Dear Wheatley Wildcats and Other Interested Persons,
Welcome to The Wheatley School Alumni Association Newsletter # 41. Rather than the usual stories of high school hijinks and eventual success in life, this issue is devoted to a letter written by Viktor Glaser, father of George, 1965, and Tom, 1968, Glaser detailing Viktor’s experiences during the World War II Holocaust. I think you will find it riveting, memorable, and, I hope, meaningful. Tom shared the letter with me and has permitted me to publish it. He can be reached at TOMPGLASER@GMAIL.COM and 802-343-2451.
A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR DETAILS HIS WARTIME EXPERIENCES
Shortly after World War II ended in Europe, Viktor Glaser (born May 16, 1907), a Holocaust survivor who was back in his hometown, Prague, Czechoslovakia, wrote the following letter detailing the wartime experiences of his wife (Theresie, known as “Daisy,” born April 3, 1921), himself, and their families and friends. Viktor mailed the letter to an orphaned first cousin named Pepik (addressed as “Pepiku), who had escaped to London before the outbreak of war and had attempted to get Viktor to leave, too. However, Viktor would not depart without his parents, and they would not leave because they were old and “we don’t know any other language besides Czech.” The original letter, written in Czech, is in the Holocaust Museum in Prague. In or about 2004 the second cousin of Viktor’s son Tom Glaser, and Tom’s mother-in-law, translated the letter from Czech into basic, but difficult, English. In early 2019 Tom authorized, and later approved, the following edited version, the goal of which is to make the translation more readable, while adhering as strictly as possible to the original letter’s contents and tone. Viktor placed explanatory matter in parentheses (like this); the editors have placed explanatory matter in brackets [like this].
Tom Glaser writes as follows: “I want to explain something before you read my father’s letter. After the Nazis occupied Prague, but before they commenced the Holocaust there in earnest, my dad was imprisoned in Prague for nine months for smuggling his and other people’s money and other valuables out of the country. He did this just in case something would happen, which of course it did. He would put the items under a train car and then tell his cousin, on the receiving end, under which car the items were located. But somehow he got caught. He always said he thought someone in his bridge club snitched on him, but he was never sure. My father always talked about the letter, but I first read it in the original English translation.”
VIKTOR GLASER’S LETTER
Prague, August 29, 1945
Please don’t be angry with me for not having written sooner, but I wanted to wait a while to be able to tell you everything in detail. I hope you will be satisfied with my report, but the contents will make you very sad. You cannot imagine how heavy my heart is while sitting down at my typewriter to tell you about the loss of our dearest.
Before I start my chronological story of what happened after your departure from Prague, I would like first - unfortunately a little bit late, but no less sincere - to congratulate you on your marriage and on the birth of your daughter. Please also give my best congratulations to your wife. May the best of luck stay with you all your lives.
I don’t know how much you know about what happened after March 15, 1939 (the day Germany occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia) [having occupied the Sudetenland in 1938], but Daisy and I got married on April 15, 1939. Do you remember teasing her at Zlichov [a village in northwest Slovakia]? My parents didn’t agree with my marrying Daisy, but as you will read, later they changed their opinion.
During this time I tried to get my parents to emigrate, but my father, stubbornly, did not want to lose his property in Prague, and changing his mind proved impossible. This was when my uncle Franta and I were transferring some of our own money out of the country, which we managed to do without getting caught for approximately a year. On February 21, 1940 Daisy was cleaning our house, and I was at my parents’ place for lunch. As you know, I like to nap after lunch. Suddenly, a very loud ringing woke me, and who turned up … Gestapo! My poor father’s face turned pale, my mother was so frightened that she was shaking, and only I was calm enough to tell the “gentlemen” to sit down. This took quite a lot of chutzpah [audacity], wouldn’t you agree? But they were of a different opinion, and they made me “sit” (Czech expression for being in prison) for quite a long time.
They took me away and interrogated me for the first time. Their initial question was, “Do you know Mr. Schwarz?” Of course I played dumb (I think I can play this role rather well); but then they started to get more pointed. I began to feel some not very gentle strokes, and I realized I should not play around with them. Suddenly they told me in unbelievable detail things about Hugo Schwarz, Kafka, and my cousin abroad, but not about my family. And this cousin was you! When I told them this cousin’s name was Joseph Mautner, they told me the first name was wrong. I changed “Joseph” to “Pepik,” but this was still not correct, and again the Gestapo hit me; but they didn’t get anything out of me! Foolishly I failed to understand what they wanted to hear. Finally they told me: “Pepo”! I understood that they could only know this from some letter from Franta, because I never called you “Pepo.”
So far the first day of interrogation had gone fairly well. However, just when I thought the worst was behind me, the situation became really terrible. The Gestapo said that because they would have to interrogate other accused persons, they would give me until the next morning to think about how much I had smuggled out for the Klinger family, how my uncle Franta was doing it with me, what I knew about Egon, to whom uncle Hugo sold the farms (this particularly interested them), to where the money disappeared, and so on. After all of this they threw me into Karlak (a Gestapo prison in Prague)! The welcome there was very gentle [unclear]. I was forced to lie down and get up and back down again and so forth, to run around and to do all kinds of exercises like creeping on my elbows, my fingers, and so on. But the worst was at night, when I had to think about what happened to poor Franta, and what happened to the Klingers.
