This is the story of a Czech family, rooted in a peaceful liberal environment not much different from today's US or Western Europe. Because it also was a Jewish family, its peace and security ended abruptly with the Nazi occupation of 1938-9.
The story centers on my grandmother Minna. As a young woman she married Adolf Pächter [Paechter], a successful engineer whose factory made buttons from ivory-like tagua nuts. Adolf was a community leader, much older than Minna when they wed: as long as he lived, she led a happy, carefree existence, but after his death his wealth dissipated and she ended up having to support herself as an art dealer. When Nazi Germany overthrew the Czech republic, she was like most Czech Jews deported to the prison-camp of Terezin (Theresienstadt), where she fought hunger by compiling with her room-mates two books of recipes from the "good old days," as well as poems and more. Against all odds those writings survived the war and many years later, by strange routes, reached her family in the US. However, hunger sickened her (as it did to many inmates) and ultimately she died of it in the fall of 1944, just before most prisoners left in Terezin were given one-way rides to Auschwitz.
Minna's story is entwined with that of Liesl Laufer, the grand-niece who found her in the camp, took care of her and who, shortly after she died, was deported to Auschwitz. Thanks of her courage and luck, she escaped while being marched towards Germany on a snowy road, hiding until the Russian army arrived. Other parts of the story concern Minna's children-daughter Anny, who helped Jews escape the Nazis just before the exit gates slammed shut, and her son Chanoch (Heinz) who married in defiance of Minna and who settled in British Palestine. Some family members escaped to Britain, while others stayed too long and never returned.
One reads these stories and wonders, "what would we have done in their place?" They were very much like us-educated, active members of a liberal society. Could victims of the Holocaust have resisted in some way and survived? The stories suggest that probably not: many were resourceful, but they were isolated inside an occupied nation . The Czech people, unlike others of Eastern Europe, were largely sympathetic to Jews, but they were a defeated society, subjugated without mercy by the Nazis. Most family members who survived were those who fled early, abandoning homes, possessions and careers.
Through interviews and writings, Minna and those around her speak to us here. Here we also read about their lives before WW II, in the Austrian empire and in Czechoslovakia, years of freedom in a peaceful society. Even then life still had its ups and downs due to character and personal choices, as happens in most families.
Minna's Early Years
Minna (Wilhelmina) Pächter was born in 1872, daughter of Heinrich Stein, a Jewish tanner in Hluboka (Frauenberg) in southern Bohemia, not far from Česke Budejovice (Budweiss) . Hluboka has the famous castle and mansion (now a museum) of the princes (Fürste) Von Schwartzenberg, and much of its life used to be linked with that noble family. Hluboka and all of Bohemia were at that time parts of the Austrian empire.
Minna's son Heinz Pächter claimed that Heinrich Stein was a pleasant man, good-hearted and devoted to his family, and an enthusiastic flutist. At times he would close himself in his room and walk back and forth, playing his flute as he walked. His wife, Anna Stein, held the reins. Heinz'es stories suggest she was a hard person, maybe because that was the only way she could control her many children.
She grew up as one of eight daughters and at least one son. Heinz described her as "an honest woman… who loved reciting poetry and pathos, literature and any other kind of art. She had little talent for money… but on the other hand was a top-notch housekeeper. Meals, hospitality, cakes, coffee (most importantly coffee) were turned by her into a virtual ritual (but) accounting and trade were not among her strong points..."
After finishing school Minna lived in Prague with her married sister Agnes Skal and graduated there from a seminary for elementary school teachers. At the same time (Heinz wrote) she secretly visited a famous former theater actress, Anna Wasing-Hauptmann, and learned from her acting and recitation--apparently well aware that her parents would never ever allow her to appear on stage. She had a nice resonant voice and a rich vocabulary, and it was clear that the stage attracted her.
Later she lived for 3 years with an aunt in Budapest, in the Hungarian part of the Austrian empire, where she learned to speak Hungarian. At home she spoke German, the main language of Austria, but was also fluent in Czech, and spoke English quite well.
In 1900 she visited an older nephew, Leopold Kramer, a successful doctor in Prague. Dr. Kramer was a friend of Adolf Pächter, who had lost his second wife Adele two years earlier, and introduced Minna to him. Even though Adolf was older by 27 years, the two fell in love, and were married in Hluboka on 30 December 1900. In the pictures of the wedding, Adolf wears top hat and "frack" (formal tails jacket), Minna a white dress and a very serious face.
Adolf Pächter was the owner of a successful factory in Bodenbach (Podmokly nad-labem), located on the wide river Elbe (Labe), just before it flowed northward across the German border. Originally a village across the river from the castle and city of Tetschen (now Czech Děčín), by the time of Minna's wedding it had grown into a thriving industrial city of its own. Its prosperity can be credited to the 1851 railroad, following the river to Germany and the seaport of Hamburg, an easy way across the mountain chains that border Bohemia. Factories sprung up in the valley next to Bodenbach-and the town, at its northern edge, was recognized as an independent municipality in 1901 (it merged with Děčín in 1942).
Adolf's son Heinz wrote:
"In Bodenbach almost every big business, every large German factory, had a branch. That is easily explained: German was still the local language, yet the place was outside the border, and factories in Bodenbach could supply the giant market of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Thus the town had (hand-written names uncertain) Guy Dralle (perfumes), famous chocolate factories (Joidan & Timans, Ruiges, Hauting & Vogel), "His Master's Voice", Odol, and more and more, a long list. In addition, there was local industry: Leonhardi (ink, pencils, office supplies), Daymon (batteries and electric torches), AEG (underwater and underground electric cables, and electric wiring)--and (also) a number of button factories.
In my time the town had about 10,000 inhabitants (not counting suburbs), plus 12,000 in Tetschen… While Bodenbach was newer, livelier and more industrial, Tetschen was the seat of the duke of Thún-Hohenstein, with his famous palace from the 17th century, from which also came one of the heads of government of (Emperor) Franz-Joseph the First. Tetschen had superior schools, a gymnasium, a whole city quarter devoted to schools, the administration, courts of law etc., a large district hospital, public servants and a quieter, more comfortable life.
There also existed near Tetschen the agricultural branch of the German university in Prague… In Bodenbach existed a Technion (Technikum, school for Engineers) which raised and educated a generation of young people [Many students were Jews], prevented from studying in their own countries by being Jewish, and that added to the Jewish life in the city. In fact Tetschen and Bodenbach were sister cities, a double city, joined in the late 1800s by a suspension bridge (replaced around 1925 by a steel arch).
The area was also rather scenic, and the mountains on the north of Bodenbach (mostly in Germany) are known as the Saxon Switzerland. The city of Bodenbach, built along the road to Teplice, is sheltered beneath a forested steep mountain, ending on the river edge in a steep cliff, the "shepherds' wall."
Adolf was born on 14 September 1846 in Wisonitz near Moravské Budejovice, studied engineering in Vienna, and opened a very successful factory for buttons in Jilove (Eulau) near Bodenbach-Podmokly. Many were made from "stone nuts," the very hard nuts of the Tagua tree of South America. Around 1880 he moved his factory to Podmokly .
Heinz described him in these words:
"My father was short, a bit of a fancy dresser, always clean shaven and cleanly dressed [but later he grew a handlebar mustache, the style of his times]. He loved to wear jewelry, rings, a pocket watch, chains etc. He was very popular among men, who always asked for his advice and help. And he was always busy, involved in public affairs and a tyrant in his family and factory. I know that when he was young, he used to work in businesses in Vienna, Karlsbad and Teplitz. He became a partner in a factory, received insurance money after his first wife died [Martha Hirschl], and founded a factory for buttons--first located near Bodenbach. Around 1876 or 1879 he bought a factory, part of which was already built at its present site and was standing vacant, at the end of Bodenbach."
Adolf married 3 times. In 1873 he married Martha Hirschl with whom he had 4 children and who died in 1890. In 1892 he was married again, to Adele Hirsch who bore two children but died in 1897. Minna was his third wife.
The Pächter Family
When Minna arrived in Bodenbach, she had her hands full, in particular, taking care of Käthe, youngest child of Adele, a high-strung 6-year old. She was put in charge of the big household, in a house of 15 rooms, with 12-15 members sharing meals. "The organization of the household was strict--Adolf was merciless in this matter. Even the menu was rigidly set--in general the arrangement was that every Monday had the same lunch, and so on, Tuesday everyone knew that schnitzel with peas would be served, or on Friday a strudel and no meat…"
Adolf was the president of the Bodenbach Jewish community, with a few hundred congregants. Religious services were held in a garden pavilion made available by Adolf, and Minna headed its organization of Jewish women. Heinz recalled seeing her at a Purim ball dressed up as the empress Maria Theresa, with a wide skirt and a wig of gray locks, a truly imperial figure.
The care of the younger children was entrusted to a German nanny, while Minna was often busy elsewhere. She had a social circle of the "high" Jewish society, meeting once a week on a fixed day, for coffee and cake in one of the ladies' homes, and there were many other such involvements. Among her more serious concerns was the strict diet of Adolf, who suffered from diabetes; insulin was still undiscovered. She closely oversaw the cook, and sometimes cooked for him herself. But according to Heinz (who often clashed with her), up to 1915 she did not appear to have much time to spend with her children. "She was simply distant from us". Of course, some of those children were already young adults.
Adolf insisted that the entire family eat dinner together. As Anny told (with some exaggeration), "…lunch, we ate with a Fräulein, with a governess, but dinner we had with him. And God forbid, (if) I would have not put my elbows [up] as they should be, or. .. got up from the table without saying "may I be excused?" I think he would put me in a room with water and bread."
From the early 1900s she collected antique objects, in particular art. "That hobby later became a profession and livelihood, for which she even passed a test before the Reichenberg commercial bureau, administered by the manager of the [Reichenberg] museum. In general, her aesthetic sense, her knowledge of art, were "in her blood" and expressed itself by her great expertise in diverse arts--theatre, music, opera (especially Wagner's operas), drama and singing. She played the piano, but not well, and as her children became better at that, she stopped playing altogether. Among the writers she loved Schiller most of all…"
"In the years after WW I a new star appeared in her sky: Martin Buber. She recited so frequently his best known book of those times, "Three Conversations about Judaism," that she knew the best among those conversations, the first, by heart."
Adolf had six children by his previous marriages. Gisa (Giselle), Alfred, Rudi and Meta (abbrevation of Margarete but known as "Mimi") were children of Martha Hirschl, his first wife, while Emmy and Käthe were daughters of Adele Hirsch. Emmy and her daughter survived the war, as did Liesl, daughter of Käthe. Emmy was settled in London, but most of the rest of the family ended in the concentration camp of Terezin (aka Theresienstadt ghetto) and were sent by train to Auschwitz in the final transports of September-October 1944. Liesl alone escaped: before that, in Terezin, she found Minna and kept her alive in the ghetto hospital where she worked.
Most of the information about that branch of the family comes from the translation of a memoir in Hebrew by Minna's son Heinz Pächter (renamed Chanoch Ben Aris in Israel).
The Bodenbach Synagogue
In the early 1800s few Jews lived in Bodenbach , but that changed when Austria in 1848 granted freedom of religion to all citizens of its empire. Already in 1875 they would meet for prayer in apartments of members of the community. In the year 1885 a committee was formed to work towards the establishment of a synagogue, and Adolf Pächter made available as prayer hall a garden pavilion erected for this purpose, at his own expense, on his property at the factory. In 1870 the congregation founded a burial society, and in May 1894 it hired its first rabbi, Max Freund.
Later Adolf got together with two other well-off members, Karl August Lingner who founded the Odol company, makers of Odol toothpaste and mouthwash (still sold in Germany) and a Mr. Duschak. Together they provided money for the construction of an ornate synagogue near the main street of Bodenbach, on the steep road to the top of the cliff overlooking the river, the "shepherds' wall" (Schäferwand, Pastýřska Stěna). It was a striking structure in "art-nouveau" style, with Moorish windows, a sanctuary seating about 200 and two domes on top. The glass industry provided opulent chandeliers of Bohemian glass.
Because of the steepness of the site, the synagogue had five different levels. They included offices, a kitchen, an apartment and a smaller meeting room which could be heated and which during the colder months could replace the sanctuary. Embedded in the wall is a foundation stone with the date of 10 March 1907 chiseled in. The congregation employed a rabbi-first one was Max Freund, then Oscar Karpeles, and the last Dr. Farkaš from Slovakia. The congregation also had a cantor; the last one was named Insel, he taught Hebrew and occupied the apartment. In addition the congregation had a caretaker (shamash) and a well-trained choir of members. The synagogue served well until the Nazi occupation at the end of September 1938. The Germans trashed the sanctuary, tore down the balcony and converted the building into storage and a youth club. Practically all Jews-including Minna and her family-fled Bodenbach, most of them moving to Prague, which half a year later the Nazis also occupied. Only one of them came back from the concentration camps-Elisabeth (Liesl) Kaplan, who survived Terezin and Auschwitz, fled a "death march" and reached the Russian army. Minna died in Terezin, and her parents, Liesl's husband Erich Reich, her sister Helena and most other relatives ended their lives in Auschwitz.
Shortly after the end of WW II Liesl returned to Bodenbach together with Dr. Farkaš, both hanging onto the steps of an overcrowded train. Later Dr. Farkaš asked her to come to the synagogue, "There will be a service, I don't know when"
Here is what Liesl told (in 1984):
" I came to the synagogue and I just couldn't believe my eyes. The women's section, which was upstairs, balcony, was all pulled down. The whole synagogue, the Germans used the synagogue for their horses. So the floor, which was of (?), was just broken out. The whole balcony didn't exist any more. The nice wooden benches weren't there, the whole aron kodesh [holy ark. Holding Torah scrolls] was broken out. But, there were a few very primitive chairs, and on these chairs was about a minyan (quorum of 10)… Jews from Carpatho-Russia, who fled to Bodenbach. And there was Dr. Farkaš as the rabbi again, and Löwy, the shamash again. And when I came in they told the congregation that I am really from Bodenbach and that my grandfather erected the synagogue. But I tell you, it was so horrible, it was one of the instances I just sort... well, what happened? It's unbelievable! Where are all the people? And everything gone.
I went to the side room, and in this side room, which was in a much better shape than the synagogue, was a picture of our grandfather. I thought.. I couldn't believe it. But it was there. And I didn't take it down. I didn't take it with me, because I thought it was too heavy… It's been a colored photograph, they somehow colored the photograph, I think, at that time. But it's been, what my mother called the official painting of grandfather. That's been it."
In 1942, under German occupation, the city's status changed, as it became part of its sister-city Děčín across the river.
The neglect of the synagogue continued under the Communist government, which seized power in February 1948. Until the "velvet revolution" of November 1989, which restored democracy, the building was used for storage of official records. For a few more years it continued as a storehouse, but then the new government decided to restore it. On 14 June 1994 the building was returned to the local Jewish community and in 1996 it was declared as one of the cultural monuments of the Czech Republic. It currently serves both as synagogue for the congregation and as civic hall for public lectures and concerts. On 1 September 2007 it celebrated its 100th anniversary. A Torah scroll was restored to it on 2 May 2005 and is again read on Sabbaths and holidays.
WW I to the Nazi Occupation
World War I broke out at the end of August 1914, triggered by the assassination of Austria's crown prince. Germany joined Austria; ever since the days of chancellor Bismarck, it had cultivated a large and strong army, and it quickly became the dominant partner of the "Central Powers" alliance. The "war effort" required many workers of the factory, which itself was kept busy by the government. As it turned out, much of the work was paid by war bonds, which became worthless after the collapse of Germany and the Austrian empire.
Minna enlisted in the "war effort." Bodenbach was a border town, an important railroad station between Germany and Austria of those days. Soldiers passed the station in a constant stream, day and night, and the city's upper-class ladies worked constantly and took turns distributing sandwiches, cakes, coffee and soup to traveling soldiers. She put in half a day's work 2-3 times a week, and later received a German medal for it. Proud of what she did, she kept the medal with her when she was taken to Terezin, and it saved her there from an early trip to the extermination camp.
A photograph of the entire family exists, taken around 1915. Adolf in the center-large handlebar mustache, next to him Minna flanked by her children Anna and Heinz, and the other children all around her, with Rudolf Mosauer, husband of the eldest; Adolf's son Rudi is standing, in military uniform. Mimi also married, forced by Adolf to leave the man she wanted and marry one she did not. Her sister Emmy in 1913 fell in love with a young engineer, Hans Federer, whose brother Oskar was general manager of a large factory in Moravia (Wittkowitze Eisenwerke) of which Hans became chief engineer. Adolf also objected strongly to that match and wrote Hans nasty letters, but Emmy waited and ended marrying Hans in 1917, after Adolf had died.
When the Nazis invaded, Emmy's daughter Marianne was studying in London, but Hans and Emmy had waited too long. They escaped to London (the factory had secured their admission without a visa) after the Nazis occupied Prague, but could only take what they packed in two suitcases. During the war, Hans worked as an engineer for the British. Oskar had escaped earlier and managed to transfer enough property to England for a very comfortable living.
By the time the war broke out Adolf was seriously ill with diabetes. He retreated to two huts on the mountainside behind the factory, and tried to manage his business by phone, delegating many duties to Rudi and Albert, who unfortunately lacked his talent and drive. Minna did not realize that among his visitors in the huts were lawyers, who changed his original will of 1910 or 1912. According to the old will, Minna would have received part of the factory, as would Adolf's 3 sons, and each daughter would receive a very substantial amount of money, in cash and in houses. The new will gave the factory to Alfred and Rudi, and other properties were divided-- Minna got one half of a big rental house in Teplice, and some other houses were also divided among the children. In 1922 she bought out the other shares of the Teplice house, improved it and sold it in 1926 to a Czech school.
In his memoir Heinz wrote:
"On Tuesday, 14 October 1915, my father died, and on Sunday 19 October the burial took place. Our town had never seen a funeral like this: schools, the municipality (my father was a member of the council), firemen, factory workers--a nearly endless procession went from the synagogue to the cemetery. Only then did I see my mother again, dressed in black, with a long veil, supported on the arm of my eldest brother… she cried when the grave was sealed, after eulogies… The situation was gloomy, and as my mother said, was like a house without roof."
After Adolf's death
The change in the will made Minna bitter, and for three years her lawyers fought in vain to overturn it. The prize proved to be less valuable than she believed. Alfred and Rudi were not successful managers of the factory, maybe because of increased competition, especially from Italy, and the factory declared bankruptcy in 1927.
Like Adolf, Alfred also suffered from diabetes, and he died of it shortly after the Nazi occupation. The bankruptcy left him with little property, mainly a permission to continue dwelling in his rooms. All those years he had a relationship with a Christian woman, the accountant Miss Kostubačky, but he did not marry her because she was a Catholic: he would have been expelled from the house and disinherited if he did. Adolf was in many ways a tyrannical ruler of his family: he once slapped Alfred in the face after he forgot to renew the insurance of the house and factory.
