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Petra Fang ist im März 2008 im Projekt »Botschafter der Erinnerung« in Israel Leo Arie Goldschmid begegnet und hat seine Lebensgeschichte festgehalten.
Leo Arie Goldschmid wird 1934 in Wien geboren. Sein Vater stirbt infolge des November-Pogroms und der Verfolgung an einem Herzinfarkt. Ein Freund, jetzt SA-Offizier, versteckt über ein Jahr lang die Familie. Leo Arie Goldschmids Schwester kann auf einem Kindertransport entkommen. Er und seine Mutter werden als Nummer 999/13 und 1000/13 nach Theresienstadt deportiert. 1943 stehen sie auf der Transportliste nach Auschwitz. Doch sie bleiben und überleben. Nach der Befreiung Emigration nach Israel. Leo Arie Goldschmid heiratet, arbeitet jahrzehntelang für die Krankenversicherung und hat heute zwei Töchter und mehrere Enkelkinder.
Lokführer nach Auschwitz warnte Mutter
Leo Goldschmied wurde von einem SA-Offizier versteckt. Dieser half auch, dass die Familie nach Theresienstatt statt nach Auschwitz kam.Leos Eltern stammten ursprünglich aus Galizien, einer Gegend, die vor dem 1. Weltkrieg zu Österreich-Ungarn gehörte und heute zur Ukraine und Polen zählt. Doch schon vor Ausbruch des 1. Weltkriegs hatte sich Leos Vater in Wien niedergelassen und seinen eigenen Herrenschneidersalon eröffnet.
Schicksalsjahr 1934. Sozial und politisch war Österreich in Aufruhr. Der Austrofaschismus warf schon seinen unheilvollen Schatten über das Land. Bürgerkrieg, Putschversuch und ähnliches versprachen keine rosige Zukunft.
In diesen unruhigen Zeiten wurde Leo Goldschmid in Wien, der damals zweitgrößten jüdischen Gemeinde Europas, geboren. Leos Familie wohnte in der Nähe des Praters im 2. Wiener Gemeindebezirk. Die Familie lebte nach relativ traditionellen Werten, zum Beispiel hatte Leo schon als kleines Kind Unterricht in Hebräisch und Bibelkunde.
Der Anschluss Österreichs im März 1938 war für Leo deutlich spürbar. Schon am Tag nach dem Anschluss, erfolgte die Kennzeichnung aller nicht jüdische Geschäfte mit „arisch“ und beim Eintritt in jüdische, wurde man von Nationalsozialisten daran erinnert, dass es sich hierbei um ein jüdisches Geschäft handle. Und schon bald darauf kam es zu Demütigungen und Misshandlungen von orthodoxen Juden auf offener Straße. Nach diesen Geschehnissen wollte Leos Familie das Land verlassen. Zuerst über Köln, wo die Schwester der Mutter lebte, nach Belgien und als dies scheiterte, versuchten sie, in die Schweiz zu gelangen. Doch auch der zweite Fluchtversuch war vergeblich. Der Familie blieb nichts anderes übrig als in Wien zu bleiben. Die Situation der Juden wurde von Tag zu Tag schlechter, bis sie schließlich im Pogrom „Kristallnacht“ eskalierte. In dieser Nacht hätte auch Leos Vater unter Arrest gestellt werden sollen, doch der Mutter gelang es ihn davon zu bewahren: Sie täuschte vor, dass ihr Mann eine schwer ansteckende Krankheit hatte.