In the morning, when they were bringing me back to the interrogation room, I saw Franta looking as white as a ghost. I was trying to give him some notes so that he would know what to say, but I couldn’t manage this because he didn’t dare come near me. However, in the end, all went well. Franta understood quite well what the Gestapo knew and what they didn’t. They didn’t know anything about the Blochs, but otherwise they were very well informed. They knew the broker who sold the farms, so they knew how much they were worth, which means they even knew things about which I had no idea. The only thing they didn’t know was how we got the money out of Czechoslovakia. They were convinced that we had a broker for this. When Franta and I told them how we smuggled the money out, they didn’t want to believe it. There were many interrogations and even more beatings. I thought that no hell could be worse than this, but in the concentration camps I learned that in comparison to them, Karlak was like a health resort.
When the interrogation was almost over, the Gestapo gave the whole matter over to the Financial Directorate of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (which is what Czechoslovakia was known as during the occupation). Thus, in June 1940 all people involved in this case came under the Czech administration. The Czech clerks were behaving fantastically toward us; but, of course, their final decisions depended upon the germans (I am writing a lower case “g” on purpose, because those monsters don’t deserve a capital letter). The Czech interrogation clerks were trying to put a good word in for us to the germans, and they were negotiating the conditions for our release. Egon was released first, after paying some dollars he had managed to get from America and, also, thousands of Czech crowns. Then Franta and I were released, in October 1940, after relatives of Viki Kende paid 200 dollars and my father paid 75,000 Czech crowns. Hugo and Ida stayed in prison until December, because we couldn’t obtain enough money to pay for their release. The authorities confiscated 1,350,000 crowns from Hugo and Ida, and Ota Klinger paid the remaining 2,000,000. Finally, in 1941 the whole matter came to an end, after my father paid another 100,000 crowns on behalf of Franta and me.
The biggest mystery remains, “Who informed on us?” After the liberation Rudis Klinger and I went to the Finance Directorate, where all the records were kept, to attempt to find out who it was. Unfortunately, the germans used only “V-mann,” obviously an undercover agent, but one small remark noted the following: “The lady undercover agent has been taken off duty already … ,” which makes us think that she was Jewish. We still have no idea who it could have been; who knew, on one hand, so many details about Kafka and Mr. Schwarz, and on the other hand about the Klinger family. Do you have any idea who she could have been?
While I was in prison my parents had to move out of their apartment on Revolucni street (in Prague’s “Old Town”), and the germans took it over. My parents moved to a three-bedroom apartment on the ground floor in your house. An administrator was appointed for Glaser & Taussig, and the company was closed in 1941. The germans also took over Chemika, where I used to work, so I lost my job as well. The germans did not yet take over my apartment, because it was only a one-room apartment, and I returned to it after my release from prison. The Klinger family could not return to Kounice [a town east of Prague], so they moved in with my parents. Later, my apartment was also taken away, because Jews were allowed to live in one room only with two [other?] persons present, and so I moved in with my parents as well.
During the time I was in prison my mother and Daisy became friends. We were both invited to a birthday party for my father held on November 30, 1940. Little did we know that this would be his last birthday in Prague. You wouldn’t believe what mutual love grew between Daisy and my mother, a love that became even stronger during our exile. My parents recognized what a beautiful person Daisy is and, imagine this, my mother told me that I could never find another woman who would love me as much and take such good care of me. I am so glad that before my parents died they realized that worrying about my marriage was a mistake, and that my marriage was a happy one.
A while after my release from prison I managed to find a job in the administration of a building company, and I worked there until we were forced to leave Prague. We were all living together in the Mautner’s house, on Zatecka Street [in Old Town Prague]; our group included Tila and Eda [Pepik’s sister and brother-in-law], who lived in an apartment on the first floor. Of course, all life revolved around our apartment. As my father, Franta, Mr. Kohn, and the others were not allowed to work, we played a lot of marias (a Czech card game). Uncle Hugo and, even more so, his former employees from Kounice and Bechovice [a Prague suburb] took care of supplies. This situation continued even after we had to carry the yellow stars and Aryans could be severely punished for contacting Jews.
The Czech people were behaving perfectly. My boss was even walking arm-in-arm with me on the street, although at times I would have to sneak away from him so as not to get him into trouble. At that time there were very strict rules for Jews: we could not go to cafes, movies or other entertainment, and there was an evening curfew for us. Actually, this situation made for great family life, especially because we all lived in one house. Your sister Tila worked in a paper store on Kaprova street (in Old Town Prague), where Janka also later worked. Tila’s husband, Eda, sold all kinds of leather goods, such as handbags, etc.
Human nature tends to think that whatever the current situation is, it cannot worsen. Also, we all hoped that the rules for Jews settled matters for the time being. Thus, the announcement that all Jews would have to leave Prague was a terrible blow. We first heard this at the beginning of October 1941, when it was said that we would all be removed from Prague by Christmas.
We already had been forced to give away our jewelry and other precious possessions; now we had to bring lists of all our other personal property to a special Gestapo office, where all persons were registered according to certain rules. Nobody knew by what method the germans put together the transports, but they scheduled the first one for October 14, 1941. My and Daisy’s parents were assigned to the second transport. Of course, Daisy and I joined them of our own free will, as we thought that in this way we could all help each other.