Miss Kostubačky stayed with him, even after he lost everything, and later, when the family was imprisoned in Terezin, was the only one who sent it packages of food. After the war Liesl looked for her in Bodenbach in order to thank her, but she had died of cancer a short time earlier.
After Adolf's death Minna moved to a large apartment in Bodenbach, not far from the synagogue. Having earlier on studied art history, she saw she could support herself by trading in old art and jewelry. She applied for and received a permit to maintain a sales shop for antiquities in her apartment, citing her examinations by the museum superintendent in Reichenberg. Living in a border town, she had contacts and customers in both Austria and Germany.
It was actually a good time to get into that line of business, because many holders of noble titles lost income and readily sold family heirlooms. Art was on display in the apartment, and buyers could inspect it there.
" The apartment became a virtual museum and any person who ever saw it--and there are many of those in the country (Israel)--will confirm her good taste. It was a dwelling, and at the same time, not an ordinary dwelling. Everything had a use, and yet almost everything was for sale. There was a yellow salon and a pink salon, but one bright day one of them was sold (or both?). She bought furniture from various places, sent it to be upholstered with fabrics of her choosing, and suddenly one day there appeared a green living room. Her goods included Rococo rooms, French and Viennese Empire style, Biedermeier (that is, 1815 to 1825). She had two giant armoires, one Flemish from 1662, one German Baroque 1675. There were some 10,000 etchings of all periods, in particular Dürer, the famed Callot, French, Czech and German, drawings and so forth. There were two paintings of Laucret (contemporary of Watteau), a special collection of drinking goblets of Karlsbad from the time of Goethe, and a collection of cut glass from different periods. Silver utensils were mainly from the Baroque, the Rococo and up to about 1835. However, there remained wide areas she refused to touch, and she clearly stated that she had no expertise on them, such as Gothic furniture, oriental objects of India, China, Java and Japan, or Roman and Greek antiquities. Any offers of such items she turned down, justifiably.
There were also Gothic and Baroque wall hangings of the 15th and 16th century, and some collections covered special topics. I helped her greatly in assembling these collections and in their description, using the enormous professional library which she had available. (For instance: I collected for her the handwritings of famous persons, which she sold well. I located books, histories of wall hangings, and so forth). She also collected antique Persian rugs, fabric items, ancient needlework and so forth. She had a marvelous taste. One of her best-known pictures was by the Dutchman Meinderd Hobbema, a landscape with poplars and a muddy road, oil on wood.
A great part of my time was devoted to helping her, to produce for her photographs and then assemble them into albums and pictures, which she sent abroad to buyers and to interested persons. Sometimes I worked simultaneously with 3 cameras, all taking 9 x 12 (centimeter) pictures on glass plates. I developed and copied everything by myself, and therefore this did not cost her much and allowed a good profit. For instance, I photographed dozens of miniatures, English, French and Viennese of all periods. But not to forget: the modern era, the era of machines started around 1830-1835, and her interest extended only up to that point. Modern art, for instance, did not exist for her at all. Sometimes she sent me (and later my sister) to various cities, with jewelry, pictures and so forth. But I did not like too much those trips."
She was close to her daughter Anna, but her quarrel with her son Heinz grew more and more confrontational as the years went by. Heinz at early age became concerned with what he saw as spiritual aspects of life. He believed in astrology, also convinced himself he could divine the fate of a person from the wrinkles in his or her palm, and at one time became very concerned with his Jewish heritage. He asked that Sabbath candles be lit, a blessing be said over them and over wine, and that only kosher food be served to him. The household, however, was "liberal," and meals included pork. Minna brought from Prague tasty pork sausages and convinced Heinz that they were kosher. Later in his religious studies class he discovered this was a lie. As he later wrote "Something like this must be absolutely avoided, it destroys the trust a child feels towards his mother…"
ZionismBy that time, most Jews in western Czechoslovakia were drifting away from religion. They were attracted instead to Zionism, aiming at a Jewish revival in the ancient homeland of Israel. That country, ruled by Turks in the years prior to World War I, afterwards became the "British Mandate" of Palestine, an interim state formed by the League of Nations under the stewardship of Great Britain.
The active Jewish community of Bodenbach included a Zionist youth club "Tchelet-Lavan" or in German "Blau-Weiss", after the colors of the Jewish prayer garment. Theodor Herzl later proposed these colors for the flag of his Zionist movement, and they became the flag colors of Israel.
Minna was skeptical. But she did not object when her daughter-6 years old or so-- was brought to the club by an older girl. As Anny later described it, "… in my family nobody knew anything about Zionism... it was not, it was not chic, it wasn't fashionable, Zionists were poor people in Russia, in Poland, but not the well-to-do upper middle class, they were no Zionists"
"…we came once a week together and our leader told us about the aims and about how and what and .. it was so far out. At this time, when I was a little girl, it was far out. Then the Zionist movement became much stronger, and then .. I think when I was 13 and 14, then already was quite a movement…"
-- "Did you read books about Palestine?"
Yes, but there were not too many books about Palestine. There were some very good speakers who came. And then came a young man by the name of Yakov Meller who was a student. He made evenings where he spoke with great warmth and with great presence about Jews who came from Russia and Poland, of which we, living in this very secure and well-to-do Central Europe, didn't know anything.
--"What did your father say?
"He said everybody has his crazy ideas. "Leave her, it's good she doesn't want a horse, a racing horse." (laughs) "Leave her." So I was the only one, nobody else. It was a small club, only 7 members.
-- "What did Heinz… do when he was young?"
"He was very good in music, he was quite good in writing, he was very good looking. .. and then he decided he wants to study, not in Prague, but he wants to go to Germany to study. He wanted to study--now you say 'political science.' … He studied at Frankfurt, made his doctor's degree in Frankfurt, and afterwards stayed one year longer at the university to make another degree, which is called "Diplom Kauffman."
Heinz in his memoir explained his choice of university: "In October of 1923 I went to Frankfurt. Only now do I realize why I chose that city: it was the most distant one from Bodenbach."
Most of the information about that part of her life comes from the memoir of her son Heinz and from interviews of his sister Anny Stern. Because the latter is not always consistent (e.g. her claim that Adolf died of pneumonia), here Heinz'es memoir is the main source, though not the only one. He wrote, among other things:
"Her stand towards Palestine ("the Land of Israel") was anti-Zionist. She opposed my joining of "Blue-White," a Zionist youth movement. But she did not stop me from doing so, in 1919. In the summer of 1920 I was an apprentice to a locksmith in a big house, and also in the summer of 1921, each time for one month [I still have documents about those times], because I had intended to learn metalworking and emigrate to the land (of Israel). Fate decreed that would not happen, but in any case I started on it. In 1935, when I announced to her that I intended to emigrate, she wrote me "I did not send you to the university and did not let you acquire the doctorate so that you would go to Palestine and become a worker!" She had no feeling for Zionism except as a general sentiment.
As soon as it was legally possible, we went to the courthouse where I was declared an "adult", at the age of 19 rather than 21, and so was given access to my bank accounts, which were frozen by law until I reached 21. I transferred to her all my inheritance, with a detailed and agreed-upon stipulation, that from this money she would send me a monthly stipend, allowing me to live at the university and study. This money was to be absolutely sufficient for 5 years of studies (unfortunately, she later did not keep her word).
In 1923 I passed my matriculation tests and as my reward I received from her a trip to Italy. I enjoyed it very much seeing the great world for the first time (earlier I had been with her in Vienna and Budapest, at her sisters). …
I found a rental room with a widow and lived there. She (my mother) had a phone, and in the evenings she called me up, phoned to me, and woe to me if I wasn't home. Some evenings I wanted to go out and could not, because I waited for her call, but she never ever came to visit me. Sometimes she would not write for weeks, at other times twice a week. After March 1924 my mind no longer cared for those things...
Meanwhile the German Mark stabilized and business suddenly got bad. The value of the money came back (and Czech currency no longer enjoyed a privileged status). And the money she was supposed to send me did not arrive. Imagine how a student feels without a penny in his pocket, who has turned his money over (to his mother) and it did not arrive. To work "on the side" was not allowed at that time (today, in America, that is possible, but then not at all, because I was a foreign citizen!!).
When I came home on vacation I saw debts on one hand and waste on the other, excessive hospitality, lack of planning and no keeping of accounts, and I simply seethed, blew up. But I could not change a thing, and in addition Anny sided with her, Anny who received a much preferential treatment with her. Why, I do not know…Our relations were not warm. Never can I recall an open-hearted conversation between us, kind, human. And still she had an enormous influence on me, until I got to know Käthe.
His sister Anny ("A") in her interview, told her own view of Heinz'es studies and of Käthe:
--"And Heinz studied where?"
A. "In Frankfurt. Frankfurt am Main, he studied at Frankfurt, made his doctor's degree in Frankfurt, and afterwards stayed one year longer at the university to make another degree, which is called "Diplom Kauffman" (certified trader) I don't know if this exists .. here. He studied under an extremely well-known ecconomist, Sommbart, who was really a great man. Sommbart and Oppenheimer.
--"Was your father still alive?
A. No! … My father died .. of a pneumonia. Would there have been penicillin, he would have lived. That's why we live so much longer now.
--"Did Heinz write to you from the university?"
A. Yes. He wrote, and I was there with him, for a year.
--"What did your mother think about his study?"
A. I don't know any more. Believe me .. I don't think .. it was just a matter of fact, he went to study, and he had to do good, and that's it. And then, before he went he had the possibility to study in Prague and he had the recommendation of Dr. Englisch, who was then the minister of commerce for Czechoslovakia, who was a friend of my mother. And Englisch said, "I want to keep an eye on the young man when he's finished with his studies." And when he wrote his doctor thesis, and then as a Diplom Kauffman, Dr. Englisch offered him a job in the government, under him. In the ministery of commerce. But he didn't want to go to Prague. He wanted to stay in Germany, he wanted to stay in Frankfurt, he had then already liaison with Käthe, Käthe Dore, and to the horror of my mother, married her.
--"Who was Käthe Dore?
A. Käthe Dore was quite a person. Her father was a Prussian Junker, was Intendant of the Schauspiel Haus [theater] in Breslau. His name was Freiherr von Schipfer. He married an Anna Franck, I believe Anna was her name, Jewish, and the brother-in-law, the brother of his wife, was Professor Fritz (James?)Franck, I think you know who he was, he got the Nobel prize in nineteen hundred .. in chemistry, 26-30, it must have been before... [1925, in physics, with Gustav Hertz for expt. on atomic energy levels?] "Onkel Fritz." And "Onkel Fritz" was "ausgebürgert" [stripped of citizenship] by Hitler, with Thomas Mann. And he stayed with us for, I believe, a week, in Bodenbach. I must say I didn't feel very comfortable with him, because I was afraid. If you remember, Theodor Lessing was a very well-known journalist, who wrote against the Third Reich. He was in Marienbad, which was a very well-known spa, where the Prince of Wales always went. He was shot while sitting in his room, reading a book. From a promenade outside. And I was jittery (?) when this Onkel Fritz stayed with us, because he was .. he got, had the Nobel prize, he was deprived of his citizenship, and many people came to see him in our house. Was a very nice man with a white little goatee, very bright eyes... (all this from Anny Stern; I have no proof for this identification. None of Dr. Franck's photos shows a goatee, no one by that name among chemistry laureates. )
--" How did they get together?"
A. How they met? No idea. She lived in Frankfurt… Dorothea's mother, Franck, came from a very well-to-do German bankers' family, and the name of the bank was Speier, Ellison und Co. You know, there were many Jewish banks, like Bleichröder, and Rothschild, and there was one Speier Ellison und Co., and from this family the Francks came. --" And what happened then? Where did they get married?
A. They got married in Frankfurt.
--" Did your mother go there?
A. No. She didn't even know. He married .. I don't know how it was, I know she was very unhappy. Very unhappy. And then they came to Bodenbach, and you know, it all is like a blur. When Heinz came and said, what should I do now, I said something, I should never open my mouth so quickly. I said, "How can you ask 'what should I do.' Where can a Jew go now, in these days, if he is going. There is only one place to go and this is Palästina." And he really went to Palestine. And I think he should have gone to England, it would have been better for him.
--" What did you think of Dorothea? How did she treat you?
A. She knew me when I came as a student to Frankfurt. She was very nice and very sweet to me, but the whole of Bodenbach was horrified and said, "my God, he married his own mother." Because she looked .. she looked very old".
She was actually eight years older then Heinz, born in 1896. Her full name was Katherina (Käthe) Dorothea Naria Louise Schipfer von Sausal. (Sausal is a small region in southern Austria, close to Hungary).
(Later George Stern ("G") joined the taped conversation, mostly in German, which is translated here)
G. Dorothea was actually tremendously superior to Heinz, spiritually.
A. Yes! Much smarter.
G. And she was, how can I say it… Heinz was by nature very lazy.
A. Terribly lazy.
G. And she had really… they assembled a giant library, from Germany. She was well-read, she was very smart.
A. Very educated.
G. She was homely, and she was a good wife. And I think that the death of Dorothea (1941) did tremendously…how can I say it, it did not depress Heinz, but touched him tremendously.
--I thought he was with the electric company.
A. No, that was later
G. Tell me, what was that called, didn't he have a farm in .. Migdal.
A.: He had bought it.
G, And that was what the Arabs destroyed and took over. And then he moved to Tiberias, and he worked for a time in Tiberias as a teacher (A.: and with the electric company), and actually Dorothea helped him tremendously with that, I have to say. She was very dedicated, and Heinz used to play there the violin, and play in a quartet, he didn't have much. The business of Blue Band was actually brought over there, they had overall nothing ("auf kappores") there. But he had a stock, and from that stock he distributed to the different groceries. And the grocers would come, whenever they needed anything, he took out and got paid.
A. (laughs) As I can recall, it was like a scene from Arabian Nights. It was all so primitive, who ever knew of air conditioning? The heat was enough to kill you [Tiberias is 200 meters below sea level] .
In Germany Dorothea and Heinz in 1933 had a boy, Frank Peter Gabriel As a child he was mostly addressed as "Pitty", but in Israel, in later life, he favored Gabriel ("Gabi") and went by his Hebrew name Chanoch (soft ch). Like the rest of his family he adopted there the surname "Ben Aris." "Aris" in Hebrew means tenant farmer, one who works the land but does not own it, same as Pächter in German. "Ben" means "son of".
Over the years Heinz had many interests, some of them rather unusual. Both he and Dorothea shared an interest in genealogy, and most of the detailed family information cited here for the Pächter side was collected by them. Heinz also delved into chiromancy, reading the future by the creases of the human palm and the shape of the hand. He collected handprints of people, and wrote in manuscript a book about chiromancy, never published. Later in life he gave (unpaid) palm readings. He was also interested in astrology.
In Tiberias they rented an apartment in the "house of Ben Israel", an old rundown house across the street from the Schweitzer hospital, in the upper (Jewish) part of Tiberias; 100 meter above the lake, it was marginally cooler. They shared it with another family, although the house most probably started as a single-family dwelling. It had two rooms--a living room which one entered through an arbor-shaded balcony and which held Heinz'es piano, and a side room with wall storage. The kitchen was cramped, and beyond it was a balcony used for laundry and storage, with a raw concrete washroom/toilet on the side. Grown-ups slept in the living room, where at night a storage tub with bedding was pulled out from under the day-bed; their son (and in 1942, also David, son of Anny) slept in the other room, with a massive front wall two feet thick, leaving enough space between its inner and outer windows for a child to sit in.
As noted, Dorothea developed cancer and died 24 August 1941, forcing Heinz to take care of a young child as well. His sister Anny could hardly help, she and husband George lived in a large wooden container-crate in which windows and a door were cut, next to a small restaurant she and George Stern operated outside a large army camp in the south. Through friends Heinz actually found a young wife, Pninah (Pearl) Schlafer, who promptly took care of Pitty and also (for a year) of Anny's son David.
Pninah was born in the Ukraine in 1917 or 1918, at the height of the Russian revolution. The Ukraine at that time saw extensive attacks on Jews by irregular Ukrainian troops, and the family fled across the border to Kishinev in Romania, with baby Pninah carried by her sister Rivkah across the frozen Dniester river which formed the border.
In Romania the family eked out a meager living, while the father, urged by his wife, applied for entry to the US. However, just when all the papers were in hand, the US closed its borders to immigrants, and the family went instead to Palestine (her father's choice), arriving in 1924. At first, the father operated a flour mill in Safed in the upper Galilee, but he moved to Haifa in 1926, ahead of the 1929 uprising by Arab townspeople in which twenty Jews were killed.
For some years the family lived in relative poverty, but still Pninah managed to attend a teachers' seminary and then work as a teacher. She was a youthful, hard-working woman with strong common sense, a good mother to Pitty and later also to Itamar and Chamutal. But culturally she came from the Russian Zionist worker tradition of the land around Tiberias and Haifa, far from the German urban culture of Heinz and very different from his and Dorothea's.
The Sterns of Lovosice
On 5 December 1930 Anny Stern married George Stern, a young attorney starting his practice in Bodenbach. The two had been friends for years, playing tennis together and skiing in the winter. George was born January 1899 in Lobositz (Lovosice, in Czech, the name used here) and so was 8 years older than Anny.
Lovosice is located on the same side of the Elbe as Bodenbach, about 35 miles upstream, and had at the time about 5000 inhabitants, including some 50 Jews. George's father Josef worked with his brothers in a grain mill, owned by their father Heinrich. In 1910 he built a large house across the church in Lovosice, where he and a brother lived upstairs while the street level housed several stores (and still does). The Sterns also traded in local barley, used England and Scotland for making whisky and shipped by river-barge to Hamburg on the North Sea.
George was the second of 5 sons (with Oswald. Paul, Franz and Albert) and attended high school in the larger town Leitmeritz (Czech: Litoměřice) across the river. In 1910 Mr. Werfel, a prosperous margarine manufacturer, came by to show off his new motor car (a great novelty then) and invited the Stern boys for a ride to the garrison fortress of Theresienstadt (Czech: Terezin, name used here) about 4 miles away. This was a generation before Terezin became the country's main Nazi concentration camp for Jews.
George was in high school when World War I broke out, and was conscripted by the Austrian army before finishing his studies. He served in Terezin, close enough to allow him to continue his classes in school. After the war he enrolled at the Charles University in Prague (founded 1348) and graduated there in law. He spent the next few years as apprentice-lawyer (Konzipient) in Tabor, Teplice, Benzen (Benešov nad ploučnici) and in Bodenbach, where he became friendly with Anny.
After the wedding the two settled into a beautiful apartment formerly owned by Adolf Pächter, and in December 1931 they had a son, named Peter Adolf (after his grandfather; later known as David). Minna had another large apartment, but she did not want to live alone, so in the end Anny and George gave up their separate apartment and moved in with her.