Doch nach diesem Pogrom war nichts mehr wie davor, alle Juden hatten neben ihrer Menschenwürde und ihren Rechten auch ihren Besitz, ihre Geschäfte und ihre Firmen verloren und somit auch ihre Existenz. So war es auch Leos Vater ergangen. Gebrochen von vergeblichen Fluchtversuchen, Demütigungen und nun auch noch finanziellen Problemen, starb er 1939 an einem Herzinfarkt. Nun war Leos Mutter allein mit ihren beiden Kindern und versuchte mit allen Kräften mit ihren beiden Kindern ins Ausland zu flüchten. Schließlich gelang es ihr, Leos Schwester, kurz vor dem Angriff des Deutschen Reiches auf Polen, in einem der letzten Kindertransporte nach Israel zu schicken. Leo und seine Mutter hatten keine Wahl, sie mussten in Wien bleiben. Sie hatten allerdings einige wenige gute Freunde und Nachbarn, die ihnen in diesen schweren Zeiten halfen, darunter auch ein Mann, der vor dem Krieg in einer Fabrik für Lokomotiven gearbeitet hatte.
Bald nach Ausbruch des Krieges begann dieser Nachbar als Lokomotivführer zu arbeiten, unter anderem auf einer Strecke, auf der Juden in polnische Konzentrationslager gebracht wurden. Und dieser Mann warnte nun Leos Mutter vor KZs, die damals in Wien noch vollkommen unbekannt waren. Im September 1940 wurde Leo eingeschult. Allerdings nicht in eine gewöhnliche Volksschule, dies wurde durch Rassengesetze untersagt, sondern in eine Schule, die damals nur von jüdischen Kindern besucht wurde, der kleinen Sperlgasse in Wien II. Doch auch diese Schule sollte nicht mehr lange für jüdische Kinder offen stehen, ein Jahr nach Leos erstem Schultag, wurde sie geschlossen. Von nun an war sie eine Sammelstation für Juden, die nach Polen deportiert werden sollten.
Zu dieser Zeit lebten Leo und seine Mutter bei einer Schwester von Leos Vater. Eines Tages wollte letztere etwas aus der früheren Wohnung holen und wurde dabei von einem Helfer der Nazis geschnappt und nach Polen deportiert, wo sie wahrscheinlich ermordet wurde. Aufgrund diesem schrecklichen Ereignis und der Warnung, die Leos Mutter von ihrem Nachbarn erhalten hatte, suchte sie verzweifelt nach einem Weg aus dem Inferno. Unter anderem wurden sie und ihr Sohn von einem früheren Kunden des Vaters, einem Nazi SA Offizier über ein Jahr an verschiedensten Orten im Untergrund versteckt gehalten, bevor er entschied, dass diese Aktion ihn und seine Familie gefährde. Überzeugt davon, dass das „Vorzeigeghetto“ Theresienstadt die beste Alternative für Juden war, „half“ er Leo und seiner Mutter dorthin zu kommen.
Von diesem Tag an waren Leo und seine Mutter keine Menschen mit Namen mehr, sie waren nur noch Nummern: 1000/13 und 999/13.
Im „Vorzeigeghetto“ Theresienstadt angekommen, merkten Leo und seine Mutter allerdings bald, dass das Leben dort sehr hart war. Knapp 60 000 Juden aus Tschechien, Deutschland und Österreich waren schon vor ihnen nach Theresienstadt geschickt worden. Es gab wenig Platz, die Menschen mussten viel arbeiten und Nahrung war ohnehin immer knapp. Es gab getrennte Behausungen für Frauen, Männer und Kinder, welche aus verschiedenen Baracken mit wenigen, meist sehr überfüllten Betten bestanden. Doch Leos Mutter tat auch diesmal alles, damit ihr Sohn nicht von ihr getrennt werden würde. Nach all den Horrorgeschichten, hatte sie nun Angst, dass die Nazis plötzlich alle Kinder direkt nach Polen transportieren würden. Und sie sollte Recht behalten. Im Oktober 1942 begannen Deportationen nach Auschwitz Birkenau. Leos Mutter versuchte auch anderen Menschen zu helfen, sie vor dem nahezu sicheren Tod in Birkenau zu bewahren, doch kaum jemand glaubte ihr, die Lügen der Nazis, die behaupteten, dass Birkenau ein besseres Lager wäre, hatten gefruchtet. Auch Leo und seine Mutter fanden sich 1943 in einer Gruppe von Menschen, die für die Deportation bestimmt waren, wieder. Aber es gelang Leos Mutter, sich und ihren Sohn zu retten. Von da an arbeitete seine Mutter noch härter, denn ihr waren Gerüchte zu Ohren gekommen, dass diejenigen, die am härtesten arbeiteten nicht deportiert werden würden. Und wirklich, dies sollte sich bewahrheiten, denn als die nächsten Deportationen begannen, standen ihre Namen nicht mehr auf der Liste.