The gathering place for the transport was next to the Veletrzni Palac (the “Trade Fair Palace”). We were allowed to bring 50 kilograms [approximately 110 pounds] per person, some of which we could bring to the gathering place the day before we left. Of course, we did not know our destination; rumors said it could be the Pyrenees, but we believed that we would be heading east.
And so we lost our freedom, joining the transport at 6:00 AM on October 18, 1941. Franta, Viki, and Baba Roudnitz accompanied us to the gathering place. What a terrible good-bye?! Mother was astonishingly brave, but father was just crying, and comforting him took a lot of work. Ottl Lurie and my bridge partner Franta Fried were on the same transport. We remained in Prague for three more days, during which all kinds of bureaucratic activities took place, such as giving up all personal documents, checking our luggage, and handing in the keys to our rooms, which we had to lock before leaving. Hugo and Ida could keep only their one room, because my families’ rooms were confiscated. Father was so afraid that the only things he hid before we went to the transport were some business documents, such as addresses in Ceska Lipa [a city north of Prague], that he gave me to hide at my place of employment.
On October 21, 1941 we left Prague. On the way from the gathering place to the railway station my father was near a nervous breakdown. The SS secured the entire route, and although we boarded the trains very early in the morning, many Czech people came to say good-bye, and you could not see a single dry eye. We still did not know where they were taking us, but we headed north, and around midnight we arrived in Dresden [a city in eastern Germany]. We were anxious to know what would happen next, whether they would take us west or east. Indeed, the more probable outcome occurred; we went east, to Lodz [a large industrial city in the center of Poland].
Terrible weather welcomed us: rain and snow, similar to the weather on March 15, 1939 as the germans marched into Prague. Our first impression of the place was terrible; I think that in the most forgotten place on earth you wouldn’t find so much dirt. There were no canals, only barely habitable buildings. We were brought to the worst district in town, with a fence all around it. Some people from Prague who arrived with the first transport told us what to expect, so you can imagine how we felt. All one thousand people who arrived on the second transport were brought to a single building. Approximately 25 of us were pushed into a room about as big as our room in the apartment on Revolucni Street in Prague. We were all lying on the ground. Imagine a box of sardines, but instead of sardines, human beings; that is how crowded it was. The next day we sat on our luggage. Our daily food ration was 330 grams [12 ounces] of bread per person, and soup made from rotten vegetables, which in normal times not even pigs would eat. In the morning and evening we were given black coffee: of course just a substitute, and of course without sugar. My father received some money from Prague, enabling him to buy potatoes and margarine on the black market. Remarkably, all our luggage remained with us.
Most of the younger men were put to work pulling horse carts. transporting food and other materials from the railway station into the ghetto, and transporting feces out of the ghetto. Getting any other job was almost impossible. But I maintained my confidence and spirits, and I wrote a good application for a different job. I also enlisted the help of the most influential person in the ghetto, whom you could call “The Mayor.” You could say that “I was cleaning doorknobs.” From morning until evening I shadowed this one man; luckily, I persuaded him to give me a job handling housing administration. At first I performed menial work; but you will learn how high I ascended. Due to the scarcity of jobs, only one person per family was allowed to have one.
Upon arriving in Lodz we learned that, all-in-all, five transports were going to arrive from Prague, each with a thousand people, and transports would also arrive from Vienna, Berlin, Cologne, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Luxembourg. All told, approximately 25,000 Jews were to arrive from Western countries; thus, including the Polish Jews, there would be a total of 160,000 people in the Lodz Ghetto.
As you can imagine, we anxiously awaited every new transport from Prague. With the third Mila Eisenstein arrived; with the fourth Tila and Eda arrived; and with the fifth aunt Lota Gruenfeld arrived. Of course, besides them, many friends also arrived.
As only a very few of us had jobs, and not everyone received money from home, but everyone had to eat, support groups formed within the transports. Every member had to contribute a certain sum from his or her income, whether from salary, money from home, or whatever source, into a sort of mutual fund; and this fund supported all members of the group. These support groups were under the authority of the so-called “Department for the Immigrants,” in which I was one of the 5 responsible clerks. Each group was situated in one building, mostly in schools, and had its own kitchen and its own leadership; and, after some time, we even managed to get a bed for each member. As there were not enough items to keep us warm, this living together had a big advantage, especially in winter.
Eda helped administer the 4th support group. Somehow, Tila got a supply of jam, and she sold it in small portions to earn some additional money. Also, each person on the transport got 100 marks for the journey. But this money was not paid directly to the people; it was sent to Lodz and was administrated through the “Department for the Immigrants.” The money was then given to the people in portions, depending on their needs.
I worked very hard in my office, sometimes being there until midnight; nevertheless, I was already at work by 7:00 AM the following morning. We had no days off, not even Sundays. In fact, overwork caused me to catch pneumonia and suffer additional complications, so that I had to be taken to a hospital, where the care was very good. Nevertheless, I was in God’s hands, and the doctors were not sure I would live. I survived, miraculously, and was able to leave the hospital, albeit extremely weakened, at the beginning of February 1942.
During my stay in the hospital prices on the black market soared, so that when I emerged purchasing anything was difficult. Also, not having seen my family for a while, I realized how much they all had deteriorated. I almost didn’t recognize my father-in-law, so you can imagine how bad he looked. And my poor father’s belly was gone. Thanks to the great care of all, including my boss, I recovered slightly.
