Theresienstadt

We were told, well we knew, you could take one piece of luggage which was… like a large duffel bag. And we were told to take blankets or eiderdown, because in winter it would be cold. So most of the space in the duffel bag was taken up by an eiderdown. I…A few bits of clothing. I would have liked to have taken another pair of shoes, because the shoes I wore were getting too small. My feet were growing, but I didn’t have another pair of shoes! So that solved that. Young Doctor Bloch had given me two of his chemistry books, and I took the organic one. Instead of shoes, I took a book on organic chemistry.

I was sent down from the loft to this room for young boys of my age. We were then sent to a house. There were houses in the ghetto, not just barracks. And the houses in the ghetto had been built for those trades that supported the Army, the Austrian Army in 1780. And they would be anything from tailors to harness- horse-harness makers, repair. Saddlers and you know, people they needed. Not just soldiers, but what the soldiers needed. And they were empty so we got a room. It was very cramped. There were seven of us in a room about this size with three-storey, three-floor bunk beds. And among them, was one Paul Kling. Now, Paul Kling was a wunderkind on the violin. He had performed with the Vienna Philharmonic at the age of seven. And he was fantastic. And because we had no music in our lives, he would practise or play something about… three feet away. There was no room, really. And it was in the Germans’ interest to have musicians practice for their own nefarious purposes. They wanted to show that the ghetto was quite humane. And therefore there was music going on… And he was one of the musicians. And they had a store of Jewish looted instruments, and they distributed some of these instruments in the ghetto. And Paul picked a good violin and a good bow. I understand that a bow is as important as a violin. I’m no expert on that, but he was. And… So it was marvellous to hear him play. Because as I say, he, he – he was a genius and he carried on.

Anyway, so…as soon as we got to our - the whole thing was tragic-comedy. My mother equipped us for going to Terezin. We had sort of jumpsuits, overalls, and so on. And…We carried all the luggage in. And as soon as we arrived, everything was taken away from us. And I was stupid enough I had - you know, I had a…a brace. And the wire was gold. And that was the first thing they took away from me and I was of course stupid enough to be very pleased…which meant that ever since then I had rabbit teeth. And when we got to Terezin I was put with the girls into the girls’ home, and my brother into the boys’ room - boys’ home - and my father with men and my mother with women. But my career in, in, in, in the girls’ home wasn’t very long either. Because I was constantly ill. I felt - I still feel sorry for my parents. The poor things thought I would never survive; I had one thing after another. I was really seriously ill all the time. And the people in the girls’ home said, “This is enough. We, we are in - fed up with nursing that girl. Let her mother look after her.” And they turfed me out. And I went to live with my mother and she had to look after me. But then we were taken to Auschwitz so she didn’t have to look after me very long either.

I mean obviously there’s an element of just being lucky. But yes, there were contributory factors certainly. That my mother had died in the camp. If she’d have survived, she would have been deported to Auschwitz and she would have carried me into the gas chambers. Because I had no one to take me; I was sort of ‘left’. Because why bother? You know, I’d die anyway. Also, I discovered, again through the internet, a woman – a Czech woman, Aliska Schillinger. Her son contacted me. He’d seen- I’d written a chapter in a book for Bet Shalom, and under my birth name. And apparently his mother had been looking for me, because she had wanted to take me home with her at the end of the war. But she wasn’t married. She was very young. Obviously just after the war, they didn’t know whether I had any family. They wouldn’t allow it. And apparently she’d been looking for me forever you know because she wanted to know what had happened to me. And her son contacted me and told me that her job in Theresienstadt was growing vegetables. You know, obviously for the Nazis. And the guards never realised that when she went in to the vegetable garden she was thin, and when she came out she was fat. And she was hiding vegetables in her clothes for herself obviously but also she brought us vegetables as well. So fresh vegetables were like gold dust in- in the camp. The food was so contaminated. If you ate it you died, and if you didn’t eat you died. So the fresh vegetables were the great life-saver. But I did meet her before she died.

Some would even say, “Oh, you’re lucky you don’t remember”. I said, “Yes, your- you can probably from your point of view, you can say that, but you can’t say that from my point of view ‘cause, you know what you lost, and I don’t know what I lost."

 
 

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