The Nazi OccupationMeanwhile, across the border, the Nazi party took hold, aiming to expand Germany's power and Germany's borders, and bitterly persecuting Jews. Jewish refugees started arriving across the border, and they included novelist Thomas Mann and his daughter Erika; she was officially awarded a "domicile" in Czech Bodenbach. The border was open and people still rode the "theatre train" to nearby Dresden. George went there one night to listen to a speech by Adolf Hitler, who shouted at his audience. It left him shaken.
In contrast with the growing separation between Minna and her son, Minna's daughter Anny grew increasingly close to her mother. The two were similar in attitude and temperament, and after a while Anny, husband George and son Peter (later David) moved to share Minna's apartment. George had a successful law office in town, but meanwhile across the border the Nazi party took hold, aiming to expand Germany's power and Germany's borders, and bitterly persecuting Jews.
Some refugees stayed briefly in Minna's apartment. Once when George visited Dresden, a director of a department store, whose daughters were already in Bodenbach, gave him 80,000 marks, which he hid in an empty beer bottle, placed next to him on the train seat. Border control at the time alternated-one night it fell to Germans, next night to Czechs-and George selected a night when Czechs were in charge. Once over the border, he took the money out and had the Czechs register it in the name of the businessman.
Most residents of Bodenbach were German, and spoke German. The Nazi party had a strong following, and Hitler's annexation of Austria in March of 1938 was followed by strong agitation to detach the "Sudetenland," the Czech border region, and turn it over to Germany. Czechoslovakia resisted, calling up its army reservists (George among them, a sergeant in the mountain artillery) and relying on support by England and France to block Hitlers overwhelming air power. He, however, threatened war, invited the prime ministers of the two countries to a conference in Berchtesgaden near Munich, and after some negotiations, forced them to agree to a German take-over of the borderlands.
Most of the stories here concern survivors, but the majority of Czech Jews did not survive the war. Almost all of them were sent to the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp, and many died later in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Of Adolf's six children by his first two wives, only one survived World War 2-Emmy, daughter of Adele Hirschl. Liesl in her interview, said
"All the sons and daughters of our grandfather were tall, good looking, but all of them, tall, good looking persons. I remember being asked here, some thirty years ago, if I am the granddaughter of Paechter, who had exceptionally good-looking and pretty daughters.
They were tall. All of them. Emmy, she was as big as I am, and she was the smallest. They were tall, they were really good-looking, they had good manners, they were brought up with a good education, and all of them were a success. Because Alfred and Rudi weren't a big success-Heinz (too), you remember. And Heinz had the tools to be a big success, and he didn't do it, because he was lazy. I remember your mother telling me, I don't know how many times, that she found him a job, and he didn't want to take it.
Her brother Heinz wrote about her:
" To this day Emmy is beautiful.... She finished school in Bodenbach, and then studied in Prague in a school of "fine ladies," learning home economics and cooking, living with my mother's sister [across from the school]. There she met a young engineer, who had just recovered from a lung disease.
She fell in love with him and when she returned home from her studies, around 1913, the young engineer, Hans Federer, came and asked permission to marry her. My father simply blew up. Years later I read copies of his letters: full of curses and threats, he should never again try to see her again, a man who has no substance, who will never achieve anything of worth, a sickly and weak man--I will never ever give you my daughter's hand…
Approximately such words. But Emmy wasn't like her sister. She stayed silent. She might have been delicate and a refined, but she also had a strong will, and she waited. My father died in 1915. In 1917 Emmy married the man, in the middle of the war. My mother forbade me to attend the wedding, but in spite of this I went to the synagogue at the time of the wedding and I was close to tears. I also received a kiss from her.
Her husband became later the chief engineer of one of the greatest factories in Czechoslovakia, second after Škoda, Wittkowitze Eisenwerke (Iron works of Wittkowitz) in Mährisch-Ostrau (Moravska Ostrava), a great conglomerate of iron, coal, mines and factories. His brother Oskar became general manager, very rich. They had one daughter, Marianne… who was studying in a college in England when Hitler arrived.
Already in 1937 and early 1938 [Hans'es] brother transferred his money out of the country. He [acquired with it] …orchards, plots and houses in [Palestine] and abroad, in England, Canada and the USA. He transferred his money by sending to London (with official Czech permission) his collection of paintings, among them many by Van Gogh. There an "artist" created fake copies of the paintings, and Oskar Federer sent the copies back to Czechoslovakia. The originals stayed in London and were sold there (that, anyway, was the story being told). He lives today in Canada with his family, and remains rich.
Hans Federer, his brother and (Emmy's husband) had a less happy fate. He and my sister [Emmy} were allowed to fly to London with two suitcases--in return for a hefty payment--after the German army had already entered Czechoslovakia, in the fall of 1938… Hans continued working as an engineer throughout the war, and even now is still working. My sister Emmy is a seamstress--and they managed to get … British citizenship and an old-age pension."
After Liesl escaped the Germans, she worked as nurse, and met Dr. Fischer-Ascher, an eye surgeon, who was asked by Emmy in London to help find her family members. When Liesl responded, Emmy thought that the entire Pollak family was saved, and she was deeply disturbed when she later found that Liesl was the sole survivor.
Emmy's daughter Marianne studied in London and married Gordon Bremner, who died in 1988. I visited her two months later, and have notes of that visit.
From Liesl's recollections:
"Adolf's son Rudi went first from Bodenbach to Vienna … but he got a heart attack, a very bad one. After that he was incapacitated…. Could have been '32-33. When the Germans occupied Vienna, they went to Brünn [Brno] and they lived in Brünn till they... his wife [Martha] and … one daughter Edith… born about 1925.
Now, Rudi was in Brünn and he didn't have any job or anything to do, so I remember my aunt Emmy helped him and he got an agency to sell coals and that's been his job. In the end, Rudi was the first one to be deported.
It's been in the winter, 1941-2, because the first transports were from Brünn and they were one of the first ones to go away. We got some two cards from him from a little place called Zamosc in Poland, it's near Lublin, where all the Jews went, and we knew when the cards arrived that we had to send them some foodstuffs, which we did [Liesl was still in Prague]. But it wasn't much and we were very anxious for it to arrive. It was some soup powder and some pulses [legumes], I don't know what. Things which keep. But after these two cards, we never heard of him or his family again. He was the first one to perish.
Now … no, he was not the first one. The first one was Alfred. Alfred … went to Karlsbad. It was at the time the Sudetenland was occupied, that's autumn '38. He went to Karlsbad for one reason: to live with his sister Gisa [Gisella]. Gisa was in Karlsbad… at the time I talk about, in '38, she didn't have anybody there. Her husband (Rudolf Mosauer) had died and her two daughters weren't there. So Alfred lived with her, but the Germans interned them. Once more, as your mother [Anny Stern] told you, it wasn't a concentration camp, it was some open tent where they had to live and your mother somehow managed afterwards to get him to Prague.
But he didn't live in Prague, he lived with his second sister, with Mimi Bunzel in Podjebrady. Podjebrady was a small spa about 150 kilometer from Prague. And they lived there together, Mimi [Meta, short for Margareta] … she was married to Leopold Bunzel from Gablonz, they didn't have any children and they lived in Podjebrady. But in Podjebrady wasn't any Jewish hospital and Jews… Alfred was sick for years already with diabetes and I remember that somehow we got news--I don't know how--that Alfred is in hospital in Prague, in a Jewish hospital. So of course, we went to see him there and he was there for some six weeks, and he died, but he died from diabetes."
"What sort of person? Look, he was a very nice person, I remember him as a very good-hearted, nice person. But he was--his character was very weak. He wasn't the driving force your grandfather was, just on the contrary. And I think that it's been due to our grandfather, because grandfather was a man who wanted to govern, and he didn't leave Alfred or Rudi to do the work. Because Alfred was a very kind person but he had a weak character. That's all there is to it. And he was a bachelor and he never had a family and he was lonesome"
Alfred lived with an unmarried woman, whom Heinz remembered as Miss Kostubačky: "She was the only one who sent my family packages of food to Theresienstadt, saving Lisel at the very least from hunger. But when Liesl, as a Czech officer, came in 1945 to Bodenbach to thank her, it was exactly on the day when the Sudeten Germans were expelled from Ulpendorf (the quarter where she lived) near Bodenbach, and the day she was buried, because a day before she died of cancer…
Alfred never dared to marry her, because she was after all a Christian, and of course if he dared to do so, my father would expel him from the house. So she took care of him even after Alfred lost everything, and remained with no property, alone, poor, isolated…"
Gisa and Mimi were later sent to Terezin and from there to Auschwitz. When the Nazis came, however, Gisa's daughter Martha escaped to England with her husband Hans Eckstein.
Minna and Anny rented an apartment in the Vinohrady quarter of Prague, while Anny's son Peter was sent to live with George's relative Arthur Pešek, overseer of a farm in Vrchotovy Janovice, about 40 miles southeast of Prague. It was in a Czech-speaking area, and Peter, who only spoke German, was put in second grade of a school with an altogether different language, which, however, he quickly learned.
Arthur was the husband of George's cousin Beda (Bedrička), daughter of Ottilie's sister Hedwig ("Heda"). He and his two sons were later killed by the Nazis, but Beda survived, and in the prison camp she adopted an orphan boy named Pavel (Paul). His son, also named Pavel, became an agricultural engineer in Česky Krumlov and (after the fall of Communism) a delegate to the Czech national assembly.
In March 1939 the Nazis occupied the remaining Czech lands and turned them into a German "Protektorat," while Slovakia became a self-governing ally of Germany, and Hungary and Poland also annexed parts of the Czech borderland. The Czech army was dissolved and George Stern returned to his family, but not for long. Because he was a Jew he next received an order from the German government to report to a labor camp.
He still had his Czech passport and a visa to Italy, so Anny advised him to go by train to Trieste, from where ships were still sailing to Palestine. The British government of Palestine only allowed 1500 Jews per month to enter, a tiny fraction of the number seeking shelter there, but Anny managed to send him money to live in Trieste. "Whoever left for [Palestine], whoever could go over the border and went to Trieste, brought George whatever was possible - money, or - I remember I sent him toothpaste and stockings and things -people had to take for themselves, they wouldn't take big things! And I spoke to the Palestine Office in Italy, and we always left a message for George, but that was all. And then when the war started I was very happy to be informed that they thought the only thing to repay me for what I am doing is to send George with the last boat before the war to Palestine, which he did."
While in Trieste, he worked for a shop making ice-cream and cakes. He told about his work in a letter and also about watching Jews escape Europe on a ship bound for China: "The Conto Rosso was sold out to the last place, we were in the departure hall and I can only tell you, one must thank God, to be spared such a fate."
One cousin of George who did escape was Franz ("Franta") Vohryzek, son of Emilia and Moritz Vohryzek, ("Aunt Milka"), another sister of Ottilie; in later years, in Canada, his name was Frank Vernon. He entered the law profession in 1930 and was the athletic member of the family, an expert in fencing and member of the Czech delegation to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He remembered how Hitler visited the delegation and shook hands with all its members "though he did no seem to care much about us."
After the Munich pact Frank escaped to France, and when WW-II broke out he joined a Czech unit in the French army. It was trained and sent to the front, but then France collapsed, French army units next to them pulled back, and the Czechs too had to retreat.
Just as they arrived at the Seine the French blew up the bridge in front of them. The Czechs then noted some big boats on the opposite bank, and Frank and some others jumped in, swam over and brought them over to the other bank; when he came back he found that his uniform had been stolen. Somehow they all crossed the river and reorganized, but the German advance continued, and in the end he boarded a British ship for Gibraltar.
From there he went to England, where he again joined a Czech infantry unit. Frank liked to say that during the war, he met the four leaders of the war in Europe. Waiting to be deployed, he organized a fencing group, and in that capacity he met with Churchill, and later De Gaulle. Because the Czech army knew about his legal training, he was appointed military prosecutor. Then it was learned that the Czech army in Russia, under General Svoboda, also needed a prosecutor, so Frank was reassigned to the job and sent to Russia with a Murmansk convoy. Luckily the weather was quite bad, keeping away the German airplanes and ships which had made the route hazardous, and they reached Murmansk on December 31, 1943.
The admiral commanding the convoy was then invited to Moscow to be decorated by Stalin. An aide-de-camp was supposed to go along and Frank was asked to take the role, since the admiral assumed that, being a Czech, he understood Russian. Frank didn't, but was glad to get aboard the train. The trip took three days. Soon after leaving the admiral asked Frank to fetch some tea, so he went to a Russian and said "Tchai" which means "tea" in Czech: the word has the same meaning in Russian, he got his tea and his reputation as Russian speaker was confirmed.
In Moscow the two were ushered before Stalin, who to his surprise was a small man, slightly built. Stalin spoke Russian, but it made no difference whether Frank understood or not, because Stalin's voice was rather faint (I guess a translator was present anyway). He then accompanied the Czech units as army prosecutor in their advance towards Czechoslovakia. Of his work he only said that at Dukla pass in Slovakia the Czechs were sent with inadequate support against entrenched Germans and suffered many losses. Some commanders refused to attack again and the Russians ordered him to prosecute them, but he knew they were good men and managed to evade the order.
Somewhere along the way he met his wife Bella, who was born in Russia but grew up in Romania and who was serving with some Romanian army units. When the Russians arrived she was told that the Russians were conscripting all Romanian girls and the advisable thing to do was to forestall them and volunteer to the Czech army. This she did, there she met Frank, they fell in love and were married. Frank stayed with the Czech army for some time-he was told he could even rise to general if he stayed, but he preferred to get out and was demobilized in early 1946.
Afterwards he became chief attorney for the Czech chemical industry. But when the Czech Communist party seized power, he was frightened and in 1950 asked for permission to emigrate to Israel. His boss became rather angry-he told Frank, there was no chance he would be allowed to go, since the chemical industry was viewed as having military importance. And of course, he could not keep his job; but the boss liked him and found for him a low-level low-visibility post where he stayed. Frank said that saved his life: important officials were later purged, but he stayed safe.
In 1952 a new minister came into office and asked him to assume once more a prominent position. Frank said he would like to be excused because he wasn't a party member, and the answer was "we will find someone to instruct you in Marxism." That "someone" was an old-time worker, appointed to keep an eye on Frank. He turned out to be a decent chap and not only did he create no trouble for him, he even warned him about enemies in the office.
But Frank realized he would no longer be safe and said so to Bella when he got home. Three months later they and their daughter Michelle, age 5, traveled to the border, stayed at a farm house and then, at night, walked across to safety. Michelle was terrified by the experience and a few years later refused to cross even the US-Canada border. But they were safe, stayed for a while in England and then moved to Canada, where they both worked in real estate and prospered. Frank ended up owning a shopping center some 100 miles from Montreal and it provided him with a very comfortable income.
Frank's sister Lilly also survived and married Eugene Fleischner of Seattle, Washington. Her daughter Daniella ("Danushka") married a Seattle professor of psychology and raised two sons, also two adopted daughters.
Among the Jews trapped in Prague was Minna's daughter Anny Stern. She volunteered to work in the Zionist emigration office there, headed by Jacob ("Yankev") Edelstein, later head of the Jewish community in the concentration camp (aka "ghetto") of Terezin (Theresienstadt). Earlier, when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany (the "Anschluss"), a similar office in Vienna managed to get many Jews out to British Palestine. However, by 1939 the British authorities had largely blocked that route.
The Nazi officer responsible for the emigration office was the notorious Adolf Eichmann, who had also ordered the setting-up of the emigration office in Vienna. As Anny told in a 1977 interview:
"Edelstein came back from seeing Eichmann for the first time and said: "We have to make an immigration office - that means Anni, this is just what you can do, You will put down every day the names of people who want to emigrate, who get visas, who get certificates, and that we give daily to The Gestapo."
While we were[later] sitting, about 8 people, all the leaders of the Zionists and the Jews in Prague, a man rushed in, one of the--office guards, or whatever you may call them --and said: "Eichmann and his staff are here"
Eichmann: Dr. Stern, are you a Zionist?
--My answer: Yes, Herr Obersturmbannführer.
Eichmann: I am a Zionist too. I want all Jews to get out as quickly as possible and you have to work hard.
So -- one of his questions, one of his first questions, was "who is in charge of the emigration?" As they were not prepared for it, they gave me George's title and said "Mrs. Dr. Stern". So Eichmann took me under oath, that I will be in charge of the emigration, will work with the SS and the Gestapo, and will be absolutely responsible for what I'm doing. And this is how I started my career, never having sat at a desk."
In May 1939 Edelstein was allowed to travel to British Palestine to plead with the British for more entry "certificates". He stayed in the country for a week, and friends urged him to remain there, but he felt his duty was in Prague and came back. He and his family were shot in Auschwitz in 1944.
To get more people out of the country, beyond the legal trickle, the Zionist organization organized illegal emigration to British Palestine (Edelstein might have coordinated that too, during his visit there). It required an appreciable amount of paperwork, and Anny was one of those handling it.
The process had several steps. First, a pro-forma legal exit had to be arranged, by buying fake visas from foreign consulates, usually those of Latin-American countries. The Germans did not allow anyone to leave unless that person had a visa to somewhere. The visas were sold with the unspoken agreement that they would not be honored by the countries that issued them: they were only intended for exit from the Nazi protectorate. As Anny told (1977):
"And this had to have a certain quota. The quota under pressure was 400 a day, otherwise it was 200 a day, which was an enormous load of work to be done…
I went to all the consulates, all the embassies in Prague. I got usually - for money, of course - I got visas, 500 visas to Peru or 300 visas to Chile, which could never have been used for an entry to Chile. Our standing joke was "What's the capital of Peru?" and the answer was "Tel Aviv". Or, "What is the capital of Chile?", the answer was "Tel Aviv." This is how we got visas, because every emigration paper had to have a visa. The Germans didn't give you a - "durchlasschein", the paper to leave the country and the possibility [to buy] ship tickets or whatever, if you didn't have a visa. The only country to which you still could go was England, which of course later was closed (when England declared war on Germany, in September 1939)."
Second, the government demanded an arbitrary "Reich escape tax", shaking down the migrants for whatever the Gestapo (German acronym, "secret governmental police") could extract. Only then could they legally leave and claim an allocation of foreign exchange to pay for the trip. When Anny arranged for her own exit, the Gestapo viewed her especially valuable, and asked for an unusually large amount. Below is the affidavit by an unnamed witness of what happened, found in the papers left by George Stern. (The original German account is translated here by David Stern, with question marks for uncertain words):
"I emigrated from Prague at the end of 1939 and therefore participated in all the procedures associated with emigration, and thus know them from personal experience. Whoever in that time wanted to emigrate to Palestine, was next required to submit at the Palestine office a folder with countless forms and questionnaires. Among these also was a questionnaire dealing with the wealth of the applicant, and in cases where a "Reich-escape-tax" liability existed, the Palestine office also immediately calculated on an attached form, based on these inputs, the Reich-escape-tax, and brought up (?) the payment thereof. Some time after the completion of these preparations and declarations, the affected person was summoned to the central office of the Gestapo in Strechowitz, Here those summoned for the day stood in line.