Eine Geschichte, die mir Herr Goldschmid geschildert hat, damit ich mir das Leben in Theresienstadt ein wenig besser vorstellen konnte, ist mir besonders in Erinnerung geblieben:
Aufgrund eines Besuchs des roten Kreuzes in Theresienstadt im Jahre 1944 wurden dort kaum Mühen gescheut um ein „jüdisches Paradies“ vorzuspielen. Zum Beispiel, wurde ein neues Kinderheim eröffnet und die Kinder, unter ihnen Leo, neu ausgestattet.
Als schließlich die Inspektion bevorstand wurden den Kindern Sardinen und Schokolade vor die Nase gelegt. Allerdings waren die Verpackungen fest verschlossen und den Kindern war eingebläut worden, diese auf gar keinen Fall anzurühren. Die Tafeln und Dosen waren abgezählt. Außerdem wurden sie, wenn sich Rot Kreuz Helfer näherten, dazu gezwungen zu rufen: „Schon wieder Sardinen und Schokolade. Wir haben keine Lust mehr darauf. Leo und ein Freund, damals kleine Kinder, konnten sich allerdings nicht beherrschen und nahmen eine Tafel und aßen sie auf. Viele Jahre später traf Leo eine der damaligen jüdischen Lehrerinnen wieder. Und sie erkannte ihn sofort als den damaligen Schokoladendieb wieder. Diesmal erzählte sie ihm, dass das Fehlen der Schokolade sie und ihre KollegInnen in Lebensgefahr gebracht hatte. Darum haben sie verzweifelt das Schokoladenpapier gesucht und ein Stück Pappe hineingelegt, sie wieder schön verpackt und unter die anderen, vollen Packungen gemischt.
Wie durch ein Wunder gelang es Leo und seiner Mutter, bis zum Ende des Krieges in Theresienstadt zu bleiben und durch die Hilfe von Leos Schwester bekamen sie relativ schnell ein Visa für Israel und konnten ausreisen.
In Israel studierte Leo und es gelang ihm, sich ein neues Leben aufzubauen. Bis zum heutigen Tag ist er noch berufstätig, früher war er in leitender Position in der größten Krankenversicherung Israels, heute ist er vorwiegend in Projekten tätig.
Leo heiratete und hat heute zwei Töchter und auch schon einige Enkelkinder. Die älteste dieser, Rona, ist genauso alt wie ich und ich hatte das Vergnügen, sie kennen zu lernen und einen Abend mit ihr zu verbringen.
Leos Mutter habe ich leider nicht mehr kennen gelernt. Sie ist schon vor einigen Jahren verstorben und hat nie wieder über ihre schrecklichen Erfahrungen während der Shoah geredet.
Die Schwester von Leos Mutter in Köln, ihr Gatte und ihre beiden Töchter wurden ermordet, wahrscheinlich in Konzentrationslagern in Polen. Der väterliche Teil der Familie und Leos Großmutter hatten mehr Glück, ihnen gelang die Flucht über Italien nach Amerika.
My Life in the Holocaust
By Leo Arie Goldschmid, written 2004I was born in Vienna, Austria, 70 years ago. Vienna was the second largest Jewish community in Europe after Warsaw, Poland. There were then, before the Holocaust, about 180,000 Jews in Vienna. Most of the Jews came to Vienna from around the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My parents came from an area called Galicia. My father came from Lvov which is now in Ukraine. Until the World War I Lvov belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then, between the wars, became part of Poland. My mother came from a little village not too far from Krakow.