Shortly after my return from the hospital the great deportations of the Polish Jews from the Lodz Ghetto began. They continued through the end of April 1942; during that time approximately 35,000 people were deported. Upon the announcement that 15,000 Jews from western countries also would have to leave, a great panic ensued. As a general rule of thumb, one employed person saved one additional family member from being deported. Even with my good position and connections I couldn’t save more than Daisy and my parents. Unfortunately, all our other relatives had to prepare for the transports. Eda’s function in the support group was not recognized, as the groups had been dissolved in March and April, and their members were moved to the apartments freed by the deported Polish Jews. The group leaderships were dissolved and, so, even the people who had certain functions in the groups were being transported On May 10, 1942 Daisy’s parents and brother; Tila and Eda; Aunt Lota; Mila Eisenstein; and many other friends were forced to leave us. Never again did we hear from or about them, or the Polish Jews, or the Jews from the western counties. No sign of life ever came back from them, and none of them ever returned.
We heard that these unfortunate folks were brought to eastern Poland, to Izbice [a village in central Poland], Lublin, or Chelm [cities in Eastern Poland], and that all of them were forced to go to open graves and shot dead there. We don’t know exactly how they lost their lives, but the sad fact that none of them came back says it all. Tila kept herself quite well until the end, whereas Eda was already slightly ill when we arrived in Lodz. Thus, Daisy, my parents, and I were essentially alone, without relatives.
When the transports ended, the authorities began to build production sites and factories of all kinds. Daisy worked in a hand-knitting place; my father worked somewhat happily, separating small pieces of textiles according to size, which was not difficult.
At that time a wave of transports from the surrounding towns and villages arrived. Up to 200 people were pressed inside each cattle car, and because they were hermetically sealed, many people died of asphyxiation during the journey. The newcomers told us how their transports began: the germans brought all of them to a town square, then selected people who were able to work and pushed them into the cars. Simultaneously, they shot dead many other people, without rhyme or reason. They heartlessly divided families, and nobody knew what happened to those unable to work.
Hunger in the Ghetto was terrible. Purchasing anything on the black market was impossible, because the price for two kilograms of bread went up to 1,600 marks. Prices of other foods were comparably high.
At the beginning of August 1942 my father developed terrible diarrhea. Indeed, there was an epidemic of this in the entire ghetto. At this time the death toll was 150 persons a day. Father had to lay down because his feet were swollen, and although we tried to obtain and feed him the food the doctor recommended, his condition worsened. All kinds of injections failed to help, and the doctors gave us no hope. I didn’t want to believe, and I couldn’t understand, that I would lose my beloved father, your much-caring great uncle Zikmund. I stubbornly believed that he would recover. Suddenly, on Saturday, August 15, father felt very bad. He was complaining about pain in his back. The doctor gave him some kind of injection, and suddenly father took a turn for the better. His eyes became more joyful, and he even started to eat. On Sunday he actually sat up on his bed and started to talk with us about our terrible destiny. In mother’s arms he started to cry and say that he will be leaving us forever. He told me to take care of mother and that he knows well, and is leaving with the feeling, that I am a good son, one who will always take good care of mother. He asked me to fulfill his greatest wish: not to be buried in Poland, that is, foreign, soil, but to be buried in the grave of grandfather and grandmother in Prague. It is impossible to describe the good-bye between my mother and father. I didn’t want my father to stay so agitated, so I motioned to his beard, and he agreed that I should shave him, after which he looked in a mirror and was very happy that he looked much better than he did before.
That Monday afternoon the crisis started. Father asked us to call the doctor to give him a death injection. When I tried to explain to him that I believed that he would recover again, he argued that I had no feeling for him and that I wanted him to keep suffering. The doctor we called injected father with a sedative, and he went peacefully to sleep, never to wake up again. At approximately 3:00 AM mother called me to have a look, as father was too calm. I checked his pulse, and I sensed that his heart was working perfectly steady. In my unbreakable optimism I thought that the crisis was over. But suddenly, around 5:00 AM, mother called me again, saying that father’s hands were cold. I listened again for a pulse, but on August 18, 1942 (5th Elul) the good heart of my dear father stopped working forever.
The funeral took place in the ghetto that same day. I didn’t allow mother or Daisy to attend, because the burial was done without a coffin; only the body was laid down into the grave. At least I arranged to have some pieces of wood placed on the top and bottom of the body, so that later I could move the remains to Prague, where I wanted to bury my father according to his dying wish. Ottl Lurie, who visited father many times during his illness, also attended the funeral. And so another one of us was gone.
Immediately after father’s death I got jaundice, and right after I recovered another terrible blow hit us: a curfew was announced in the ghetto. Nobody was allowed to leave the buildings and be on the streets except the Jewish police, doctors and nurses; anyone else would be shot. The curfew lasted one week, during which time we could not even buy food. The germans would surround a block of houses, make all inhabitants enter the yard, and there select people. First, they emptied all hospitals without regard to the health or age of the patients and took them all away. The buildings housing people were next; children, old people, and ill people were heartlessly taken away, first to gathering places - the previously emptied hospitals - and then … to the gas chambers.