By chance I was summoned to the central office of the Gestapo on the same day in November 1939 as the person asking for this document [this affidavit] Mrs. Anna Stern, who was, by the way, working at the Palestine office and entrusted with the preparation of the folders mentioned above. Mrs. Stern stood in line just ahead of me, and as the line moved from one counter to the next, I stood just behind Mrs. Stern and therefore observed and heard what went on at all the counters. Among the last counters was one where the payment of the special contribution and the Reich-escape-tax were checked. In the case of Mrs. Stern the clerk-as in many other cases-sought out in the folder the form in which the Reich-escape-tax was already figured out, and furthermore sought out the receipt of payment thereof and also found it. I remember that the amount talked about, of a prescribed and already paid Reich-escape-tax, was 400,000 crowns or something more. I remember the number, because it was the highest amount of the Reich-escape-tax of which anyone in our emigration group had heard.
With verification that this amount was paid in order, this matter however was not finished. Much more did the Gestapo official chastise the applicant in harsh voice, addressing her as "you Jewess" and demanding an additional payment of 100,000 crowns for the Reich-escape-tax. I still remember well how baffled and hurt the applicant was. A reason for this surcharge was not given. Because the applicant, naturally, did not have this additionally demanded sum, since she was not prepared for this additional demand, she had to leave incomplete things (?) at the Gestapo central office. I am aware that shortly afterwards she actually emigrated, and I conclude from this that she finally found means and ways to raise and pay the additional forced amount of 100,000 crowns.
Naturally this case was repeatedly discussed in the entire emigrant group of that time, and it turned out that the applicant was absolutely not the only one who was handled by the Gestapo in the way described here. My ears have heard of an entire series of similar cases, which gave the impression that the extortion-measures (?) in the cases of families, of whom the Gestapo could determine the availability of a certain wealth, formed at that time a deliberate system."
In her 1977 interview Anny also mentioned this extra extortion, though she said the amount was 30,000 crowns. After their "tax" was paid and approved by the Gestapo, Jews were permitted leave the occupation area. Those with legal visas to other countries (e.g. "certificates" to enter British Palestine) left by rail and ship, but those having only fake visas traveled to the Slovak capital Bratislava, on the river Danube that leads to the Black Sea in Romania. The Danube was an international waterway, so those refugees could board a river steamer to the Romanian port of Constanza, to worn-out steamships bought by the Zionist organization to run the British blockade. Anny told about it in 1977:
"Later the Palestine Office gave me a monthly allowance as well, because I collected an enormous amount of illegal money, hundreds of thousands of Czech crowns which I had hidden in my desk. I had a desk with a kind of secret wall - secret compartment - where I had hidden thousands and thousands and hundred thousands of crowns which I got from all the people I helped. They had "black" money, they couldn't do anything with it, so they gave it to me and I in turn gave it for the payment of illegal transports and illegal ships. We had the Maccabi, for instance (a Jewish sports organization), we worked with the Maccabi who made the illegal transports. We had to buy the captains, we had to buy the ships, we had to buy the visas - we had to buy everything."
One source of money was a rich relative of Anny's-Martha Hirsch, daughter of Minna's sister Regina. who married Hugo Rudinger. Willy and Martha owned a wire factory in Czechoslovakia and were quite wealthy: they lived in Pilsen and were friendly with Kokoschka, who painted her picture several times. When the war broke, their son Richard was already living in Australia, but they themselves had to flee to Prague, where they were trapped by the German occupation.
Anny was working in the emigration office, and she went to them and told them-"I can get you out, but you have to trust me. " She then went to Yankev Edelstein, told him the Hirsch'es had large sums of money which the organization could use, and made the arrangements. Much of the money of course was taken by the Germans: they appointed a special attorney, Dr. Dewalt, who it turned out had been an intern in George Stern's law office. They got a certificate to Israel and were all their life grateful to Anny--"just when we gave up an angel appeared, in a cape with red lining, and told us 'trust me'." Two years later they made it to Australia. Their daughter Marie Louise lived to age 100, passing away in Australia 8 May 2015.
"No, at this time we didn't get any help from the outside. We had a few people who had, for instance, no possibility of leaving, because they were even at that time important, as they were scientists, chemists, whatever. Like before, with the Reichsanrat Uttermoehle, I went to this commercial department of the Gestapo and I got the people out. I had the possibility of getting out people from Dachau and Buchenwald, in the transport. Not too many, but in my ignorance I thought that for money you can actually buy everything, and I did what nobody ever dared to do, I bribed some Gestapo - lower Gestapo officers - and got about 15 people out, or 10 people out here and 3 people out here.
And this I did with all the "black" money, which is very deeply engraved in my mind, because I had once a search party from the Gestapo coming into my office and looking through all the desk, if there would be some papers, which they wouldn't know about it, or some secret messages, because we were allowed to speak once a day with Italy, because of illegal boats, and so on. And all the money was in my desk, and the people who came in with Eichmann- that was actually not Eichmann himself, it was one of his adjutants called Lederer, and I don't remember the name of the second one. The second one was one of the guys who came with a submarine to America and was caught here, and was later, I believe, executed. That was one of Eichman's adjutants. Lederer, who looked like a bully, was frightening and had a Jewish name, was actually very decent, he helped wherever he could."
The illegal exodus essentially ended when Britain and France entered what became World War II. As Liesl told
"…in the autumn of 1940, that was the last ship which went out. I remember two friends of mine, two girl friends of mine, who trained as I for nurses, went to Brünn [Brno], and joined there the whole group, they came to Palestine. But that's been the last, the last, the last to get out.'
The last ships to reach British Palestine with Czech refugees were 3 small steamers. Their passengers were denied entry and placed in Haifa aboard the French liner "Patria", to be taken to the island of Mauritius. The Jewish underground "Haganah" tried to stop the transfer by attaching a bomb to the hull of the Patria, meaning to disable it. Unexpectedly, a big hole was torn and the ship sank in 16 minutes, drowning over 200 refugees.
"Eichmann went on - when he was in Prague, he left the people and he went on. I was with Eichmann, with himself, maybe two or three times, I don't recall it. I was taken twice as a hostage. They said - they took me and another friend by the name of Erich Munk, a surgeon who was a friend of mine, who had a teaching possibility and the papers to teach in America, as he was a very promising and able young surgeon, who helped me. And we were taken as hostages to the Gestapo, because we didn't fill the quota, we didn't send the right information - these things I really wanted to forget, and by today I have forgotten them.
What stays with me was that we were hostages. And it was very simple. You came in, and they said "sit down". They made a little point on the wall with a pencil or with ink, and they said "look at this point and don't move. You move left, you move right, you will be shot." And then they asked us questions. I must say it makes you nervous if you sit like this and I don' t think you can take it much longer than maybe an hour - I couldn't, but I was at this time - how old was I? I think 30. And Erich Munk was about 32, or the same age as me.
We were taken hostages about 10 o'clock at night, and stayed there till 11, or we stayed till 12, I don't know any more, and came out on the old marketplace, the Staromestske Naměsti, I wouldn't know how to call it [old town square], in Prague, which is very famous, with the clock and all this. We came out, and there were some friends waiting for us, like Jacob Edelstein, Zucker, Kahn, all very prominent names in the Jewish and Zionist history of Czechoslovakia. We all had special Gestapo passes, so we could walk on the streets. It was a green card, double card, with our picture with a big Hakenkreuz - a big swastika - saying that we are allowed to be out after - I don't know, seven o'clock or eight o'clock in the evening, we didn't have a time limit. They were waiting for us. It was raining, it was cold, and we were pretty much - Erich Munk and myself --I would say on the end of our endurance. And I said to Erich: "We will never survive as people. " I didn't speak of myself or of him as persons.
So he said: "You will see, we will survive, we will be great, we will achieve things we don't think we will be able to achieve, and when we have achieved it, we will give the other cheek and they will hit us on the other cheek."
George had four brothers-Oswald (eldest), Paul, Franz and Albert. Oswald was an engineer for the Czech shoe factory of Bat'a (Bat-ya) which had plants throughout the world (even north of Baltimore, USA). When the Nazis invaded, the company tried to protect Jewish employees, and sent Oswald with wife Irene and daughter Eva ("Evička") to work at its factory in Casablanca, Morocco. They were safe there and Eva grew up speaking French. When Oswald retired he went to Barbazan, a village in southern France, while Eva settled with husband Yves in St. Etienne.
Anny arranged for the other three brothers to join an illegal transport. She sent them by river boat to Constanza, where they boarded the steamer "Sakaria" and tried to run the British blockade. The ship was captured by the Royal Navy and the brothers ended up detained in the army camp of Sarafand (today Tsrifeen).
From there Albert joined a Czech unit of the British army, and his brothers later were also released. Albert fought in the Libyan campaign and was for a time besieged in Tobruk, by-passed by the German and Italians, and later he fought in Italy. When German resistance collapsed, Czech troops were released so they could head for Prague, and Albert was among the first Allied soldiers there, meeting with Liesl, grand-daughter of Adolf Pächter. He later married Hilda Neumann, holocaust survivor and nurse, who escaped the sinking in the Baltic sea of a ship loaded with refugees. They ended up settling in Chicago.
Two other relatives who survived were the sisters Helen (Lene) Riethof and Louise Abrahams. Their grandparents were Veith Kramer and Anna Stein, sister of Minna's father Heinrich Stein and daughter of David Stein. Their parents, in Prague, were Veit's son Leopold Kramer (already mentioned earlier) and Gertrud Neumann.
Helen married George Riethof in 1927, a successful industrial chemist, and lived in Teplice, not far from Bodenbach. The rise of Hitler alarmed George and he applied for a visa to the USA, but the visa process was slow and meanwhile Hitler annexed Austria and threatened the Czechs. In New York in 1995 she told what happened next:
"My husband was Jewish. He happened to be at that time on a business trip to America and he kept sending me telegrams to leave immediately, but we didn't have all those news there and I thought it was silly and I wired back, "The children just started school and how can we leave?" But he kept on insisting and one night our chauffeur came and said to me, "I want you to leave immediately." He was part of the Nazi party but was quite faithful to us and he knew much more than I did about what would happen. That was in September '38. The Nazis had just occupied that part of the country, the Sudetenland. So, I packed a little suitcase for each of us, my children and me, and the chauffeur took us in the middle of the night to Prague, to my parents home, because that part of Czechoslovakia was not occupied then. But when I came to my parents' house they insisted that we make plans immediately to leave the country. So, I shopped as much as 1 could, clothes for me and for the children... Stephen was 6 years old, going on 7, and Eva was 10.
So, we made some preparations and left for England. This was just about the last possibility to leave the country. We went by train to Holland. There we couldn't go on because England was so overrun by refugees that by that time they had closed their borders, temporarily, so we were for a few days stuck in Holland, which was all very difficult because we had no money. We couldn't take any money out but the people there helped the refugees. We were housed in somebody's home and we got our meals at the public place. There were about 300 people. I remember we sat at that huge public place with huge long tables and somebody made some kind of pancakes. We got our meals there.
England at that time still provided visas. Helen's sister Louise stayed in Prague until February 1939, after the borderland was occupied. She was an avid golfer and after she won the Czech gold championship in 1938, she was invited to England to play with Henry Cotton, British golf champion. She had a car and drove to England, and so escaped. She married the well-to-do son of the manufacturer of Aquascutum raincoats, joined the Czech air force in Britain, was later knighted by the queen and died in 2006, age 95.
Their parents refused to leave, so Helen returned to Prague and tried to change their mind:
" March '39...1 went back to Prague and I tried to talk my parents into leaving and going back to England with me, but my mother had visited in Christmas '38 and saw that we lived very poorly. We had very little money, we lived in a boarding house, all in one room, my husband and I and the two children. We cooked our meals on a little hot plate and washed our dishes in the wash basin where we also washed our children and the laundry and everything, so it wasn't the kind of life that my mother was used to and she didn't believe that anything would happen to the old people, especially my father didn't believe it, so they refused to leave with me. "
They ended, like so many others, being sent to Terezin and then to Auschwitz. Helen lived in New York and died at age 92 in 1999.
A cousin of George Stern, Arthur Koralek, managed to escape to Denmark with his wife and son Kurt, but he too found life as a refugee too hard. They returned to Prague and from there were later sent to Terezin. Minna Pächter who lived across the street from them in Bodenbach where Kurt used to be my playmate, met him again, in Prague or in Terezin. His older brother Hans was sent in time to British Palestine, changed his name to Channan Almog [coral on Hebrew] and became one of the founders of kibbutz Neot Mordechai at the headwaters of the Jordan river.
Getting out of Prague
On September 1, Hitler invaded Poland, and on the third Britain and France, allies of Poland, declared war on Germany. Anny told:
" …when war was declared, the English, the British embassy, the consulate, phoned us and said, somebody should come in and take all the passports which are there, of Palestinian citizens, certificates, whatever is there, and we should bring it to the American embassy.
… there was a terrific man by the name of Michael Bader, who became a member of the [Israeli] Knesset, and he and me went into the British embassy and into the British consulates. And suitcases for these papers were not enough, so we bought big washer-woman baskets, and we took this and filled it -we took any paper we could lay hand on, which was in connection with Jews to emigrate, and - we had a deadline, because we were informed war would be declared at this and this time, I think we had only three hours. …
We left all the things in the American embassy… Anyhow, the next day I went to this art dealer and he came in and said that I should come in, at this and this door, at night, and straighten out the whole papers.
…So I went every evening, I don't know for how long, I went alone and then someone went with me, I don't know any more who it was - I think it was Dr.Kraus. We went to the embassy and we straightened out the papers, because there were Palestinian subjects who were somewhere in central Europe, they left their passes there because something had to be… they went to Poland to bring out relatives, they came to Czechoslovakia, they went to Germany. Then there were many certificates, then there were many papers which proved that people were of English origin, of British origin, and this we brought in order - I think, at least four or five nights.
… When the war was declared we had the first air raid from England, which was leaflets. Made us very happy that the English could come there.
--What did the leaflets say?
--That we will get help, and the Czechs should keep together and--I don't know any more, it was probably against the fifth column. That was the "phony war" and I really don't know any more, but what is vivid in my memory is the 28th of October, 1939, which was a black day, which ruined Czechoslovakia for many many ... That was the independence day of Czechoslovakia, and on this day the Czechs really stood up…"
That day students at the Prague university demonstrated against the German occupation. The German police fired into the demonstration, and three weeks later, on November 17, the Gestapo raided the university and arrested more than 1000 students. Nine of their leaders were executed.
Less than two weeks later Anny and her son were allowed to leave. From the 1977 interview :
"--When did you decide to get out?
I decided? Hah! I waited, they didn't let me go.
The office. Eichmann wasn't then in Prague. The office didn't want--I was much too good, why should they let me go. But then there were a few of my friends like, I say, Otto Zucker and Leo Kahn and Yankev Edelstein, who all swore that I'm already so worn out of what I was doing, which was really which the Germans recognized, a very exceptional thing, the organization and all this, that it's better they let me go. I have nothing, I have only this little boy with me, so better they let me go, and they decided, in December '39 I could go."
Edelstein rode the train with Anny and gave her a glowing recommendation (translated)
Has been for many years an active worker within the Zionist organization.
She has been working for close to one year with no pay in the Palestine office and proved to be an unusually able, trustworthy and dedicated worker.
Mrs. Stern is highly experienced in the technicalities of all types of emigration formalities and we warmly recommend her therefore to any Zionist office.
With Zion's greeting
When we left Prague we went into a sealed train. The train was sealed, and this is one of the most touching memories I can remember. The station was full of people. I asked none of the parents and relatives to come, because I didn't want to be more heartbroken than we were. But there were standing hundreds, hundreds of "Aliyat No'ar" [youth aliyah], young people whom I especially helped and [for] whom I made already all the transports, up to March, and they were waving and shouting "Anny Stern, Anny Stern, Mazal Tov"
On the Italian border Anny was taken out for questioning, but then continued to Trieste. In the hotel, while she was preparing her little son for bed
"…somebody knocks at the door and says: "Anny, the Gestapo is here." So I said "Listen, now it's enough. Now I can't take these jokes any more." So he says: "No, it's really the Gestapo…. And I opened the door, and there was a large staircase going down, and down at the end … stood three - S.S. or Gestapo, I didn't know. And they had with them the head of the Zionist office of Italy, Dr. Goldin. He looked very-(excited)… and they said, they were sorry to incommodate (inconvenience) me… -but about 70 students are caught in Trieste, and I have to clear their papers. In the port they made me a little office… in the hall where the customs were--in the middle was an office, glass from all sides and there I sat and worked for three days…
The departure from Trieste was a very dramatic. I got all the students on the ship… So I went on the boat, and Edelstein was the only man standing near the gangway. And they started singing the "HaTikvah", and I still can't talk about it."
The trip, aboard "Galilea" of the Lloyd Triestino, lasted four days. The weather was sunny, and on the fifth, at sunrise, everyone crowded onto the deck, excited, because far to the east was a shoreline, a string of low dunes, which (as it turned out) were just north of Tel Aviv. The port of Tel Aviv was then just a small basin for boats and lighters: regular ships had to anchor offshore and unload into boats, and boats also took passengers to the shed where formalities were handled. A joyful George was waiting outside the port's gate.
There remains rather little information about the year that followed. The Sterns lived in Tel Aviv, apparently supported by friends they had known in Czechoslovakia, especially Anny's friend Addy Busch, who with her husband Oskar and son Harry got out before the Nazi occupation and who managed to bring out appreciable property. For a while Anny made and sold ornaments made of colored leather-flowers, etc.-but it was not a way for making a good living.
"Anyway, we arrived, and Henrietta Szold sent me her next-in- command Hans Bayd, to welcome me and to ask me what I need, and take my address where I will stay…. she wanted me to work for the Youth Aliyah. And I said: As soon as I know, I will give all my heart to the Youth Aliyah--first, what should I do with Peter (David)?" So her gift, of the Youth Aliyah, (for) whatever I did for them, was that they gave me one of the most expensive… boarding schools in Palestine, Meshek Yeladim, as a gift for David. I didn't pay, and we couldn't have paid it, because it was 5 pounds a month for a child [$ 25 at the time], and a family needed 6 pounds a month to live on…"
"Meshek Yeladim" (children's farm) was in the heart of the orange-grove country, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, and its language was Hebrew. The boy's name was changed, "Peter" became a middle name following "David" (the middle name Adolf, after his grandfather, was quietly dropped), and he quickly learned Hebrew from teachers and peers.