My father’s family had prominent members such as: Adolf Stand, Hertzl’s secretary and a well known figure in the Vienna Zionist movement before World War I. In Tel Aviv there is a street with his name; Martin Buber, one of the great Jewish philosophers; he came from Lvov to Berlin and went from there to Jerusalem where he worked for many years in the HebrewUniversity community. We are also related to the great Rabbi Rappaport, the chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Yohannesburg, South Africa who was well known as a leader of the Zionist movement in his country. Another Rappaport, a biochemistry professor and well known scientist in this field of science helped to build the Beilinson hospital in Petah Tikva and was director of the clinical laboratories of this hospital until his death in 1959.
My father came to Vienna before World War I. My father was a well regarded tailor whose clients included Jewish professors from the University of Vienna, as well as doctors and lawyers who sought out the best work.
The neighborhood we lived in was close to the amusement park known as Vienna Prater, whose most outstanding feature was a huge ferris wheel. I remember how my mother took me among the displays and stands with all sorts of games and in particular the booths where there were puppet theaters. We were a very traditional family. At three years old, I was sent to learn in a "Heder" so that as I grew I would be able to deal with instruction in Hebrew prayers and the Bible.
In March 1938 the Germans invaded Austria. Our apartment was situated by a little square with shops. The day after the invasion, the Nazi flag was posted in the windows of some stores and the sign “Aryan Store” was on the doors. The stores that were owned by Jews had guards with swastikas on their arms, reminding all those who entered that this was a Jewish store.
In our neighborhood there lived many orthodox Jews with beards and sidelocks who dressed in traditional clothing, with the women wearing wigs, as was customary in Jewish communities in eastern Europe. The Nazis caught Jews like these, and paraded them as a group in the streets. Jews were taken out in the morning during prayer in the synagogue and made to clean the streets while they were wearing their tefillin and tallit. My sister, older than I, told me once that our father had been made to do this cleaning. I did not hear this from my mother who apparently did not want to tell me.
In light of these events, my father tried to flee the approaching catastrophe in the summer of 1938. At first the Nazis indeed were encouraging Jewish emigration, but other countries did not want to receive us. First, we tried to get into Belgium. We traveled to an aunt, my mother’s sister, who was living in the German city of Cologne in order to cross the border to Belgium to relocate to a nearby city. The border policemen prevented our entrance into Belgium. Our second attempt was to get into Switzerland. With the help of a guide that my father had to bribe with a good bit of money. My father tried to get to Switzerland with a small container of our household goods that was sent in advance to Zurich. If he would have been successful we were then to follow him. After he had already crossed the border he was caught by a Swiss policeman and was forced to return to Austria. The container did reach Zurich and was stored there until the end of the war. It was sent back to us after the war when it was known that we survived.
Another part of the story are my aunt and uncle in Cologne who had two daughters. When they saw all that was happening, they took the two girls, about ages 10 and 12, and put them on a train to Holland, telling them to forget about their past. They arrived in Amsterdam where the Jewish community placed them in a Jewish orphanage. It is known that the children in the orphanage were sent to the death camp,"Sobibor ". My aunt and uncle were apparently sent to the death camps in Poland and we never heard from them again.
I remember that my father returned disillusioned and broken from these experiences. Other family members of course tried to do the same thing, but some of them had more luck on their side. My grandmother, the mother of my father who lived with us succeeded to join my aunt, my father’s sister and her family who managed to travel to Italy and from there to the United States where, with the help of family already living in the U.S., they were able to obtain a U.S. visa.