After the death of father I managed to find a job for mother knitting small table clothes, and with a little bit of money we obtained by selling all kinds of things, we tried to strengthen mother somewhat. At this time the official rations got slightly better, so that we managed to do this. Before the selection we made mother look as good as possible, put a little bit of color in her face, and so we were convinced that the selection would go well. I was everybody’s biggest worry, because after the jaundice I looked terrible. I weighed less than 50 kilograms [110 pounds]. We waited, full of anxiety, for Decision Day to arrive - to be or not to be! Sure enough, it came on Tuesday, September 8,1942.
We proceeded outside with mother in the middle and waited until the germans searched the apartments, which had to remain unlocked. Then we were forced to pass, in single file, a german monster. I was devastated when mother was directed to head off to the right, as I immediately understood that this meant we would lose her forever. This terrible drama was accompanied by shouting and crying, as infants were torn out of the hands of their mothers and thrown onto trucks, one on top of another. The germans were so casual, so horribly heartless.
Next, the germans pushed us back into the buildings, and they would not let us leave. I felt hopeless. Still, I remembered the words mother told me in those difficult times: “I would hate to leave you; but please, Viktor, don’t risk your life for me. You have a young wife who has nobody left but you.” And those last words of mother gave me the strength to survive all the following tortures and attacks on my life.
After dark I summoned all my courage and, despite the danger, I snuck over to the hospital where mother had been taken. I knew one of the on-duty nurses, and I gave her father’s watch and some bread and asked her to bring mother out at a suitable moment; I told her I would wait outside to take her home. I hid in a field in front of the hospital. During the night I heard some shootings, but I remained undetected. I waited impatiently the whole night. Unfortunately, when dawn came, I realized the futility of my waiting. There was nothing left but to get back home, where Daisy anxiously awaited. I had failed. In the morning they took away my dearest mother … And so the captain, major and general [mother, father, and ?] were gone! Do you remember them? Only the two volunteers, Daisy and me, remained.
But all this was not enough! There was still more to come! For three months Daisy was bed-ridden with typhus. For six weeks during that time she had a fever of 40 degrees Celsius [104 degrees Fahrenheit] (at 42 degrees Celsius, one dies). I was selling everything we could spare so that I could buy the necessary injections and proper food. Though I had a very good job, I had no advantages as far as food was concerned. Even more importantly, we were not immune from being put on a transport; only the Jewish police were protected from that. That’s why I decided to leave my office job and became a policeman, a decision that was the best and wisest I ever made.
However, I worked as a policeman for only a few days, after which my former boss asked me to return. I agreed, conditional on keeping my police cap and all the advantages that came with it. I was sent to the department distributing the food coupons, where I reorganized the bureaucracy and controlled the food coming into the ghetto. I also received some extra rations, so that as far as food was concerned, we were relatively well off. We were also safe from the transports.
Suddenly, at the beginning of 1944, we were allowed to write to Prague and to receive parcels. I wrote to all my friends, and most of them immediately sent parcels of food. Sometimes the bread arrived rotten; but that didn’t matter, because our clever women cooked the bread and made marvelous pies out of it. Prior to this unexpected improvement “pies” were made out of potato skins.
The political situation also improved. The Russians were coming! We hoped to be liberated! What a disappointment when, suddenly, the ghetto started to be completely evacuated. We were told that we would be taken further west to work in factories, that the families would stay together, and that we could take all of our belongings with us.
Of course, we didn’t want to go, but the germans forced us. Street by street, house by house, 5,000 people a day were forced into cattle cars, 60 to 90 people into each one. And so we went - to Auschwitz! Of course, we didn’t know anything until the train doors opened. There was a strict order to leave all luggage in the cars and all people to come out. Women and children were in front, and men, five in a row, were behind. I said a quick good-bye to Daisy and promised her that I would stay strong and do my best to survive so that, happily, we could be together again.
Suddenly, they separated us. I watched the women being selected and saw Daisy going to the fortunate side. Then, before I even knew what had happened, I found myself standing in front of the devil incarnate, Dr. Josef Mengele. This man, merely by moving his finger, dictated life or death for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people. After that they took away the unfortunate women, and we never saw them again.
We were taken into a bath. In front of us appeared a tall, young SS man, a typical german, with whip in hand. He was hitting left, right, anywhere he could, chasing us from one corner to the other. We were quite exhausted when he chased us into a small place, pressed together like sardines. He ordered that in two minutes everybody had to undress and keep only his belt, which I had already lost, and shoes. Somehow I managed to do this in the crowd. Then they cut our hair and shaved our bodies. After that we had a bath, received some old clothes, and were brought to the cell blocks. There we immediately got a discipline lesson. They took us one by one and beat us until we were bleeding. This was their way of welcoming us! The chief of the block, a Polish Aryan, was a very good boxer! And how did such a cell block look? It was a barrack in which 800, and sometimes up to 1,500, men or women lived at the same time. They were laying, or better to say “sitting,” down on the earth, and this was our accommodation. You have to imagine that you have nothing in your pockets, not even a piece of toilet paper when you go to the latrines.
Eventually I learned about Auschwitz in more detail. It is a huge town, with a population of approximately 150,000 unfortunates. But the number changed quickly, because day and night, without pause, the flames came out of the chimneys of the gas chambers, as the ones who doctor Mengele selected were killed. Mothers wouldn’t let their children out of their hands, so they were also victims of the gas chambers. Women fortunate enough to be selected for the good side got their hair completely shaved. Unfortunately, at Auschwitz, Ottl Lurie was sent to the wrong side.