Hans Bayd became one of the first victims of Arab resistance to the partition of Palestine, by the decision of the UN general assembly on 29 Nov. 1947. Immediately after partition was announced, a bus was stopped by armed Arabs and three Jewish passengers were taken off and shot. Hans Bayd was among them.
However, Anny's elaborate plan of saving Jewish children by arranging for them foster care in Latin America-"The Child as a Guest" she named it-encountered official resistance and never took off. Jewish officials supported only the "Youth Aliyah" which promoted bringing such children to British Palestine, a route which unfortunately was shut off by the British government, by its "White Paper" law of May 1939.
Still, George and Anny needed employment. Luckily for them, the British army (and Australian, French and Polish troops allied with it) was erecting camps throughout the south of the country, conveniently close to the British lifeline of the Suez canal, and Jewish civilians were offered the opportunity of setting up coffee houses where soldiers could spend idle time on leave. The Sterns, with help, set up their "Café Boomerang" outside the camp of Kastina in which Australian troops were quartered, in the dry south bordering the desert. Initially, it consisted of an open kitchen in a large wooden shipping container, with tables outside and sleeping quarters in another crate. It prospered-- soldiers had few other choices, the city was too distant-- and later a cinderblock building replaced the improvised restaurant.
The Ones left Behind
Those who stayed in Prague, trapped by the Nazi occupation, included Adolf's daughter Käthe, her husband Rudolf Pollak and their daughters, Elisabeth ("Liesl") the older and Helen ("Lene") her sister. Rudolf was a civil engineer, and at an interview in Haifa, Israel, Liesl later told about him:
"My father always told us my grandmother had thirteen children but only eight survived. And my father, from this family, was the only one who had a real formal education. My father first went to high school in Prague, to a German high school as it was before the First World War. Then he went to the high technical school, to the university in Prague. And he finished there, he was--how could I tell you--he was a building-engineer, diplom-engineer, and he went on from Prague when he finished his studies, for two years, for further studies in Hannover in Germany. He spoke a very good German, but you always heard that he is a Czech. Always.
[In WW-1] he was more than lieutenant, he was captain, something like that. … And he often told us about the wartime... First of all, about Poland, that he saw some Hebrew inscriptions on stores, which he wasn't used to, of course. And he listened to Yiddish and he didn't understand a word. And when he told the Jews that he was a Jew, they didn't want to believe him.
The second story was (about the time) he was stationed in Romania. In Bodenbach they starved during that time, it was about 1917, when my mother came home from Vienna. And my father had a servant, as an officer, the Austrian officers had servants. And this servant was a very nice Czech. And he always sent him with foodstuffs to Bodenbach, from Romania. In Romania, there was enough. Flour and butter, I don't know what, and meat. And he came every few months, this servant came every few months to Bodenbach to bring them foodstuffs.
But he was glad to get home, 'cause he was somehow till his last days a Czech nationalist. Though he knew he was Jewish, and he was here in Palestine in 1933, he came … to look out for possibilities to immigrate to Palestine. But he came back, and I remember I asked him, "What about us?" because Bodenbach was at that time already very bad. The Nazis were (moving) inward. And I asked him, "Are we going to Palestine?", and he, his answer was, "I can't do that to your mother or to my children, because things are so primitive in Palestine and the weather conditions are so bad that I can't do it. We will have to stay here. The German Jews have to go, of course, but we are in Czechoslovakia and we are citizens of this republic and it won't happen here." That's been his answer.
He liked it there quite well. I have pictures he took here from Tiberias and from Jerusalem, and he went to the Temple Mount, I don't know how he did it. But I have lots of pictures from the Temple Mount, for instance, I have a picture … of a house here in Haifa for which I searched for years until I found out it's in the Herzl street. He went to see Salos in Heftzi-Bah. He went to Bethlehem, he went to Jericho. He went all over the country. But in the end he decided he has to stay. He has to stay, not in Bodenbach, that was the reason why he went to Aussig (Ústí-nad-labem) afterwards, because in Bodenbach--the work situation was bad already, because Jews didn't get any work in Bodenbach.
He was on his own, he didn't work for anybody. And in Bodenbach, the years before, he had big buildings. For instance, the town hall in Bodenbach, he built the town hall, which was a big building. Then he built the library, there was a real(ly) very big and nice library in Bodenbach…--it was sponsored by the town--which he built. He built … . For instance, a bridge which being built on the frontier, on the Czech-German frontier. And I remember that he had built something in there...
So it can be blown up?
It can, yes. I remember that quite clearly, we went there and he went under the bridge, you know, and there were some compartments, and he told me, well, if things will go wrong, then they will blow up the bridge. Here is the place to put the explosives.
But in the end we went to Aussig (Ústí-nad-labem). When he came back from Palestine, he decided to go to Aussig. And in Aussig he got a lot of work. Aussig was German (too). But,... he had the right connections there, and he got a lot of work, they were big, big chemical works. And there was always work there.
Do you remember when the Germans came?
Yes, of course. It was September '38, I think it's been the 28th September, '38. We went to Prague… and we had to get out [of Aussig] as quickly as possible.
We found a flat in Prague, on the Vinohrady, Weinberg ("vineyards", part of the city). And we lived there. First we were able to go to school, I went to a higher school and my sister went to--elementary school.
What grade were you?
Eleven. But, a few months later, that means in March ''39, the Germans marched into Prague. And then we had to leave school [all Jews were expelled from public schools]. And I went to a private English college, to learn English, for about--I think I went there from February till September or October, and I finished the college with an examination at the university. But my sister (5 years younger) had to leave school as well, and she got some private tutoring at home. With a few other children, and every time they were in another flat, you know, and then they got private lessons, that's been it.
Then in about October '39 I decided to train as a nurse. But, it was possible only in the Jewish hospital… at that time, the Jews were [also] thrown out of hospitals, of general hospitals. There were general hospitals in Prague, a few of them, and they threw out all the Jews. And the Jewish community had to open some rooms with beds, to take care of the Jews. And there weren't any nurses [in the Jewish hospitals]. We had a very, very few trained nurses, but nothing much to speak of. So when I came [and] I wanted to train for a nurse, they were very happy and they took me on immediately. . And first of all I worked in such a room with some five patients, in Klimenska [street] … in the Jewish quarter.
... But I worked there for only some two months and then they told me, they want to give me a real formal training, and they transferred me into the… outpatients' clinic.
These outpatient clinics were the only place, besides the hospital, where we were trained. We were trained, not for three years but for two years. And we had a very, very intensive training. And we were always told, "You are the ones who have to help Jews. If you don't know how to work, then your patients will die. Because there might come times, when there won't be any doctor, and you will have to help."
At that time, nurses didn't know how to take--blood pressure, or to give intravenous injections, or--what else. Well, we did everything. And we were trained for it. And we had to take examinations. So... and we worked very hard at it, we worked for some 12 and 14 hours. ... I was employed, formally employed, as a student nurse, by the Jewish Community of Prague. And I got this formal employment December 1st, 1939.
… Well, we studied and worked. But we had a lot of work, and … doctors had to prepare some, what do you call it, Vorträge--lectures for us, and we had to listen to these lectures. But we also got …for instance, instructions ... from nurses, in the hospital. That's been besides that. Because, you have to know how to make a bed, and you have to know how to treat the patient, and how to nurse the patient and, and, so on and so forth.
…Well, in the beginning we were very few, but a few months later, I remember, they couldn't cope with the number of girls who approached them. And they had to turn them down.…we were in the first course, at about twenty. Not more. In the other courses there were much more, and as I told you, it was... everybody wanted to train. There were no facilities to train so many people. So I was one of the first.
And I worked, and there I met my husband, and we married on the 20th of June 1940. I was 18 years old. My parents were very much opposed to this marriage, because I was much too young. My husband was Dr. Ernst Reich, who was a physician, who worked at the same Jewish hospital or outpatients' clinics … He was eight years older than I, he was brought up by his mother and his grandparents only, because his father died in the first World War, as an Austrian officer.
He was outstanding in his intelligence ... He made with Dr. Salos together, in Terezin later on, these scientific works, outstanding till this very day, on medical things, for instance, on the Hungeredem [hunger-edema from lack of protein]...
…I went back to Terezin [after liberation]… I went to search for the manuscripts. Because I knew before we left, my husband left the manuscripts with the head nurse of the hospital [where] we had worked. And I went to this head nurse, because my husband wasn't back yet, but I wanted to secure these things. And I went back with Grete Salos, the wife of Fritz Salos, who did the same thing. He was the chef of my husband, and he went to Auschwitz some ten days later than we did, and he left his works with this head nurse as well.
We came to this head nurse and--of course, she knew us--and we told her, we would like to know, where all the things are. Then she told us, oh, well, in the end we had to burn everything, all the books and everything written we had to burn. But, I think your(s) [wasn't burned]. Where did you put it? Well, I put it on the--how do you say Boden in English, it's in the upper floor. Attic, in the attic of the hospital, in some suitcase. We went up, there were hundreds of suitcases. We came down and we told her. Well, don't you know in which suitcase you put it? No, I don't.
We searched for hours and hours. In the evening we went to sleep, because there was no electricity, we slept in Terezin, and next morning, first thing we did, we went up to the attic, and we just opened more and more suitcases.
What was in them?
Nothing. Nothing at all. Empty. The one before the last, we found the manuscripts. But we searched hours. And I brought everything back to Prague. Then in Prague, I didn't see that I could have done something out of it, and even here. But, I had the manuscripts photocopied and they are now with Yad Vashem [Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem], one copy, and one copy is in Giv'at Chayim [Terezin memorial museum]. Both of them were very grateful because these institutions really don't have any medical works.
From the beginning of the German occupation, Jews were discriminated in all possible ways; those years are described in some detail by Miroslav Karny in "The Genocide of Czech Jews", and in the "Prague Winter" by Madeleine Albright.
The first year of German rule witnessed many restrictions, including some already mentioned-Jews were dismissed from public services, doctors from public hospitals (as Liesl found), refugees leaving the country were stripped of their property, Jewish children were excluded from public schools, and identity cards of Jews were marked with a big J. Later Jews were forbidden to attend cinemas, public libraries and sporting events, restricted to the backs of trains, not allowed to freely change residence, very limited use of post offices, no telephones, excluded from certain streets and still later made subject to an 8 pm curfew.
The general population resented the occupation and was generally sympathetic to Jews, and maybe that was the reason why in the first two years, Jews were not forced to carry identifying badges. Czechs noted efforts to "Germanize" their land and wondered if ultimately their turn would also come.
It was certainly worse in occupied Poland, where Jews had much less public support. There they were herded into large ghettos, and many atrocities took place. The historic Prague ghetto, with its preserved synagogues, town hall and cemetery, had by then become prime real estate, and Jews lived all over the city. No exclusive ghetto was set up by the Germans, but Jews were moved to designated houses, where they often lived in cramped quarters
As part of official policy, Jews were forbidden from selling their businesses. Instead, such businesses were given German administrators and trustees, depriving Jews of their livelihood, ultimately taking over their businesses altogether. It left those affected in precarious positions. Like many others, Rudolf Pollak, Liesl's father, found employment with the Jewish community (which could barely pay for services), as one of the people responsible for the maintenance of the buildings in which Jews were quartered.
We have only one sure piece of information about Minna in Prague during 1940-1, a mention in a Red-Cross postcard mailed by Josef Stern on 29 May 1941:
Wir alle gesund lange ohne nachricht schreibt Euere Adresse ob alle gesund und beisammen. Mina gesund erbitted Nachricht über Heinz. Von Oswald haben gute nachrichten Josef Stern
English: "All of us well long time without any message write your address whether all are healthy and together. Mina [sic] healthy asks for news about Heinz. We have good news from Oswald."
Oswald was Josef's eldest son, an engineer of shoe-making concern Bat'a whose company transferred him to its plant in Casablanca, Morocco. Some letters still came through, and we have one from Josef Stern dated 5 May 1940:
There is not much to report ... we still are worried a bit by Anny's letter. We had believed it would not be so difficult to get a firm foothold (in British Palestine), yet Anny writes that you have not yet found something appropriate. Now one has to add to it the boys [Paul, Albert and Franz Stern who arrived separately], it would be...[hard] to give you good advice.
I tell you [here] that the divestment [of the business] has not changed in any essential way...
I will finish more cheerfully. With me all things are the same as when you left us. Daily I still go to the stock exchange (?). Everyone asks if I have already written and many send you greetings. Almost daily do I meet with uncle Rudolf... We are also in contact with other relatives. ... The main thing is that you all are healthy... Father.
[Much of the material below is from Miroslav Karny's "The Genocide of Czech Jews."]
Hitler and the Nazi leadership often stated that their "final solution" meant getting rid of all Jews in the areas they controlled. Migration avenues had narrowed to a trickle as countries closed their gates, and after England, France and later Russia entered war against Germany, the Nazis decided to concentrate all Czech Jews in one camp. They chose the old fortress Theresienstadt (in Czech, Terezin, the name used here) not far from Prague; a second proposed camp in Moravia never materialized, and later Jews from other countries were also sent to Terezin
As described above, in the year 1940 and the start of 1941 Jews were increasingly restricted. Atrocities were already committed in Poland, but large scale genocide only got under way after the 22 June 1941 Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, endangering a large Jewish population. Hitler's orders were to exterminate all Jews in occupied areas of Russia, and so (among others) at least 34,000 Jews were shot in one week in Sept-October in the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev, about as many in Minsk in the week of 7 November, and as many again there in the months that followed.
In Prague, too, the Nazis moved towards eventual genocide, and the central figure in their efforts was an SS commander, friend of Hitler, named Reinhard Heydrich, who headed the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA). The RSHA oversaw all political departments of the German state, including the Gestapo, the German secret national police, headed by Adolf Eichman.
According to Karny's book, Heydrich on 1 September 1941 issued an order forcing all Czech Jews to wear on their clothes yellow patches (usually with stars of David) identifying them as Jews. Close to that date, too, the Nazis in Poland first used a gas chamber to kill about 800 prisoners, most of them Soviet POWs. Besides Jews, the Nazis exterminated on the order of a million Roma (Gypsies) and others.
On 27 September Heydrich was appointed official head of the protectorate. He was reported on 11 October discussing (at a meeting the previous day) steps for removing Jews from the Czech lands. The first step would bring all Jews to a central collection camp, for which he favored the fortress of Terezin, and on November 24 an initial "build-up crew" (Aufbaukommando) of 342 Jews arrived there.
By the end of the year 7350 Jews were already in Terezin, about equal to the town's previous population. As Jews arrived, close to 4000 Czech civilians were evacuated, the last of them leaving 3 July 1942.
Theresienstadt was founded in 1780 by the Austrian Emperor Josef II and was named after his mother, empress Maria-Theresa. It is a compact walled town of massive brick barracks, surrounded by high star-shaped brick battlements, further protected by moats (generally dry, but capable of being flooded). It was meant to hold a garrison of 5000 to 15,000, but in the 19th century the garrison was reduced and a few thousand civilians moved in.
It stands at the edge of the Bohemian plain, south of the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) which mark the northern border of Bohemia. The river Elbe (Czech: Labe) passes near it, flowing to the north-west and soon entering a steep canyon, cutting across the mountains of north Bohemia. Ships and barges on the Elbe connected Bohemia to ocean trade, and its valley provided a route for railroads. A tributary, the Eger (Czech: Ohře) flows into the Labe right next to Terezin's walls. The fort was meant to protect Bohemia against invaders from the north, but actually was never attacked: Napoleon's army went by a different route, and so did the Prussian army in the war of 1866.
Besides the "big fort" of Theresienstadt, a "small fort" (mala pevnost) of lesser area was built across the river Ohře, and it remained a purely military installation. In the Austrian Empire the small fort was also a prison for political prisoners--most notably Gabrilo Princip, whose 1914 assassination of the Austrian crown prince and his wife started World War I; he died there of tuberculosis in 1918. After June 1940, the Gestapo (German "secret national police") took charge of it and jailed, tortured and even hanged there enemies of its regime.
At first some Jews thought that being concentrated in one big "ghetto" offered some safety, and that Terezin could provide a "city of refuge" where they could wait out the war. Jacob Edelstein, appointed by the Germans to head the Jewish organizations in Terezin, hoped that in Terezin Jews could prove their value to Germany by undertaking productive work and would therefore be protected from further depredations.
In reality, the Nazis were already planning the killing of Jews in Poland and Russia. Terezin soon became just a transit station, not only for Czech Jews but for Austrian and German ones as well, and later for some of other countries too. The "final solution" extermination plan for Jews in Europe was formulated on 20 January 1942 in a short conference in the Wannsee section of Berlin, organized by Heydrich and Eichmann and attended by representatives of Nazi command from all occupied areas. From the Wikipedia article on the conference:
"Heydrich reported that there were approximately eleven million Jews in the whole of Europe, of whom half were in countries not under German control. He explained that since further Jewish emigration had been prohibited by Himmler, a new solution would take its place: 'evacuating' Jews to the east. This would be a temporary solution, a step towards the final solution of the Jewish question"
The number of Terezin inmates grew rapidly. Karny's book tallies the numbers of inmates in 1942:
Thereafter the number stayed near the last figure: many inmates died (over 10,000 in Aug-Oct 1942) and others were deported on "to the east," but constantly new ones also arrived in Terezin from occupied areas. Crowding was great: some slept in bunks erected in the barracks, others on floors and straw mattresses, and some even in attics. Prisoners were perpetually undernourished: Edelstein decreed that children would get priority and would be served slightly larger rations, while elderly got less, but everyone went hungry. The cold of winter also hit hard, and inmates (especially old ones) often just lay down in bed to conserve heat and energy.
In the middle of 1942 Heydrich was assassinated by two Czech soldiers parachuted from a British airplane. They ambushed his car on 27 May, and he died of his wounds about a week later. The story is covered well in Madeleine Albright's book "Prague Winter": the initial attack failed, but Heydrich stopped his car and was attacked again. The parachutists escaped and were hidden by Czech patriots, but ended up hunted down, betrayed and killed. Heydrich was a friend of Hitler, and retribution followed: all inhabitants of Lidice, the village closest to the ambush, were killed and the village itself was blown up. Terezin was punished by an extra transport "to the east."
Liesl at that time was still in Prague. In her interview she said that the Nazi reaction frightened Czechs from helping Jews:
"…And they … put up at that time big placards, whoever hides either the murderers of Heydrich or Jews, will be hanged. Not only he himself, but with his whole family. And that's been the end of hiding Jews. That's been the end because, in Slovakia, and in Poland, not to speak of Holland, Jews were hidden. In Bohemia and Moravia, it's been--well, I knew of some five persons who were hidden, but not more. Because they really, they-first of all, they were afraid, and Czechs weren't very helpful."