The night between November 9th and 10th in 1938 was a fateful night for German and Austrian Jews and of course, for all Viennese Jews. This was an aftermath of the assault of young Jew on a cousellor of the German Embassy in Paris who wanted to protest the Nazi abuse of his family. In retaliation for this act, there was declared a general "progrom" in all the Jewish communities in Germany and Austria. The Germans considered that this expression of retaliation would be popular in reaction to their treatment of the Jews and so they burned synagogues, destroyed stores owned by Jews, detained many Jews, especially the men. When they came to find the men to detain them, the searchers rampaged through apartments ruining the furniture. The searches and the detentions continued all day November 10th. My father was in bed pretending to be sick when the SA soldiers came wearing their brown uniforms. My mother told them that he was ill with an infectious disease. This saved him from detention. I remember that they returned in order to check on whether he was up and his illness had been fabricated. This night became known as “Krilstallnacht” because glass had been broken of chandeliers and of the storefront windows of the Jewish stores.
It is important to note that not one person spoke out in Vienna to oppose the course of action taken by the Nazis, nor protested any events. Moreover, the general attitude of the people in the streets appeared happy about the abuse of both the Jews and their possessions.
Jews were compelled to surrender their businesses to “Aryan” ownership and Jews could not work with non-Jews. What happened as a result of these decrees was that most Jews lost their businesses and thus their means of a livelihood. This is what happened to my father. I remember how difficult it was for him without work in the months after the “Kristallnacht.” These things continued through the summer and then my father died from a heart attack two days before the fast of Esther in 1939.
My mother made every effort to get us out from this inferno. She turned to the family living in the United States and in other countries. As a result, my sister, then 13 years old, was sent alone with a youth group leaving the country before the war against Poland began in 1939. After this point, it became impossible to escape the control of the German reich.
The events of Kristallnacht created an atmosphere of fear for all Jews such that mothers kept their children in their homes. As a result of this, I did not have Jewish boyhood friends of my age. We were lucky to have had good non-Jewish neighbors who helped us a great deal during this hard time. One of the neighbors was an engineer in the factory that made railway locomotives. They had a son my age with whom I played well almost daily. When the war began, this neighbor was mobilized and changed to a train engineer’s assistant, which among other routes, partly transported Vienna’s Jews away to the concentration camps in Poland. It was this man who came and told my mother and me what he saw and told her to do everything in order not to be sent there.
In the summer of 1940, before I reached school age, I became sick with a very serious case of scarlet fever and needed to be hospitalized . All the other children that were also in the ward did not stop harassing, deriding and abusing me after coming to know that I am a Jew. The nurses and doctors saw this, but made no effort to stop it.
I tell you these details in order to illustrate how much the Holocaust was the result of how prejudiced the general Christian population was to all Jews and not just a few criminals. The few that tried to help Jews and to protest Nazi actions were themselves in danger of losing their lives.
The fear changed our daily lives into one big nightmare. By degrees, Jews were prevented from every possibility of emigration and were exempted from economic and public life. Children were forbidden to study first in public schools and then in Jewish schools. The breadwinners were removed from most workplaces and were limited in other kinds of commerce. Every contact with the Aryan population was prohibited. Jews were forbidden to use public transportation or the entrances to public gardens and restaurants. The ability to purchase goods was drastically limited. We were required to wear a yellow patch on which there was a black Magen David. The aim of the Nazis was to isolate the Jews, to debase them, and by degrees to destroy them.
In September 1940 I started to go to the school. Of course it was a Jewish school because the Jewish children were forbidden to go to the schools of the general population. This was just a few months before the transports of Viennese Jews to the concentration camps in Poland which began in the winter of 1941. The Jewish school in which I studied was soon closed and the building became the concentration place where Jews were gathered to be sent to the east. It saddens me to tell you that the work of intercepting and concentrating the Jewish population was led by Jews themselves. This was, of course, demanded by the Nazis. There were those, most of them clerks and party hacks within the Jewish community that had been promised that they would receive special services and they would not be treated as badly as the others. Of course these were all lies, part of the Nazi plans. These Jews that were known in Vienna as "ushers" and in the other places as "Kapos." They created further horror and fear within Vienna’s Jewish population.