We were forced to follow a strict daily regimen. At approximately 4:00 AM they kicked us out of the cell blocks. At approximately 5:00 AM we received a little bit of bitter coffee. They kept us outside whether rain was falling, or the sun was burning - however God liked it. At approximately 11:00 AM we received soup. We didn’t have spoons, of course, so we had to drink from the bowl. The size of the bowl determined whether it was meant to serve two or even five people at once. Everybody worried that the others would take more than their share. Hunger leads to the greatest selfishness! The most important event of the day was the 4:00 PM roll call, the counting of all prisoners. God forbid that the count was wrong, because in that case we were forced to stand for hours. Sometimes we had to crouch down with hands outstretched until the fault was found. For dinner we received 300 grams [2/3 of a pound] of bread and about 5 grams (really, five grams) [0.17 ounces] of salami. They brought us into the cell blocks at 9:00 PM, and from time to time at midnight we had to stand for roll call again.
The SS men did whatever they liked, and you couldn’t predict what that was. Sometimes someone who was hurt was taken to the hospital, nursed, and cured. Then suddenly they would change their minds and send the person to the gas chambers. You never knew what to expect.
Then the selections started. “Buyers” came to buy slaves. We heard that people were selected for work camps. However, given what we had been through, we didn’t believe anything anymore. They were continually selecting and moving us from cell block to cell block, so that staying together with somebody was difficult. Once I was selected for a transport going to somewhere in northern Germany. However, I was wary, especially because there were no other Czechs. I managed to escape from this transport into another cell block. Eventually I was selected for an expedition of 600 men heading to Bavaria. There were many guys from Prague in this transport, so I stayed. Again we were forced to bathe, and they gave us the well-known prison uniforms with the black and white stripes.
We were told that the journey would take three days and that the food ration would consist of 1.5 kilograms [3.3 pounds] of bread, 2 slices of salami, and approximately 100 grams [3.5 ounces] of margarine, which would have to last the entire journey. To have such a treasure in my hands and to be able to have a real meal after such a long time, I couldn’t resist eating the whole portion that first night. And the rest of the time I went without food!
They drove us through Moravia [the southeastern region of the current Czech Republic], Breclav [a town in southern Moravia, near Slovakia and Austria], Vienna, Munich, and southwest Bavaria, to a small, unfinished concentration camp named “Riederloh,” near Kaufbeuren [a town in Swabia, Bavaria], approximately 60 kilometers from the Swiss border. The kitchen, washrooms and other areas were still incomplete. Our bosses were german convicted criminals, wearing the so-called green triangle [given to inmates who also acted as guards]. These were the worst-of-the-worst. They didn’t seem to give a damn about the lives of the 600 unfortunate Jews.
The work site was roughly eight kilometers [approximately five miles] away. The labor was hard, and no matter what the weather was, the prisoners had to build secret factories in the woods. I was fortunate to be appointed to work on finishing the construction of the camp, so I didn’t have to traverse the eight kilometers every day. For a short spell I also had to work in the woods, but, thank God, I soon returned to the work in the camp. The work outside meant death! Every day 10 to 20 people died! Sometime later 230 new prisoners arrived, from another concentration camp, to fill the gap created by the dead. The newcomers came full of lice, and due to a complete lack of hygiene the lice spread quickly among us. And so in a short time we all had hundreds and hundreds of lice.
The work got even harder, and the winter [of 1944-45] got even colder, so a mere three months after our arrival only 200 men still working, and 100 men waiting for death, remained alive. The german criminals who led the camp were called “Capo,” and their main task was to beat people to death. They beat Franta Fried to death right in front of my eyes. We threw all dead bodies into mass graves we had dug previously. Before the bodies were buried, the gold was removed from their teeth.
By then we had seen so many terrible things that watching the activities of these perverse people no longer shocked us. I don’t want to give you any more details, because I am trying to forget all the terrible images. But one thing I know! I will never forgive the germans, and I will hate them until I die.
In the middle of this very cold winter we were brought from Riederloh to Dachau [a town and concentration camp 12 miles northwest of Munich]. Then we continued to Augsburg [a city northwest of Munich and Dachau], to Horgau [a municipality slightly northwest of Augsburg], and to Burgau [a town slightly further west], which the Americans were already approaching. Burgau is half-way between Augsburg and Ulm [a city west of Munich, on the Danube River].
All concentration camps looked alike, just like two peas in a pod; but the food was getting worse and worse. At times we had to get up at 3:00 AM and got back from work at 8:00 PM. And we got only one liter of soup (really just warm water) and 180 grams [approximately 6 ounces] of bread a day. Using cruel methods they made us work hard, and they did not allow us any breaks; I simply cannot comprehend how I survived.
At the beginning of April 1945 they brought us to Tuerkheim [a Bavarian municipality due west of Munich, and somewhat south of where they had been], where we worked until the bitter end, building houses for people who lost their homes during the allied bombings raids. On April 24, with the Americans right behind us, we started our last journey, by foot, back to Dachau. The distance was 86 kilometers [approximately 53 miles]. Given our physical condition, this was not easy! Many people died along the route, but I was doing my best and used my remaining strength. Dachau was overcrowded, so they pushed us further, to Allach [a borough in northwest Munich, towards Dachau], another seven kilometers [slightly short of half a mile]. Rain was pouring, but despite the terrible weather, I managed to arrive.