Minna and Liesl in Terezin
Minna was deported to Terezin in the middle of 1942, the month when (by the table above) the population of the ghetto doubled. Her Red-Cross postcard from Prague dated 21 July 1942 stated:
i.e. "Am healthy before departure sending you a thousand blessing wishes greetings for you loved Anny, George, much-loved Peter, son Heinz and Frank, I hug you most tenderly see you again Mother"
Josef and Anna Stern were deported to Terezin earlier, on July 6, shortly after Josef turned 80. On 19 October 1942 both were taken from there to the gas chambers of Treblinka, where they died.
Treblinka was the first large "death camp," devoted exclusively to killing. It contained no residential area (except for the "sonderkommando" inmates who cremated the bodies, and were themselves gassed and replaced from time to time). The gas chambers were windowless brick structures (victims were told they were "shower facilities") with openings in their roofs, through which gas-producing hydrogen cyanide was hurled in, once inmates were inside and doors were locked. The gas itself had been in use by the fumigation industry: even nowadays, when a house is fumigated to clear it of insects and rats, residents are evacuated, it is "tented" inside a large plastic sheet and gas is temporarily pumped in, killing all life inside. Hydrogen cyanide stops all uptake of oxygen from breathing; it is now rarely used for fumigation, but it was used in the death camps, and about 750,000 Jews died of it at Treblinka.
Minna was also ordered to a "transport to the east" on 8 October 1942, but according to Liesl Laufer, she was reprieved after showing her award from the Red Cross, for supporting troops on trains through Bodenbach during World War I.
For Czech Jews the year 1942 was when the Nazi Genocide plans became horrifying reality. Most Czech Jews were sent to Terezin that year, and many later continued in closed rail boxcars to "resettlement in the East" and were to be heard from again. Of Liesl's family, her parents Rudolf and Käthe Pollak and her younger sister Helena were sent to Terezin in December 1942, but Liesl required surgery and stayed behind.
Her trip to Terezin, to rejoin her parents, was repeatedly delayed by her nursing work, and meanwhile her mother wrote her that the family had to leave for "The East." She finally got her train ride in March 1943, but when she arrived her family had already left Terezin. Instead,
"…when I came to Terezin, a cousin of mine, from my father's side, awaited me on the railway station, and gave me a little slip of paper, and told me, well, that's what your father wrote down, during the journey.
And I told him, how could that be? He told me, well, you know, we knew the wagons [boxcars] which went to the East always came back to Terezin for another load of Jews. And I told your father to put a little slip of paper into a lamp, in this and this wagon, and I will search there. And I found this slip of paper--is this your father's handwriting? And I told him yes, it is. And my father just put down: "Terezin, Bohushovice, Bodenbach, Dresden" and in the end it ended "Katowice, Auschwitz." And after "Auschwitz" there was, there was a point. That means, the end of the journey. So I knew they went to Auschwitz. I knew right from the beginning.
--Did you know what was happening in Auschwitz?
That's another thing. We didn't know about the gas, that means, I didn't know. I knew that something horrible is happening in the East. But I thought of typhoid fever, I thought of hunger, I thought of--let's say war, that means shooting or something like that, but I never thought of gas. Never in my life. When I was in Terezin... well, I thought it's something horrible, a horror, you know, and you have to be glad to be in Terezin. During my stay in Terezin I became ill once more, and I was in a room with a German Jew, a pharmacist, who came a few days earlier from Berlin. But she was ill, and they put her into the hospital. And she--we were about five women in this room--and she started telling us about Auschwitz and about the gas.
-- How did she know?
She knew of the gas. She knew there is gas, and everybody is killed.
In Berlin they knew, somehow. I don't know how. But I heard it, and I was so upset, that I got high temperature once more. I had a jaundice, but the temperature went down--I got high temperature once more and in the afternoon when Salos [chief physician] came with my husband to see the patients, I just started, I started to weep. And they didn't know what happened to me, and I told... And I told my husband only, you know, this woman keeps telling us that in Auschwitz is gas. And my parents and my sister are in Auschwitz.
So I remember, five minutes later, they just put me in another room
The memorial plaque of the Pollaks in the Děčín synagogue states they died 24 January 1943.
Minna was put in room L. 403, with a group of older women (one of her poems suggests 14 occupants). They probably slept on the floor, enduring crowding in space defined to the centimeter, but avoiding the risk of a fall from a higher bunk; it might have resembled the room portrayed here in a watercolor by Zdenka Eismannova.
Some time during that year Minna found paper and began writing. For instance, when Zhenka, daughter of her room-mate Valeria ("Vally") Grabscheid was married on 23 March 1943, she wrote a humorous "Wedding Carmen" poem marking the occasion (transl. from German)
Minna was hopeful about the groom's parents sent "to the East." It was just an illusion:
Jenny (Zhenka) and Manzi were more fortunate, they found a long life together in Israel.
So first I must note that your grandmother, Mrs. Paechter, I remember exactly. She really lived with my mother and with my mother's sister, Liesel [a different Liesl]. Your grandmother, may her memory be blessed, was really a tall and strong person, with a special hairdo, whose arranging took her time every day. I can also tell you that together with my friend we once repaired for her a dress, and for that we received a piece of margarine (the size of a nut). I lived at a different place in Terezin, but I visited my mother every day and on that occasion I saw your grandmother and talked to her. To converse with her was always a memorable experience for me. That "God took her" I remember, but whether she died of weakness or of sickness I do not remember.
About her own feeling, Minna wrote somewhat bitterly (all translations from German are mine; the original was read to me in Sept. 1982 by Anny Stern, Minna's daughter and my own mother):
In the following cold winter she described life in her room, L 403 . Liesl and Vally were among the room-mates she described in a long poem in German (translated here):
"Ubikation," derived from Latin, was the official synonym to "placement," Xanthippa was the supposedly shrewish wife of the philosopher Socrates, while Demonsthenes was a famous ancient orator. And "platonic" cooking is pretend-cooking in the absence of ingredients, a hint to the collection of recipes by the women in Minna's room. There must have existed a little "real" cooking too, using food sent from the outside, but not much.
Those recipes are preserved in a "Kochbuch" (cookbook), a notebook sewn together (or reinforced) with needle and thread; it survived Terezin and is now at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC. Minna's bold writing is there (also her name), but the cover, of rough cardboard pieces, bears the name of room-mate Vally Grabscheid. Some recipes are in different handwritings, and some were added to the collection on separate bits of paper, including a fragment in Czech on a page from a calendar. Obviously, this was a communal project; a list of the contents is copied here.
Vally might have taken charge of the Kochbuch after Minna left room L 403 (possibly even earlier). She survived Terezin (her sister might not have) and later lived in Israel, and the "bound" Kochbuch was probably given there to Minna's daughter Anny Stern. In an interview 7-15-1982, Anny told
"One book of cooking recipes I got through a Dr. Grabscheid, who came from .. was with her in the concentration camp, and he brought it to Tiv'on, and I got it from him."
Tiv'on is a suburb of Haifa, in the foothills of the lower Galilee. Who was the man described as "Dr. Grabscheid" I don't know-maybe Vally's husband, or maybe she got it from Vally and mixed up the reference. And she also said in that interview
" …This is the one thing, and the other letters I got the funniest way. She [Minna] had a friend who was an antique dealer, of whom she said he is the nicest and best and decent guy you can imagine. He had a "klummfuss".. how do you call this? Buxbaum. Clubfoot, yes, deformed, and walked with a cane. And he was in Theresienstadt."
This suggests that Minna's material arrived in two separate parts, the loose pages arriving later (as described further below), when Anny already lived in New York. But one must be careful in quoting my mother, because a few of her stories seem to contain inventions-e.g. about Adolf Pächter's death (chronic diabetes, not pneumonia) and Liesl's escape from the Nazis (from a forced march, not from a mass grave). Some questionable claims in her interviews, for which no other evidence exists, are therefore omitted here.
The recipes themselves will not be reproduced: they were already published in the book "In Memory's Kitchen" (Jason Aronson 1996) edited by Cara de Silva, with translations by Bianca Steiner Brown, another Terezin survivor. However, recipes by themselves add little to a personal story. Instead, here is a poem inspired by Minna's Kochbuch, as reflected through "In Memory's Kitchen."
It is titled "In Fantasy Run Free", which is also a comment in one of the collected recipes, and it was written by Shulamith Chernoff, Professor of Education Emerita at Southern Connecticut State University. It appeared in her poetry collection "The Stones bear Witness," Hanover Press, 2006.
IN FANTASY RUN FREEby Shulamith Chernoff
-for Mina Pächter and the women who perished in Terezin
The Kochbuch contains more than recipes. It was written from both ends-at one end, the recipes, at the other, a rather gruesome poem in German "Eine Mutter vor Gericht". It is a plea of a mother, facing a judge for killing her loved daughter, in order to spare her violence and hunger. The title reads
Eine Mutter vor Gericht
Soloscene von David Eduard Mauthner
Inhaber des Dr. Blochschen Theater Verlags
Owner (?) of Dr. Bloch's theatre publishing house).
Nothing else is known about this writing; the closest match is an Austrian writer named Eduard Mauthner (1824-1889) who lived in Vienna. It is possible that this poem once was the only content of the notebook, and that the other end was only used when the women in L403 needed writing space for their recipes. That space later ran out, and recipes were then added on slips of paper.
Other poems were also penned on such slips. Here is one dedicated to an unnamed physician:
Another, harder to translate, was meant to celebrate a birthday:
(Here Minna seems frustrated "Does not go." But her writing continues with another pen, thicker script)
The slips also included letters never sent (no mail was allowed from Terezin). They are not dated and could have been written earlier in Prague, where some mail service was still available.
My loved ones
It is impossible to describe to you the enormous joy which we and in particular I felt when Peter's letter arrived. Just remind him often of me, so that he does not forget me. We would like to know more about you, but I am already satisfied to know your are healthy and have your income, though I do not know your occupation. I only regret that you Annerl [little Ann] have become so skinny since (unclear) were a few words of your addition to Bertl's letter the first sign of life. Can't you ask Heinz when you see him to write me a greeting? My life here is not completely easy and [but] I suffer everything gladly in the hope of seeing you again. The parents [George's?] visit me daily, all winter I do not go out. I kiss you many times, give greetings to the Sterns, your
My beloved golden Petričku (Peter)
I can't say how happy I was with your letter. I read it several times and I now know it by heart. I'm very happy that you are well and that you are healthy. Babbička Otti and Dedeček Josef (grandmotther Otti[lie] and grandfather Joseph) are very happy too with your writing and had great joy. I beg you, Petričku, please, write soon again. Kurti sends you his best regards. Please read sometimes Czech so you don't forget this beautiful language. On my night table I have your work and invention, your little airplane and I'm pleased with it and I admire it. I always admire your work and diligence. I will visit you very soon, Petričku, I only ask you, please, don't forget me. Don't forget your Babby, nobody will love you like I love you. Here it is very cold and a lot of snow and I always remember how you made the snowmen. That you love your electric train, I am very happy, if I could I would send you very many toys. That you work in the fields pleases me very much, I think it is very nice. Every evening I kiss your picture and I beg God that I will see you again. Only please, Petrichku, don't forget me. I hug you and I hold you and I kiss you very often. And please eat, so that you will be strong. Thousand .. pussineks, kisses, sends you your
Minna's last year
Hunger was everywhere in Terezin. Bianca Steiner Brown, the former inmate who later translated Minna's recipes, described in a talk the camp's diet thus:
"Old persons like Minna Pächter , while imprisoned, were usually located in separate houses. Few, if any, worked. The Jewish administration of Terezin was in charge of the meager provisions and their distribution. The laborers and children received increased allocations…. these increased portions were at the expense of the old and non-working prisoners…
The typical ration was about 500 grams of bread every 3-4 days. Sometimes, 20 grams of margarine, but there were weeks when there was none. Once in a while, we received about a tablespoon of sugar. For the so-called hot meals, we had to line up under every weather condition with our mess kits in [the] large yards. In the morning, substitute black coffee made from chicory was distributed. At midday it was soup. Sometimes it was so called potato soup that was often made from rotten, badly peeled potatoes. Sometimes it was called barley soup that was a slimy gray gruel without any taste. Once a week, when we were lucky, we got so-called goulash consisting of threads of meat, again in a gray sauce, with dumplings or with potatoes. Sometimes we had turnips in a gray sauce. Everything looked and tasted alike, but with little or nothing to eat, you had to become inventive. We sprinkled a little sugar on potatoes; or we sprinkled sugar on a slice of bread with a trace of margarine and pretended this to be dessert.
Since the Jewish administration hoped to keep the youth for the future, children received larger portions, about 1100 calories per day; however all was in vain, because of the 15,000 children, less than 100 survived. The old and sick suffered as a result of this; they suffered terribly… Under those conditions food became an obsession to most of us."
Lack of nourishment affected prisoners in other ways. Whatever food they received was deficient in protein, and as a result, limbs swelled and hurt. It was called "hunger edema" and the doctors in Terezin studied it, including (as told earlier) Liesl's husband Ernst Reich. Doctors in the Warsaw ghetto also studied it, and their studies later appeared in the book "Hunger Disease" [Myron Winick, ed., Wiley 1979].
All this brought fatigue and mental confusion. As Liesl Laufer told in her 1984 interview, she discovered Minna, in the spring or summer of 1943:
"And when I came she was really in very poor state... And she was somehow confused. Because I told her I was Liese, and the daughter of Kaethe, and she told me, she somehow answered back "Die Anni, Anni'leh ist hier, Anni'leh ist hier!" [Anny Stern, her daughter in Israel]. And I found out then and there that she is not able to take care of herself anymore. She had heavy, heavy diarrheas, which went with "hungeredem" always, that's been always like this. She couldn't take care of herself, so... In the middle of '43, yes."
"…And when I found her, I told my husband... and what are we going to do? And he went to Dr. Salos, and Dr. Salos told us, he will take her into the hospital. That would be the only solution for her. And she really stayed in the hospital, for about one year. And that's been the best thing, because she had her bed, and she had her food, served, and she had clean linen, so that's been really, she has been provided for.
-- How was her mind? What did she do?
Well… Look, she did not do much. Because, first of all you have to remember that people with "hungeredem" were very much asleep. They were very, very sleepy. That's been one of the symptoms, this sleepiness. Then the diarrheas, which were very very bad, always went with it.
Well, she was already getting old. That was the third thing. Because these "hungeredeme" were common in all the people...
-- "Hungeredeme" was protein deficiency?
Yes. Yes, yes. But nobody knew, at the start, nobody knew what happened. She had some books. And as I told you, first of all, she was very weak, of course. So it went on for about one year, because I remember, she died on Yom Kippur, '44. The last few months her state of health was worse and worse. [I know] because, I went there nearly every day. And in the end, she died. But--she couldn't have survived. She survived for a longer time than most of these old people. It's been quite a miracle. Because with other old people it went on for some 3 to 4 months, and--they died. But I remember that they took her blood nearly every day, she was one of the test persons. And she got even some food supplement, to see, what it would do to her. There weren't--there wasn't any medication to fight it off. She got some white cheese, but you shouldn't think that it was much, it was about two spoonfuls, not more, because they didn't have anything else. And that's been all, because there was--nothing! Nothing to help! But she endured it quite a long time. And about a fortnight after she died we left for Auschwitz. I don't know what would have happened to her, because even Dr. Salos left, and I just can't imagine what would have been. She died at the right time.
--There was a funeral?
Yes. There was a funeral. That means, there was a crematorium outside the walls, where we were prohibited to go. It was in some--in one of the barracks, I just can't remember in which. You just had some kind of a coffin, and then they took the coffin out. And I went there, there was no service--no religious service, nothing.
--Who was with you?
Nobody. I was all by myself, because I remember very clearly, my husband was on duty that week in the hospital, and I was all by myself. And there were some 3 to 4 people who came to attend, let's say the funeral, and I was the only one from the family. But that--it wasn't all, because there was a crematorium, and people were burned. Because you didn't have as much space, in the cemetery, to inter the people.
But I tell you, she had a comparatively good end. Because the others were sent to the East. For instance, Mimi, Giesa, with her daughter... In the beginning, we had such a lot of family, my husband and I, and then, you know, this was sent away and that was sent away, and in the end nobody stayed.
As I told you, I joined my husband because I told, I'm not going to stay behind all by myself. That's been the reason. The only reason. Because, I could have stayed on. And I didn't want to. Because we didn't know what will happen in Theresienstadt, in the end. Till they found out. And--I tell you quite frankly, she talked with the people in her room, there were some 4 or 5 other people, changing the whole time.
In September-October '44, the Germans wanted to evacuate Terezin. They first told us there are transports, "work-transports," that means they took only young people, young men. But, everybody went to Auschwitz. Afterwards, about 10 days later, they told us--well, the wives and children of these young men are as a privilege allowed to join them. Of course, these people rushed to register.
They registered, they really were taken to Auschwitz, but to the gas chambers. We went in the transport--one before the last one. We were always one before the last. And we came to Auschwitz...
Two and a half days, we went really the same route as my father wrote down, we went for instance to Breslau, I remember. And we went through Bodenbach, of course, and Dresden.
--What did you eat?
Well, we had some rations with us. It was quarter of a bread, and some margarine and, I don't know, some sugar. That's been all. And the train was horribly crowded, of course. And nobody knew where we are going, because there were rumors, you're going to Germany, only. There was a fortress, not far from Bodenbach, between Bodenbach and Dresden, it was named Koenigstein. They told us we are going to Koenigstein. But when we came to Dresden, I was the one who told everybody, well, we passed Koenigstein, we're going on. Because people did not know where Koenigstein was, but I did.
So we went on to Auschwitz, and we came to Auschwitz during the night, about 1 or 2, the train stopped, and we saw some lights. You know, right like lights on a road. But there were masses of roads, I don't know how many roads, and lights, and lights, and lights. But when I saw we were going through Katowice, I thought we were going to Auschwitz. And it's been according to the maps I had, when the train stopped I knew where we are.
And at dawn, some prisoners [came] into the wagons, and the first thing was, they said, in Yiddish, that we didn't understand, what... they yelled, "Ihr seit alle gesind" [you all are healthy]. We didn't know what they meant. And they wanted all our watches. We didn't want to give our watches, and out they went.
And everybody went out, and first we were all together, and then the Germans told us, "Men right and women left." But my husband somehow rushed out and, he didn't come back. And then, we went, and I told myself, that's really not right, that he didn't come back to me and now we are already separated.
And then we came to three SS officers. The whole column. And my husband was standing beside an officer and told him, "Das ist die Krankenschwester die ich haben will" [this is the nurse that I want].
And I had two little children with me, children which their mother left sitting on the railway station in Prague and she herself hid in Berlin, afterwards. She is living now in Jerusalem… she lived on and on, but the children went to the gas.
And this SS officer asked me: "Sind das ihre Kinder?"[are these your children?], and I told him: "Nein" [no]. So he just pushed these two children away from me, and I stood beside my husband, and I didn't know what to do. And we waited a bit, and then the officers went away, and my husband told me: "Komm schnell, wir müssen auf die rechter Seite dem anderem nachlaufen. Aber komm schnell." [Come quickly, we must run after the others on the right side. But come quickly.]
