known painter who worked with children in the ghetto.

Picture of Cinderella drawn by Eva in the Terezin Ghetto, Jewish Museum in Prague, © Evelina Merová

Picture of Cinderella drawn by Eva in the Terezin Ghetto, Jewish Museum in Prague, © Evelina Merová

“She allowed us to play with colours, engage in a flight of fancy, abandon stereotypes – and inside, for a moment, the boundaries of the ghetto, too.” With 14 years of age, young people had to work in Terezín; Eva was assigned to work in horticulture, growing vegetables and fruits for the SS kitchen. This kind of work was very popular among the prisoners for fresh air and a chance, with a little courage and luck, to improve the poor Terezín diet. In December 1943 the Landas found themselves on the list of a transport to the East. Their unknown destination was the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Alike the previous transport in September 1943, the prisoners did not have to go through the selection upon their arrival and were placed in the so-called Terezín family camp. The inmates from both above mentioned transports received an annotation in their personal records saying that after six months of quarantine so-called Sonderbehandlung shall be applied. It was the cover term used for murder, gasification, which was really carried out at the September transport in March 1944.

Eva and her mother were rescued from certain death in July 1944 after a selection found both of them capable of work. They gradually passed through Stutthof, Dörbeck and Guttau camps, where they had to dig anti-tank trenches. During this hard work Eva’s mother died. Eva’s clogs from Auschwitz fell apart, her feet suffered frostbites that eventually made her unable to walk. Therefore she did not join the death march, and in January 1945 she was liberated by the Soviet Army in the abandoned camp in Guttau.

Eva in 1948, private archive of Evelina Merová

Eva in 1948, private archive of Evelina Merová

On a Soviet ambulance train, she met a Jewish doctor Mojsej Ionovič Mer, who proposed to her, an orphan, an adoption. After a short hesitation, Eva agreed and began her new life in Leningrad in the Soviet Union. She was not allowed to speak about her past and all her efforts were focused on the study. After many twists and turns she finally graduated in German studies. She came to Czechoslovakia as late as in the 60s, after accepting the invitation of Erich Kulka and Otto Kraus, who had added her story in their book The Death Factory. On that occasion, she also met the girls she knew from Terezín. Since then she started coming to her former homeland regularly, almost every year, and in the ’90s she settled in Prague permanently. Yet, she often goes to visit her children and grandchildren to St. Petersburg and Frankfurt am Main, and she also devotes her time to discussions with students and adults sharing so her experience in both totalitarian regimes.

Pa

Resources:

Brenner-Wonschicková, Hannelore: Girls of Room 28. Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt, Brno 2007, p. 17.
Merová, Evelina: Opožděné vzpomínky. Životopis, který se nevešel na jednu stránku. (Late Memories. Biography which Exceeded one Page), p. 41.

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