There they pushed us into barracks. Finally under a roof again, we laid down on wet concrete; but we were sleeping like in a bed of roses after that exhausting march. Thank God we arrived one hour late. Had we arrived on time, the plan was to send us further, to Tirol [reference unclear, as there does not appear to be a “Tirol” in Germany; might mean “Tyrol,” an Alpine area in northern Italy and eastern Austria, a considerable distance].
Allach was a camp holding about 10,000 prisoners. Rumor had it that the Americans would come soon. Indeed, in the afternoon of April 28, 1945, the SS men left the camp. We immediately raised white flags and took over security.
What a terrible shock the next day when the germans returned. But these were Wehrmacht [regular army] troops, not the SS, and even they left that evening.
Right behind our barracks the germans had built bunkers. That night, April 29-30, a heavy artillery bombardment suddenly began, and we were lying in the middle of it. The barracks were hit, and right next to me people were killed, and many were injured. Miraculously, I emerged without a scratch. The bombardment continued all night. In the morning the artillery fire calmed down. We knew that liberation was coming any second. Indeed, on April 30, 1945 at 10:00 AM, the first Americans came. Happiness and joy! Liberation!
Allach held people of many nationalities: French, Belgian, Dutch, Russian, Yugoslavian, Romanian, Polish, Czech, etc. Suddenly, the flags of all nations appeared, and the excitement wouldn’t stop. Then we got so much food that some guys stupidly ate fat without bread. Of course, their weak stomachs could not bear that much of a good thing; thus, after being liberated, many of those who suffered so long paid for their gluttony with their lives.
Next, we waited to be repatriated. On May 23rd the Americans took us by car to Pilsen [a Czech city approximately 56 miles west of Prague], and that night, through to May 24th, we continued by train to Prague. Although I was very much looking forward to returning to Prague, I was afraid of what was to come. What had happened to Daisy? Could she have endured it all?
At 5:00 AM I arrived at the railway station in Smichov [a district west of the Vltava River, across from Old Town Prague]. Where should I go now? Home? I did not have one! I asked for a temporary place to stay and was told to wait; later they would put me into some mass accommodation. Around 7:30 PM I telephoned my old boss. He was very happy that I returned; but even more happy was I when I heard that Daisy was awaiting me. She was staying with one of her former schoolmates. I headed there immediately, cursing how slowly the Prague trams traveled. Our reunion was indescribably happy
The city council immediately gave us a small two-bedroom apartment in a nice hotel. That first day we spent telling each other our stories. She had been extremely fortunate. From Auschwitz she went to a camp in Mezimesti u Broumova, on the Czech-german border. She worked in an indoor factory just two minutes from the camp, so that she didn’t even suffer from a long walk to work. This was the best concentration camp! That is how much God loved her!
First thing the next day I went to the house on Zatecka, where I met the old concierge, Zevlova. First she told me all kinds of stories, and only at the end of the conversation, after I asked her whether any family members returned, did she tell me that young Mr. Mautner turned up the other day. I was quite surprised when I read the address: Captain Erich Mautner, Prague X, Kralovska Street 43 [some distance west of the Vltava River]. I immediately went there, but Erich, your brother, was not home; only Helenka, his wife, was there. She told me Erich’s story, and we made a date with him for that evening. But before Daisy and I arrived back at our hotel Erich was already waiting there for us with a car. I was so happy to see him! He had become a man; his army training gave him self-confidence. Of course, he immediately invited us to a great dinner, and we talked about everything we had been through.
Erich immediately offered to help me find an apartment and a job, and with his assistance I applied for a position at the ministry of foreign trade. He also helped me get an apartment that previously housed germans. Because Erich had to go to Tabor (a town in southern Bohemia), Daisy and I stayed in his apartment until we got one for ourselves.
Three days after my return to Prague, Rudis (Klinger) showed up. He supplied all of us with conserves and me with cigarettes. Those two boys sure fed me. Helenka gave Daisy some clothes, and Rudis took care that the Steiners immediately sent me replacements for the most important things that got lost with our luggage. I am alright for now, but life is more difficult for Daisy. Before we left she sent away the things she didn’t wear any more, and now none of them fit.
My next worry was what had happened to our other relatives. Not long after our return Josef Langweil and Marta came back from Theresienstadt [a concentration camp approximately 90 miles north of Prague]. They were there until the war’s end. Their son Beda was sent to Auschwitz, then to somewhere in Germany, and he never returned. From the Langweils I learned that Viki Kende was also fortunate enough to survive Theresienstadt until the very end, and that he even got married there. They also said that, unfortunately, Viki and his wife contracted typhus after the liberation and were very ill. Meanwhile they were cured, and I immediately met with them. His wife is a very, very nice girl. He, too, moved back to Prague, and he is even working at his old company, Poldi [a steel foundry] again.
Aunt Berta Fried also survived Theresienstadt and now lives in Podebrady [a Czech town east of Prague]. I hear that she is in bad shape. Jo Weil is also supposedly there. I asked Erich to get more information from Podebrady. He had to go through there on a business trip anyway.
None of the Smichovskys, Pepca and her husband and their child, survived Lodz. Of the 5,000 Prague Jews who went to Lodz only 135 returned. Imagine how fortunate Daisy and I were to be among them. The statistics speak for themselves.