And he took me by my hand, and he just pulled me to one side. And I didn't know what happened. And during this rushing he told me that he arranged for himself to be Transportarzt [transport physician]. But this transportarzt always goes with the people to the gas: I don't know what he bet on, I have no idea. But that's been his bet to pull me out. Because he just took me and we rushed after the people who were able to work.
These were the fit ones, and the other ones, with small children--there was something in the shouting of these prisoners, of course, because you had to tell them, you were healthy and you were fit. Because somebody told them, I don't know, he had the 'flu or something like that, and he just went off to the gas, though he was a young fit man.
I was--I was very lucky, because it was still dawn, and they didn't see that I was all yellow. I had another jaundice, and I was yellow, but they didn't notice it, because there was really no light.
So we rushed after the others. And when we came there, there was some... something like a barrack, but not as in Terezin a house, from, I don't know [solid brick barracks], it was wooden or something like that. And we came there, it was... the house [where] everybody went. And we came in, and there we met some other prisoners, and, everybody of course asked about his relatives. And I remember, I asked about the transport of my parents and of my sister, and if they were there. And they made a sign like that, finger up, and I didn't understand. And then they took me and told me, look, here you see... ein Kamin, ein Schornstein... a big chimney. You see, now the chimney will burn, you will see the smoke, and you should know, this smoke is your transport, the people who came with you. And I told them, "but we are here!" "Well, that's the people who went to the other side." And this smoke are these people.
And I couldn't understand it. So then we had, first of all, they shaved our heads off, of course, the hair…
--Who is "they"? Prisoners?
Prisoners, but under the observation of Germans. Then our clothes were taken from us and we got prisoner clothes. And I remember, it was very hard to find a decent pair of shoes. And after that, when we had the clothes on and the head shaved off, I wanted to see my friend Martha, who was the whole time with me, and we just went hand in hand, because we were.. we just didn't want to lose one another, we were afraid, they would separate between ourselves. And I didn't recognize her, and I went from one woman to the other, to some three women and I told everybody "Are you Martha Bloch?" And then one answered, "yes I'm Martha Bloch, but who are you?" And we saw ourselves [had seen each other] some 5 minutes earlier.
I stayed for some 4 or 5 days in Auschwitz, then we were deported to another concentration camp in Silesia, named Gross-Rosen. But, we were [in] an "Aussenlager" [attached camp] of Gross-Rosen. We were only about 1000 women there, mostly from Terezin, but there were some Hungarians, there were some Slovakians but…
I never saw my husband again. I never saw him again. I never knew till... When we went to the hair shave, they told us, well, now the men are going this side and you are going to another barrack and that's been it.
Oh, before we went to this hair shave, that was when I was together with my husband, I had my wedding ring. That's been the only thing we were allowed to take. I had my wedding ring, and... they wanted to take the wedding ring. And I didn't want to give the wedding ring. My husband told me, well, look, it's .. it doesn't make any difference, if we come back to Prague I will buy you another one, a nicer one.
So, that's been about the wedding ring. Now, I didn't see my husband any more. I knew that he... First of all, what was very important, that both of us knew we didn't go to the gas. That's been very important. The second thing was, that I somehow got the information that he was sent away from Auschwitz to another camp. Which was very good, because that was one of his last words, "try to get out of here." And I stayed... as I told you, I just don't remember how many days. Because it was... it was hell. That's been pure hell for all of us. We didn't get enough to eat, far from it, we slept on a stone floor without anything else, and we were pushed from one place to the other, I don't know what this pushing meant.
... In these few days, I was in three different camps in Auschwitz. I was in the Zigeunerlager[gipsy camp], for instance. I was in the Frauenlager [women's camp], I was in the T-lager. In the end they told us we have to go out to work, and we were put on a train. And we went by train till Silesia, which wasn't very far.
… So we went there to work, and our work was very hard. We had to carry, for instance, trees, tree trunks, or we had to do...
--Trees--from where to where?
For kilometers. For firewood or for... I don't know what for. I have no idea. Then..
No! Our shoulders. We came home, our shoulders were just a ... horrible. We couldn't sleep at night. And there was really nothing to eat. But after two weeks we had to do another work. We had to dig ditches against Russian tanks. And this we did, we were there from … end of October till about the 20th of January. That means--November, December, about three months. Yes, it was very cold, very very cold, we had frozen hands and we had frozen feet and .. it's always been terribly cold, and we weren't properly dressed of course, and we didn't eat nearly anything, so it was...
-- What was the sanitation in all these camps?
The sanitation in...? I can't tell you about Auschwitz, because I never saw them [Liesel understood "sanitation" to mean health facilities]. In this little camp we had one small ...First of all, there were four physicians, ladies, who just lay down. Because, they had a few aspirins, I presume, and perhaps a thermometer, but not much else. And that's been it. I was there in the Krankenstube [sick room] for about one week or ten days, because I had a food deficiency in my gums, but so bad, that I got temperature from it and I got it infected all over, so I was there, and then, after it's about... You knew, that it's the last station. Either you get out of it somehow, that means, either the war is finished, or you are finished. That is it. Because I remember, there were some ill girls, some two or three who were very ill, and despite the protests... of the physicians, they took them away to Gross-Rosen, and we never saw them again. Never, never. And we never knew what happened to them."
March towards Germany
When the war front came close, the girls were force-marched towards Germany.
"And I know that when we had to get out of this camp, because the Russians approached, that really ill girls were taken by some German gendarmes, it wasn't the SS which ... who were the guards. We didn't have SS guards, we had Gendarmerie guards, Germans, old men, primitive...
--Did they try to be decent to you?
Well, we had a Lagerkommandant [camp commander] who was decent, the others, not. And they took these girls off, and we knew they were shooting the girls. They were shot. They were the ones who were really ill and whom they presumed that they wouldn't be able to walk. And we had to walk. And during the second or third day of walking we came through a little village and we met a few Russian prisoners of war.
--Did anybody try to escape, while you were walking?
-- Till then, not.
-- What did you do at night, when you walked?
Well, at night we were put up in some big building, it was either... The last night we were put up in a prison, I remember. Some public building. Of course, with guards. But, till the third day, nobody tried to escape.
On this third day, we first met some Russian prisoners of war, and one of them told me somehow, well, why don't you escape, for goodness sake? And I told him, well, why don't you? And he told me, we will be shot on the spot, but you have to try.
-- How did you talk to him?
He talked Russian, but I understood him [close to Czech]. But a guard noticed that I had talked to this prisoner and I was beaten up, I ... he beat me up, it was horrible. And then and there I decided, I will try to escape. After these beatings.
Then we came to another village, and I overheard some old Germans who talked a slang very much alike to the slang they talked in Bodenbach, and nobody understood it. And they told each other that the Germans are holding their line only on the opposite side of the river Oder. They will disengage till the river Oder. This side of the Oder, they let the Russians in, but on the other side of the Oder they will hold the line.
So I told myself, I don't want to cross the river, that's one thing I have to do. And I had two... Yes. And in the evening, I talked things over with Lisa, who is now in Washington. Lisa Hellman … I told her, look, I heard this and this thing. Let us stay somehow here! So we went to sleep ... Yes. And Martha, the third one of us, was very ill. But she was somehow saved and they took her onto a cart. But, she joined us. And I told Martha, what do you think of it, if we should escape. And Martha told me, it is a very risky business. But we should actually try, I am so weak and I am so ill, to go to Gross-Rosen and to end up in a gas chamber? No--we could try it, give it a try.
So, we stayed for another night, and then we went on with all the girls. But we saw people fleeing… Germans, with carts loaded, you know, and with horses. And there was by the side, side of the road, a ditch. I don't know how, it was really a dark day, to hide in this ditch, and we did. And all the girls from our group went, they walked by. And by the road side there was a little house, and we went into this house ...
-- The ditch had grass?
No, it was snow, it was snow and ice, it was in Germany.
--So, how couldn't they see you?
They didn't see us. Because, it was nearly dark, it was a ditch of about a meter and a half deep, and we just cowered there. And then we went into a little house, the nearest house. It was a little village, and in this house, the house was empty... we didn't know what we'd find, the house was empty, but, on the table, we found some soup. It was a bit warm. And we found they had--later on we found that they had foodstuff and foodstuff in that house, and they just left, they fled. Then we found out that this little village is... there isn't anybody there.
-- Did you change your clothes?
Yes. We changed our clothes immediately. Immediately. And I remember, I had a black skirt, very long ... We changed into this peasant dress and we took ourselves some scarves over our hair, because our hair was very short. And we stayed in that house.
But, during the night... We somehow slept during the night, and in the morning we found out that there was a ... store [storage room], we found out that there were two other girls from our transport hiding, which we didn't know. So they came out, when they found out, and we found them. So all the five of us stayed together.
But, the next three days were horrible. First of all, some Germans came in, and we told them we are Polish, we are from Poland and the Germans took us here..
--What Germans, civilians or soldiers?
Civilians and soldiers. So we just told them we are Polish girls, and we were taken here, but by force, for work. And, we want to go back to Poland. O.K., and they left us. But the last one who came in was a German officer with a pistol in his hand. And we told him the same story, he didn't want to believe it. And he already chased us, but we somehow, all the five of us escaped, because I had the impression, that he didn't have any time for us, he wanted to get away. He was under orders, to shoot everybody who stayed, but as we left, and he chased us around and so on, he had to leave.
You heard the whole time, you heard shooting. And nearer, and nearer and nearer. And in the evening, you saw... you didn't see any clouds, everything was red, because... we saw the fire, from Breslau, we were very near Breslau [now Wroclaw], and Breslau burned, and we just saw the fire. That's been the red clouds. But, during these three days, we heard that the shooting comes nearer. In the end...
--You say three days... that's three days after the officer was there?
No, Oh no, it was in between these three days, I don't know if it was at the second day or at the third day that this officer came in. Because, it was ... the last hours before the Russians came in.
--Did you see any soldiers, any tanks, cars...
No. It was empty, the whole thing. We did see, on the first day perhaps, some lorries [trucks], but very few ones, and then the whole thing was empty.
And then, I don't know who saw that... heard some tanks. We didn't move. We just were in the house and it was warm in the house and we had some food, we didn't move. At about two hours later we heard somebody to open the door. And we heard somebody coming in. But.. it was sure it was a soldier. And we just sat there beside the oven, you know, there was a big chimney...
--Did you have a fire in it?
Yes, we had some wood.
--You were not afraid that the smoke would show that you are there?
We were afraid, but we had to do something, because otherwise we would have frozen. And we just set out this stove, somebody came in, ... somehow we felt that this somebody stopped at the very door! He stopped at the door and he didn't come in. So we looked at him, and it was a Russian soldier.
And he told us, what are you doing here? Who are you? And we told him, we are Jewish girls, this we knew to tell him somehow, in Czech, in Russian, we are Jewish girls and we escaped from a camp. And he told us something, when he heard camp, he told us something--"Oswieczim". Oswieczim is Auschwitz [in Polish]. And we told him, yes.
And out he went, but he came back with an officer. And this officer started to talk Yiddish to us. We didn't understand a word. And I think he was very much in doubt if we are Jews or Germans, or Polish, or whatever else. Because, the only word we understood was "Zugt Shma Yisro'el" [say Shma Israel, the Jewish creed in Hebrew]. That was the only word we understood. And I remember the five of us saying to him Shma Yisro'el. And then he was satisfied. And from then, the few days he was there we had really everything.
He brought us bread, and butter, and ... and everything we wanted. And we had enough clothes. And that's been it. But, he wanted us to leave with him for Berlin. To go to Berlin. He was the first to come. And he was the ... how could I tell you, it was an elite corps, and he had to go on. And he didn't want to leave us here, because he told us, well, we, you see, we are not all elite troops, and what you will encounter later won't be like the same. But still, we told him, well, we are not strong enough and we are not healthy enough to go to Berlin! And to leave us somewhere else, that's not good. But, we would like to go to Poland, really to Poland, or to work in a hospital. That would be the right place for us, but not here.
--You were all nurses?
No, only Martha and I. But this would be a solution to our problem if we could work in a hospital. So he told us, well, now you are not able to move. So we were with him for some five days…And through him we met some other officers and a man who was from Odessa, Jewish, who told us how his family perished in Odessa, they just threw the people into the sea, the Jews. That's what his story has been. Odessa. And he was a high ranking officer, the Russian, and he told us, that's true. But mainly Jews came, because this man introduced us only to Jews.
But, they went on. And then we stayed some more, three days more in this village. And then we decided, we will try to go back, just walk back, to Poland. And on this hike back we encountered prisoners of war, but, from the British army, who were in a similar prisoner camp in a place named Sagan. Sagan is a little town in Silesia. And in this town were prisoner-of-war camps. And we met some very nice South Africans, English, that means British, then who else was there, one British soldier who was Jewish, from London, then another one, who was from Palestine. He was taken prisoner in Creta [Crete], in the island Creta, and he was there, but nobody knew that he was Palestinian. And with these people we went back, first we walked, then somehow they provided an army lorry, a Russian army lorry or two army lorries…
First we went to a town named Klujborg…in Silesia. Then we went to a place named Oels, a big hunting lodge… it was a palace of the last German prince… the Deutsche Kronprinz [German crown prince], and we were put up there. The Russians took this, actually a castle…as a house for the prisoners of war. And there we met American prisoners of war, pilots for instance, we met Yugoslavs, …We went with the British. …and they told the Russians, "we are taking these women with us."
-- Did you find out what happened to the rest of the transport?
Yes, of course, of course I know. The rest of the transport went first, really, to Gross-Rosen. They stayed there for some 3-4 days. From Gross-Rosen they put them on a train, they went for some two to three weeks, across the whole of Germany.... They were bombed (but it's been already British bombers), and they were hungry and I don't know what, in the end they finished in Bergen Belsen… In Bergen Belsen was once more typhoid fever, and I think that from... we were a thousand at the beginning, we escaped about, on the route, here and there and there and here, about sixty, and about forty survived Bergen Belsen. But I don't think that more than one hundred from these one thousand women lived.
Then we went to Czestochowa [Čenstochova]… That's been the first time that we met men. Then we went on by train to Uzhhorod first, because, we didn't want to stay in Poland. We wanted to go back to Czechoslovakia
In Uzhhorod, some Czech official came to tell us, we have to leave Uzhhorod, as the whole of Carpato-Russia [eastern tip of Czechoslovakia] is going to be Russian [it became part of the Ukraine]. And we have to leave, we have to go to Slovakia [further west]. So we went to Košice on the same day as president Beneš arrived. He went to Košice, because Prague wasn't free yet. Prague was still under German occupation. So we came to Košice and we decided, we have to take on some kind of job. In the meantime we had jobs with the Russians, as nurses, but in Košice, we wanted really to work
Yes, we had temporary jobs. And we had, for instance, In Oels I had a very interesting job as a nurse and a translator. And I got pay from the Russians for languages I spoke, and I got a different.. they paid me for English and they paid me for American. .
Yes, we had a uniform, a Russian uniform, and they paid us for I don't know... No, we had no official paybook, we had some kinds of papers, you know, but with the Russian, the first thing you had to have, "bumazhki", that were papers. Without papers you couldn't work. So we had papers. And we got even some money for our work. But it lasted for about ten days, about a fortnight ...
But … we came finally to Košice, at about beginning of March. And there was no end to the war, yet. So we told ourselves, we have to do something to get work and to live like decent people.
We applied for work at the health ministry, I think, which was set up in Košice. And we told them, but we have nowhere to stay. And they sent us to the hospital in Košice, and … when we came to the hospital, we had to go to eat something, and it was a big place for all the nurses and the doctors. And we came in, and we met somehow some doctors, Jews, who came from England. Czech Jews, who came from England. And we introduced ourselves, and one told us "You are Mrs. Reich and you are Mrs. Bloch, aren't your husbands doctors?" We told them, "yes." "Because I studied with Reich and Bloch, and I'm one of the people who got out to England--but I'm back here. Where are your husbands?"
…And we went and got a room allocated for the three of us and we went to bed, we were dead tired. In came a lady, came to my friend Lisa and told her, I am sure you remember me, I'm the friend of your mother.
It's been Dr. Fischer-Ascher, an eye surgeon. She remembered her when she spoke to her, and Dr. Fischer told her "Look Lisa. I have a friend back in London, and I promised her, I will look out for her family. And I have the names of this family"
Lisa, told her about her own family, we had been with a niece of hers, but the niece went on and she just didn't survive, she went to Bergen Belsen. And about her acquaintances, and so on, and then she started with that family of her best friend back in London. ] And she took out a little booklet, and she told, well, the family is named Pollak. Then Lisa told me: "Look, you are a born Pollak, you are neé Pollack. I just can't any more, I'm dead tired, you just talk to her."
Then she came to sit on my bed… And I told her: "Yes, but you know that Pollack is a very common name, and I don't know if I will be able to help you.." She started to read the names of my parents and my name and my sister's name. And I told her, well, that's me! But who is looking for us? And she didn't want to believe me and told me "look, would you please tell me the... your mother's maiden name?" I told her my mother is a neé Pächter.
And ..."when were you born, and where were you born?" … And "you were married, weren't you?" I told her, yes. "Now please tell me, who is who." She told me, "Look. Your aunt, Emmi Federer back in London told me, the minute I will meet somebody to ask if he knows you." I told her, "Well, it's me." And she told me, "Look, come with me. Your aunt sent you some things." So the things my aunt sent were lipstick--which the five of us used--and very warm underwear, and she gave me some money. I didn't know it was her money, I thought aunt Emmi sent it. But I took the money, I wouldn't have taken it if I would had known that it's her money.
And she told me: "You know, next day I'm the private eye physician to President Beneš, and tomorrow morning I will go to President Beneš'es office and I there ask permission to send a cable to London, to tell your aunt that I found you." And that's what she did. So aunt Emmi knew in March, already, that I'm living. But she thought that everybody's living. That was her mistake.
Because this friend of hers, this eye surgeon, sent a cable that she found me, and that's been, of course, the whole family is alive. And after the war I had some letters from her ... First I wrote, of course. And I got some letters that she just can't understand that I don't know the address of my mother. Or, where is my sister, you have to take care of your little sister, where's your sister? And in the end, I wrote a letter to my uncle, to tell my aunt, somehow, that they aren't alive. And I addressed the letter to my uncle, who was then at Warwick Castle, outside London, because the whole steel corporation was evacuated to this castle. It's Warwick, outside London, but not too far.
But this letter, unfortunately, didn't reach my uncle, but my aunt. And my aunt read that and she just ... I think she never recovered from this letter. Because it's been a bit too much for her, to read that there is nobody alive, only me. Because she had the impression that if I'm alive, everybody else will be as well.