With our neighbor’s warning about the fate of those Jews who were sent on the transports to the east, my mother searched out every escape route. Among those who helped us was one of my father’s former customers who had become a Nazi SA officer. During more than a year we went from one hiding place to another with the help of Austrian families who endangered their lives for us. We were hidden for some time in a rabbit stable and for a certain period at vacation hut outside of Vienna. Initially, we were with an aunt, an unmarried sister of my father’s, who lived with us. One day she decided that she wanted to take something from our apartment. She was caught by one of the "ushers" that evening and was sent to the east. We never heard from her again and can only surmise what occurred as the fate of so many.
The Nazi officer that helped to protect us became increasingly worried that we endangered him and his family. He said that he knew of a Czech camp that he was told was not so bad and to which he could arrange for us to be sent. So we arrived through the gates of Terezin on October 10th, 1942 in the transport that apparently was the last Jewish transport from Vienna. There were in this transport the "ushers" who had made it their business to arrange for the delivery of Jews to Poland.
Upon departure from the collection location, on the way to the railway station, everyone received a number that followed us throughout this time. My number was 1000/13 and of my mother 999/13. From that very moment we were no longer people, but only numbers. Fortunately this train was composed of the usual passenger cars, unlike the transports that led out to the massacre in Poland, which were freight cars. After a night’s journey we arrived in the morning at a place named Boskovitsa, a station about three kilometers away from the town of Terezin. >From there we were marched with the few possessions that we were allowed to take with us to the camp, guarded by SS soldiers.
The town of Terezin was built within tall, wide, crenellated brown walls which surrounded the many clay buildings. Terezin had been built at the end of the 18th century, by about 1790 approximately, and was designed to serve as a large barracks town for the army of Empress Maria Theresa. Around the army barracks for the ordinary soldiers there had been built homes for the officers and their families and civilians who made their livings from providing services to the army. The townspeople who had lived here before the war, about 7500 people, were evacuated by the Germans when they turned the town into a ghetto.
When we arrived at Terezin, there were already about 59,000 Jews who had come before us. Most of them were Czech and the rest were from Germany and Austria. Later arrived also Jews from the Netherlands and Denmark. Most of those from the German and Austrian Jewish communities were well to do and leaders in their communities There were among them World War I heroes who had received honors for their heroism in service to their homeland. There were also Jews that had converted from Judaism, but who, according to Nazi doctrine, were still racially Jews, and also Jews which were separated from their Aryan spouse.
The ghetto was very congested and we were sent first to be housed in an attic of one of the barracks. All our possessions there were a straw mattress and the few things that we had brought from Vienna. It was autumn and the cold winds blew in from the crevasses between the shingles.
In all the barracks there was food distribution three times a day; we were given allotments of poor food: In the morning – foul coffee with a slice of bread, at noon, a slimy soup of cooked potatoes in a gravy that reminded me of something disgusting, and in the evening some liquid to drink. We, the children, were hungry to eat "something good ". From time to time my mother was oddly successful in getting all sorts of foods that were cooked on the rusty heater that stood in the center of the big attic and was used mainly to heat those who stood beside it.
There was separate housing in the camp for men and women and also for children. In large rooms within the barracks there were crowded beds on the two or three floors and plank shelves for storage of the prisoners’ possessions. The crowding was at times unpredictable. At night, we were not used to the fleas and lice that harassed us. After a little while, we found ourselves a place in one of the large rooms in a barrack where dozens of people huddled. Even despite these conditions, the children were separated from their parents and were organized according to their age and sex in separate residences. My mother did everything that she could to keep me away from the children’s residences from fear that the Nazis would take all the children from the building and send them directly to the transport to the east. I was obliged to be alone all day and not to arouse any attention when my mother went out to work.
It seems that the period of time when we hid in different places in Vienna was good practice for this situation. An education professor from a Berlin university found me one day when he came to visit the women’s section. His wife was housed there with my mother. After that he became my private teacher and taught me everything one can learn under these conditions. He and his wife were sent not long after on a transport to Auschwitz, but that year’s foundation helped me to adjust very quickly later to school after we were liberated from the camp.
In the first months we lived in the camp, children up to the age of 12 lived with their mothers. But the buildings with the large rooms in the barracks had hundreds of women and girls of all ages, including all their children. By degrees, other rooms were opened inside the barracks just for children. The children were assigned according to their ages to residences and within these buildings. They were assigned educators and instructors according to their grades/ability. From age 14, the children were expected to work. By directive, the children in the camp were forbidden to study. However, there were underground classes under the disguise of handicrafts and games. In these rooms within these residences children worked on handwritten newspapers.
Most children in the Terezin camp died. Almost all of them, about 15,000, were sent to death in the east and only one hundred survived. From those years of my childhood in Terezin there remain only thousands of drawings, songs and segments of prose.
In the history of the Holocaust the myth of Terezin as an exemplary camp has been entrenched., but it should be forbidden to forget that more than 33,000 people died there, most of them from weakness and diseases that were caused by malnutrition. Still, it is important to note that in comparison to other concentration camps and the death camps, at Terezin there was not the deadly hunger that left children like small baggy forms, nor were there the starved skeletons that wandered the streets of the other camps; but the children did have hunger that gnawed at their stomachs.
But Terezin was, in reality, only a station from which were sent transports eastward to death, such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and other places. In October 1942 the first transport left the camp for Auschwitz. The prisoners passed the known "selection" by Dr. Mengele and only a few of them, both men and women that seemed fit for manual labor, remained alive. Children and old people were sent quickly to the gas chambers.
At the beginning of September 1943 a transport of families left for Birknau. They were told that they were heading to a new work camp with better conditions than Terezin. This was of course a lie and a deceitful description. My mother knew the truth and told people, but no one believed her. Such was the planful cynicism of the Germans that they would send away one transport of men and later offer their wives the opportunity to join them. We were also assigned to be sent to Auschwitz with this transport, but my mother
who knew the real destination, managed to avoid to be pushed into one of the freight cars of the train.
Here is perhaps the place to say a few sentences about this "camp of the families." Birknau received some of the transports from the Terezin camp. For the first time in the annals of the transports couples were not separated and men were not sent immediately to the gas chambers. Their heads were not shaven as was done customarily at Auschwitz, nor were they forced to wear the prisoners’ gray blue striped uniform. They were permitted to keep the clothes that they had worn at Terezin. They were even permitted to openly write short notes to their family or friends back in the Terezin camp. The goal here, of course was to plant the idea with those who remained in Terezin that the writers were in a relaxed camp. In contrast to all the rest of the camps in the linkage from Auschwitz – Birkenau, these prisoners were not beaten to death and the sick were not sent to the gas chambers, but there was still hunger, many hours standing for an accounting, the cold freezes, and the same hard life conditions. Those that remained alive from the transport that arrived in September 1943, were taken to the gas chamber after all at the end of six months. Among these was the legendary Freddy Hirsh who had arrived at this family camp with that first transport sent to this new place in September 1943. For those who arrived in the later transports there began after some months (in June 1944) a series of "selections" of younger people who were sent to work in Germany. Only a third of them survived the war and the rest were killed in the gas chambers.
After a while, my mother was assigned to the mica factory that was established in the camp. It was a military factory whose product was destined for the airplane industry to supply the German fighter planes. My mother heard a rumor that those who excelled in their work here would not be sent in the transports to the east. Despite the difficult circumstances of a hard and hungry life where everyone tried to evade in all possible ways any backbreaking work, my mother was able to produce double the work of anyone else. The big director of the factory and the camp commander spoke to her and told her "continue your excellent work". And indeed when the next transport was sent to the east, we were not included in it, nor in any other transports. My mother was the only laborer to remain in the mica factory. The others were sent to work elsewhere and were asked to use my mother’s work model.