So that's .. Then from Košice we got really very good jobs in a little town, in Humeny… on the Slovakian border, had a very fine hospital, a government hospital, very fine, a big hospital. We went there with some doctors who came back from England, Jews, and we worked there. I worked in the operations theater, and I took with me Lisa, who was a dancer by profession, but she worked very well.
And Martha worked in the... it was the surgery department, where she worked, and she was a head nurse there, so, it was... we were all right, we had jobs, we worked. Yes, a civilian hospital--then we worked as civilians, as these doctors did. We had a lot of work to do, because everywhere were mines, and people came without arms and without legs and, and, and. We were busy for 24 hours daily. Was horrible, we couldn't go out of the hospital.
So we spent there some six weeks… Beginning of May the war was over, and we heard it over the radio and it's been, from the beginning, we told the people in the health ministry in Košice, who took us on, "We are going to work till the end of the war, or till we are able to return to Prague.
But, as they didn't have any other nurses, especially not an operation nurse, they didn't want to leave us. And I had a Slovakian there, a Jewish doctor who told me, "well, I have you imprisoned but you won't leave." So we made it in the evening, late evening, to the railway station, first Martha and Lisa, and I stayed on till the last moment, I knew I have to catch the train, and with the train we went to Budapest.
And in Budapest we stayed for another six or seven days, and then we left by train for Slovakia. But this train from Budapest to Bratislava, which takes about four to three hours, we went about three days. We came to Bratislava and went to the Jewish community. And they told us, well, we have people in Terezin, and we sent lorries to take them home, you could go on such a lorry to Prague. That would be the best way to go.
So we really went on such a lorry. I remember, we went--it's been during one whole night, but we went though Hodonin… where President Masaryk was born. And in Hodonin there was heavy shooting between Russians and Germans. We thought we might never come out of this shooting. The war was over and still, there was heavy shooting in this Hodonin. But we went on, and I went off the lorry before Prague, in Pardubice, where my uncle lived. The brother of my father. So that's been my story.
-- Did you meet my uncle Albert [Stern]?
Yes, in Prague. But he came with the army. In '46 I got a certificate, it was a very important thing because Koehler [a surgeon she knew from Bodenbach] wanted me to come home to Palestine, and …in the end Koehler provided the [immigration] certificate and … I got it as a special worker, it's not been an immigrant certificate. I got a certificate to stay for one year and work at the Ezra hospital [Koehler's hospital on Mountain Rd., Haifa]. And …they extended it for another year and then [it] was the state Israel. "
In Israel Liesl married Erwin Laufer, an experienced welder, and raised her daughters in Haifa. She passed away in 2013.
Heinz and Anny
Minna's son Heinz stayed in Tiberias for a few more years, but then moved to Poriya on top of the mountain ridge overlooking the city, well above sea level and much cooler. He also changed his name to Hebrew Chanoch (Enoch in the English translation of Genesis) Ben Aris . However, his culture and that of his wife Pninah differed greatly: she came from the Zionist workers movement and the Kibbutzim, he from old European traditions, including interest in palm reading, free-masonry and astrology. In the end, they were divorced, and he later moved to Switzerland, became close to a woman named Solvejg de Vries, and died there in 1968. All his three children stayed close to Pninah.
George and Anny Stern sold their coffee-shop at the army camp in 1942-3; by then the war had moved further away and the camp population dropped. Their long story can only be outlined here. They moved to Haifa and bought "Café Schapira," a small restaurant near the port, next to a block of government offices. That year their son David lived with Chanoch (Heinz) and Pninah in Tiberias and attended sixth grade there. In Haifa the Sterns shared a large apartment with 4 other families and David enrolled in the Hugim [chugim] high school.
The end of WW II brought turbulence to British Palestine. Very quickly the fate of Europe's Jews became all too clear. Many Holocaust survivors ended up as refugees and tried hard to reach Palestine, but the British government insisted on the old immigration quota of 1500 per month, and the British Royal Navy imposed a sea blockade. Ships were intercepted and their passengers detained, mostly in camps on the island of Cyprus. This fed wide resentment, and clandestine Jewish organizations attacked British installations, including the police HQ and the main post office next to Café Schapira. High barbed wire fences went around its block, and they smothered regular business. George Stern finally left the restaurant and joined a partnership in a travel agency "Travex," while Anny found work in the office of an insurance company.
Came the UN partition of Palestine at the end of Nov 1947 and the outbreak of an armed Arab-Jewish conflict. The Sterns finally had a chance to move out of the cramped shared apartment to a small one on Mt. Carmel, whose owner decided to leave the country as new war approached. On May 15, 1948, the last British troops withdrew, the state of Israel was declared and five Arab armies invaded the country, bent on destroying the new state. Israel resisted, war began, and David was conscripted before finishing high school, as his father also was in 1917.
Israel survived. David served 2 years in the army, received a 6-month furlough for an abbreviated last year in school and passed his matriculation exams. He then enrolled to study physics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (at that time housed in temporary quarters, because the Jordanian army had encircled its old campus), graduated with an M.Sc and enrolled in the graduate school of the Israel Institute of Technology ("Technion").
He earned there a doctorate in physics, his thesis an underground experiment on cosmic rays, using a tunnel being dug to bring water from the river Jordan to the drier south. In 1959 he accepted a post-grad fellowship at the University of Maryland and then in 1961 began research with NASA at its nearby Goddard Space Flight Center, just outside Washington, DC. His parents came to the US around that time: George Stern's travel business was badly harmed by an embezzling partner, but he found ready employment as travel agent in New York, ending as one of the founders of the Lindblad tours company. His wife Anny arrived a little later.
A Parcel for Anny
In October 1960, David received an air-letter from Israel, addressed to "Dr. D. Stern / Department of Physics / University of Maryland / College Park / Maryland:
A friend of mine brought a parcel from ČSR (Česko-Slovenska Republika) from your late grandmother. It has to be delivered to your mother. We got it from a Mr. (?) Buxbaum.
The parcel-the size of a book-contains documents-we have not opened it and do not know the exact contents, but I gather there will be many sad mementos for your mother.
Please inform your mother (I have not her address) immediately and please confirm this letter and also let me know whether mother has received this parcel.
I hope you are fine and feel happy there and are also very successful. Best, best regards to your parents and to you
Yours Edith Ruth Reiner
I have visited Töpliz-Schönau and spoke there with my in-law sharing my name Mr. Arthur Buxbaum, who was in Theresienstadt together with your late mother. Perhaps you have memory of him too, he was a known dealer in antiquities.
The message was forwarded to my mother Anny Stern, and she retrieved the package, but after the many years we both had forgotten the above correspondence. Anny offered her own version of how the papers reached her, repeated in "In Memory's Kitchen," in the French book, and verbally on many occasions. But the letter survived in my old correspondence files and resurfaced on Valentine's day in 2009. I now believe that the "Kochbuch" with Vally Grabscheid's name was given to Anny Stern by Vally herself, whereas the "papers" mentioned by Irma Buxbaum were loose notes, letters and poems, maybe loose recipes too. But one can never be sure.
Through many years, my mother kept Minna's legacy in an envelope, like a precious relic. During a visit on 25 September 1982, in a taped interview, she read out aloud Minna's rhymes and I transcribed and translated them. She lost her battle with cancer October 1995 (George died two years earlier, the last of Josef Stern's boys), without ever telling where the papers were kept.
After she passed away, I searched high and low and could not find that envelope anywhere in her apartment. But I had invited her friends for a last visit, before the apartment, full of art and personal touches, was emptied. One of them--Zdenka Hauner (a Czech dentist who had fled the Communist state, later Zdenka Manley) suddenly turned to me and said: "Did your mother ever tell you where she was hiding the Kochbuch? Because I know where, it is here, behind these books."
By that time steps were already in motion to give the "Kochbuch" wider exposure. Another friend of Anny's had started it, Dalia Goldstein, a former Israeli in New York who collected printed cookbooks by the thousand. By chance she learned about Minna's recipe book, and after examining it she told Anny that here was something that just had to be published. She located in New York two "food writers", Cara de Silva and Bianca Steiner Brown, and Anny agreed to let them produce a book in English around Minna's "Kochbuch."
The choice of Bianca was uniquely appropriate: born in Prague in 1922, she had worked as a nurse in Terezin. Only she and her mother survived: her father and sister were sent to the "Family Camp" in Auschwitz-Birkenau whose residents were killed in March 1944. Bianca stayed in Terezin and on 8 May witnessed the arrival of Russian troops. She married that year, moved to Ecuador in 1948 and arrived in New York about two years later.
In New York she started in 1960 a career as food writer, serving as food editor for the Good Housekeeping magazine, Gourmet magazine and Weight Watchers. By the time she was invited to work in Minna's "Kochbuch," in the 1990s, she had already retired, but she enthusiastically took on the new project.
A small person, soft-spoken and gentle, she not only translated Minna's recipes into English, but converted them to contemporary ingredients and tried out some of them.
The book's editor was Cara de Silva, who contributed an introductory essay on cookbooks and recipes written by prisoners who themselves were close to starvation. I contributed to the book a translation of Minna's rhymes (also reproduced here) and a short account of her life, based on interviews with my mother Anny. Cara organized the publication of the "Kochbuch" by the Jason Aronson publishing house as "In Memory's Kitchen": she hoped that Anny (who by then was being treated for cancer) would live to see it in print, but my mother passed away in October 1995, while the book only appeared in 1996.
It is quite slim, about 160 pages (including title and attachments), but received wide exposure, with reviews in the "New York Times," "Washington Post," "Newsweek" and in Israel, and it sold many thousands of copies. Mrs. De Silva and Bianca Brown often spoke about it at gatherings of Jewish women, but the contents are mostly about the recipes, not about Minna. It has been out of print for a long time, though copies are readily available from sellers of second-hand books. Royalties were passed to the "Beit Terezin" memorial museum in Israel, whose head, Anita Tarsi, was very helpful.
After recovering the manuscript and donating it to USHMM (along with $3000 for its restoration and maintenance, by Flora Kay of Aptos, CA), I contacted Jenny (Zhenka) Manuel to learn a little more of Minna's life in Terezin, as already described. In Israel Jenny's son collected memories, letters and photographs of his mother and her family, and published them in a Hebrew book "Love and War, Zhenka's story 1921-2003." His wife Pauline published a book of recipes of her own, "Flavors and Aromas from the kitchen of Zhenka and her mother."
I was also contacted by a film producer in Hollywood, and agreed to help him produce a film about Minna. He sent for review a script for that movie, which turned out to be full of distortions and fabrications. I sent more than 20 pages of comments and corrections, and expected the script to be changed accordingly, but it was not and the studio persisted in promoting the original material. It was never produced, however. Later I would outline an alternate script "When Darkness Fell" (posted on the internet), following actual events; it is a film adaptation and not fully accurate either (as noted there in a 2009 note), but it tries to stick to known facts.
Then in January 2005 the phone rang: Anne Georget calling from Paris, a French producer of documentary films. She said that for 12 years she had been producing documentary films for French public TV, and would like to make one about Minna's Kochbuch. On 1-20-05 she wrote:
"The backbone of the film will be the writing of the Kochbuch and its incredible journey until it became published.
You're right in saying that there's already a vast sum of publications and films about the Holocaust but I think your grandmother's testimony has even a broader meaning in its desperate attempt of transmitting love, identity and memory to her daughter and family. In order to not be one more film about Terezin (there are already quite a number in Europe about the infamous Red Cross visit, about Music in Terezin etc) I need to focus on the book itself. I'm thus in great need of reconstructing its long journey. Any hint you might have regarding its various temporary recipients would be very helpful, from the art dealer in Teplice, to people in Israel, to who brought it to the US and to the lady (the book tells of a lady but you're mentioning a man) who eventually called up and gave the manuscript to your mother."
Much more correspondence followed. After I shared with her some of my doubts about my mother's story, she wrote back
"To answer your concern about did your mother switch facts between the letters and the recipes and the fact that you don't want to see this possibility being publicized let me tell you this: I am not a historian, I am a film-maker which means that based on reality I tell a story, I make choices and this is the difference between hard-core investigation and documentary film. If your mother chose for x reason to present that version to the world it is not my goal to question it. My main interest in this is to let people know about the power of food, the power of cooking in transmitting love and identity. So powerful that someone dying of hunger in the most inhumane situation chose to write recipes as a sort of legacy of what she stood for and for who she was. The way I chose to tell this story is by following a thread that is necessarily fragile given that 60 years have passed by. In my mind the film would be as much about a quest as about finding. On the way we will encounter people who have lived, cooked and loved in an environment meaningful to the various stops of the manuscript. I hope your scientific approach can tolerate that without questioning the seriousness and rigor, in its own way, of my enterprise."
There followed visits by Anne together with a writer who teamed with her, Elsie Herberstein, and interviews on camera including Bianca, Dalia, Anita (in Israel) and myself. Elsie, originally from Austria, is an artist skilled with water colors, and had previously produced illustrated books in French about Cambodia, street-dwellers in Paris, and many other subjects. Some memorable scenes with Bianca were filmed in Terezin.
A 42-minute video, by Quark productions, was ultimately made and was shown on French TV; it has two versions, with narration in either French or English. But more was to come: in addition to the video, Seuil publications in Paris released in September 2008 a handsome book "Les Carnets de Minna," with many drawings by Elsie and with photographs. It contains a selection of recipes with French translations, and also traced Minna's family history, with notes, pictures and drawings from Bodenbach, Terezin, Israel and New York. It even tried to locate Arthur Buxbaum, the art dealer who preserved papers of Minna and who survived the war, but only his grave was found.
In 2012 I visited with my wife the synagogue built under Adolf Pächter's leadership in Podmokly-Bodenbach (now the western part of Děčín). Its congregation was led by Vladimir Poskočil, former participant in the Olympic sport of javelin toss, and by his daughter-in-law Miroslava ("Mirka"). It has been hard to maintain a Jewish center with a rather small Jewish population, but by drawing members from the surrounding districts it had done fairly well, as I could see by attending services for the Sukkoth holiday.
A Second "Kochbuch"
Coming back from that visit, some 70 years after the "ghetto" of Terezin was set up, it was hard to imagine any new developments of Minna's story. And yet that is precisely what happened.
On the 19th of October 2015 an e-mail message arrived:
"My name is Dr. Susan Roubiček and I believe I have something that may be of interest to you and your family. My family originates from the Czech Republic and my father and his family at some point were all in Theresienstadt. Please contact. "
Naturally I contacted her immediately, and so learned that Dr. Roubiček was a Jewish dentist in New Jersey and that she held a SECOND collection of Minna's recipes. On November 27 we met and I received from her the collection of recipes, hand-written by my grandmother in a notebook of square-ruled paper. Dr. Roubiček turned out to be a sympathetic and lively woman, married, with a 12-year-old daughter much interested in soccer.
How did the notebook reach Dr. Roubiček? Through Anna Ermes, one of the survivors of the Terezin "ghetto" who had lived before the war in Vienna, capital of Austria, and afterwards too. Mrs. Ermes was the aunt of Susan's father George (Jiři) Roubiček, who also survived Terezin. She passed away in 1967, after which Susan's father inherited the notebook. Later Susan's mother had it, and when she died, about a year earlier, it passed into the hands of Dr. Roubiček, who realized that it could be an important document to members of Minna's family. But how to find that family? She turned to the Jewish Museum of New York, whose curators knew of the previous collection, and they directed her to me. By the way, two more grandsons and a grand-daughter of Minna also live in Israel today- Gabi Ben-Aris in Sderoth, Itamar Ben-Aris in Kibbutz Erez and Chamutal Karny in Beit Yitzchak.
A Mrs. Ermes was one of Minna's room-mates in room L403 (no one else by that name was listed in Terezin):
This cookbook has joined the earlier one at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The manuscript is much clearer and cleaner than the first collection, in which one can recognize the handwritings of different women who wrote down their own contributions. Here it is clear that everything was written by a single hand, pages are numbered and the front page (see image) identifies the author:
Nothing else is in the book except for recipes, and additional recipes are attached in a small notebook improvised from pages of thick paper. In contrast with the earlier collection, most of the recipes here are for sweet dishes and desserts: apparently Minna selected food meant to bring comfort.
Of course the question arises here-how did this additional collection of recipes come into existence? The only clue is the date of July 1943. It hints that Minna might have started writing after moving to the hospital, a less crowded and quieter place than he old room, while the first collection of recipes stayed in L403, under the charge of Vally Grabscheid. In her new surroundings Minna must have felt better, also found there a notebook, and decided to start a new collection of recipes, from her own memory. It might have been given to Anna Ermes during a visit, at some time in Minna's year-long hospital stay.
Or else… Minna might have kept a separate cookbook in L403, and given it to Mrs. Ermes there. We can never be sure; the dedication above may be interpreted either way.
--- --- --- --- ---
This, then, is the life story of Minna and her family.
What does one take from this tale? Years ago I wrote a letter to a high school girl who asked, why did students like her have to learn history? Dear Simone, I wrote, school tries to prepare you for a meaningful and successful adult life. Your English classes teach you to communicate and express yourself, math and science help you understand technology and use it in your own life. And it is also important to learn understand human society, except no tidy theory of such society has yet emerged; reality is too complex. So schools (and social scientists) do the next best thing and look to the past, to the history of what had actually happened. They try to extract meaning from precedents.
The story of Minna's life and family suggests that the same is true of family history. All families are different (not just unhappy ones, as Tolstoy has claimed), reflecting the diversity of human character and of changing circumstances. Family ties hold people together, but they also may develop strains. Wealth may accumulate or dissipate, and war can hit families like an earthquake, especially Jewish families during the Nazi Holocaust. When few orderly patterns exist, one may still try to understand life by looking at what actually transpired.
Firm conclusions are few. Actively trying to take charge of one's life may save it, as happened for Liesl when she volunteered to be a nurse, before the need for nurses became evident. It also saved Minna's son Heinz-Chanoch, whose emigration to Palestine seemed at the time risky and imprudent. Keeping in touch with each other kept the Pächters and the Sterns together. But individual fates were remarkably diverse and much depended on blind luck.
The sidewalk outside the house where Minna used to live, 3 Thomayerova street, is paved (like so many others) with small square stones. One stone is covered with a brass plaque, a bit like a gold crown on a tooth, inscribed in Czech:
born 1872 , murdered 1944 in Terezin "
It is a "Stolperstein" or "stumbling block," a small memorial marking the residences of victims of Nazi persecution, most of them (but not all) Jewish ones. It is the project of Gunter Demnig, a German artist, and so far over 50,000 have been placed, usually by him, in most countries ruled by the Nazis.
This is Minna's only memorial. Ashes from the Terezin crematorium, though carefully boxed and kept, were in the end thrown by the Nazis into the Ohře river or into a pit. It is up to us to preserve their memory and pass it to future generations. And never, never forget!
Author and Curator: Dr. David P. Stern
Mail to Dr.Stern: david("at" symbol)phy6.org .
Last updated 27 October 2017