One of the terrible events that I remember happened one wintery day when all the prisoners in the camp were forced to go outside the gates early in the morning to an area of small hills and valleys. On these hills were soldiers with machine guns poised to fire directly at the prisoners. It was clear that they intented to commit a mass murder. All who were there were forced to stand on their legs until night time and then suddenly were told to return to the camp. I was sick and my mother succeeded in receiving a special authorization for me to remain back behind the camp walls. For a long time, everyone in the camp talked about this event and feared that it would happen again, and that this time the Germans would not retreat from their intention.
We moved within the camp to several different housing arrangements: from the rooms in the barracks, we moved to the former houses of the town’s original inhabitants where many people also huddled in the one room and slept on couches in 2-3 floors. Later, when the population of the camp dwindled, we moved to a house where there were women with their children. It was next to the broken mud walls around the camp. Behind this building was the road that led to Prague. I played there with children from Czechoslavakia, Germany and Holland, most of whom were sent in the last transports that left from Terezin to Auschwitz. I chatted with these children as we tried to understand one another. At first we used body language and then I learned enough phrases in Czech and Dutch to be able to communicate with the other children. Since there were no toys or games we used whatever there was at the moment to make some up. For example, one game we used to play was button football. To play this game, we collected and shared buttons and, when possible, we took buttons from the garments of adults.
In the spring of 1944 I found myself housed for a short period in the children’s residence. This was the housing put together especially for the International Red Cross visit to Terezin’s camp. In preparation for this visit many changes were effected in the camp over a number of months until the event in June of that year. Among some things that were altered there in the camp were the name of Terezin to Jewish Colony and street names, which until then were only indicated by letters and numbers. They were now named such as “Municipality Street", "Lake Street"
and such. Many worried that the mechanism that the SS would use to reduce the congestion would be to send several transport to Auschwitz and Birkenau.
The operations for the embellishment of the place included opening of stores and the planting of lawns and flowers so that the central square would resemble a beneficent city. The houses along the path of the visit were renovated and were to look like cultural centerpieces. Following the Red Cross visit, in September 1944, Terezin was filmed for a propaganda movie about the Jewish “paradise.” When the movie was finished, the deliveries to death in Auschwitz began again. In the Terezin camp only a few remained and to this day, I do not understand why they left us. I can only consider that my mother (and I) were spared because of her work in the military factory and her face to face meeting with the commander.
From the room in which we lived in the last months of the war we could observe the movement on the road outside the gates, which was a forbidden act for which there could have been a heavy penalty. But from the room, when in the last weeks of the war the Terezin camp was under the control of the International Red Cross, we had the courage to peek out to see what was happening outside the gate. What we saw in the darkness gave us happiness and hope. We saw long columns of the German army backtracking and in the night of May 8th in 1945, we heard sudden quiet for about half an hour when not one vehicle nor person seemed to be on the road. I cannot put into words the way we felt the happiness and jubilation when suddenly we heard the formidable noise of tanks that were coming and then approached and then became visible as Soviet tanks.
In the last weeks of the war, the gates opened to transports of prisoners from other concentration camps. They looked like skeletons and they were dressed in the striped garments of prisoners. When they came down from the freight cares, they fell to the ground and started to eat the grass. From the stories that they told us, we began to understand what the dimensions of the Holocaust meant to the Jewish people. After the Russian Army liberated us, it became well known that the Germans had planned to supplement their annihilation work by constructing gas chambers at Terezin instead of transporting people to Auschwitz. Fortunately they did not manage to realize their plans.
Immediately after the liberation and with the arrival of many other prisoners from other concentration camps, there was an outbreak of infectious disease that was caught by many of those who had just left the other camps and spread to those of us who had been living in Terezin. This time it was the Russian Army and its medical staff that imposed severe limits on the camp in order to defeat the epidemic. Again we felt that we were prisoners and unable to enjoy the freedom for which we yearned. After about two months, the plague was under control and we were sent to a refugee camp in Bavaria, Germany, in the area that was part of the American Army’s occupation zone.