Marka Gruenfeld survived Bergen-Belsen [a concentration camp in north-central Germany] but contracted typhus there. Now she is in a health resort in Sweden to which many of the surviving women were sent. Egon was in Auschwitz, and it is said that he was in terrible shape when they brought him to Blechhamer [a concentration camp in central Germany]. Tommy was not allowed on the same transport as Egon because Tommy was too young. No sign of either of them was ever found.
Hugo and Ida Schwarz remained in Prague for quite a while but, Viki told me, they were also sent to Theresienstadt. However, after only two days they went with a transport to Poland. Unfortunately, everyone sent to Poland in 1942 died. Not one of them came back alive.
You can imagine how surprised we were to learn that Janka also survived Bergen-Belsen. Milca Klinger, Arthur’s daughter, who also survived there, told us that Janka was even supposed to be back in Prague. Indeed, I managed to get her address from the police. But the apartment was locked, and from the neighbors I learned that she was forced to move in with some of her relatives while the owner of the apartment was on vacation. I left my address there and two days later Janka showed up. She looked good, a big strong girl. I told her she was silly not to look for us on Zatecka street.
Then she told us her story. Franta’s whole family was brought from Theresienstadt to Riga [Latvia’s capital and largest city], then to Reval [the former name of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia]. There, approximately 70 girls, Janka among them, and 50 boys were selected out of a transport of some 1,000 people to secure the luggage. Although Janka didn’t want to believe it, she heard that all of the people who stayed in the transport were shot dead. Indeed, no one from that transport came back except a few of the girls selected with Janka.
I worried what to do with Janka, but Daisy had the great idea that Pavel employ her as his assistant. Pavel agreed, and Janka was very happy. I hope it works out. The best outcome would be for Janka to get married. Janka will stay at Truda’s residence, so surely she will be taken care of well.
I heard that Aunt Berger died and that Aunt Jozi got ill after we traveled on the transport, but she completely recovered. Unfortunately, she was deported through Theresienstadt to Poland, and I still have no news about her. Mr. Kohn died without having left Prague. Karl didn’t come back, only his wife survived. I don’t know if she is going to join the business, M & K, which Perina is managing in the meantime. Of the old employees only Kastl and Javurek are still there.
Mr. Taussig was on a transport sent directly to the gas chambers to retaliate for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich [a high-ranking german official and architect of the Holocaust who was assassinated in a Prague suburb in mid-1942 by Czechs and Slovaks sent from Britain by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile]. Of our common friends you surely are interested in the fate of Baba Raudnitz, who unfortunately also died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Honza Eisler came back but is now in a hospital in Prague. He lost one leg, and whether or not the doctors can save the other one still is not clear. He was hit during the bombardment of the camp. Of the guys with whom you used to play marias only Honza Sos survived. Anybody I didn’t mention never returned, and I think I am remembering everyone.
I was very happy about Karl Glauber, who also survived only with great luck. He was our guest, and we fought for him with Walter Loebl [unclear], who is now married. As neither Walter Glauber nor the rest of his family returned, I advised Karl to attempt to take over the family business in Horazdovice [a town southwest of Prague] until Walter’s estate is settled. Karl went to Horazdovice with this idea, but I have yet to hear whether he succeeded.
Pavel has already returned and fixed up his former apartment, and now he will probably go to London to get Truda and the children. Meanwhile, he became a captain and changed his name to “Suk.” Ruda vacationed in England after spending one month rehabilitating in Prague. Sona was also here.
You can’t imagine how great it is that the center of family life is at our place. There are very few of us left, so the more we stick together, the better.
Pavel is well-connected, and he is attempting to help me get a job at the ministry. Unfortunately, this will take time, but I hope I will know one way or the other within the next two months. Besides that, I am trying to get into the central administration of the foreign feather trade. To be honest, I don’t really know what would be best for me; so I will wait to see how the situation develops. Certainly we deserve a most comfortable life after all that we have been through, after we have suffered so much. But no matter what happens, what is most important is that we survived.
During the german occupation all Jewish property came under “Auswanderungskonto” (“emigration account,” a kind of special administration). The current president of the republic has ordered that all confiscated property now be returned to its former owners or their heirs. Your house was sold by the “emigration account” to the city of Prague. But this doesn’t matter because all contracts of sale executed after September 28, 1938 (the day Germany, Italy, France, and Great Britain, signed the Munich Treaty that “gave” parts of Czechoslovakia to Germany) were declared invalid, and so the house will be returned to you. But the administrative measures are not yet formalized, so this will take some time. The situation is similar with my house and the factory in Ceska Lipa.
Ruda will probably get Dubec [unclear] back, and if he manages to leave the army he will start to work there in November. I think that Erich Mautner should stay in the army, where he has been so successful, having already become a captain. So only I don’t know what to do. Would some affiliation with America be the right thing? What would you recommend I do? You surely have a better overview from where you are.
We often play marias with Pavel, who lived with us until the day before yesterday, and Viki, and we think of you very much. Truda loves Pavel greatly because he is “losing his pants” (Czech expression for losing a lot of money gambling). Viki ordered me to give you his heartiest greetings.
The photographs accompanying this letter were taken before we found Janka, which explains why she is not in them.
I think I described events in great detail, but if you have any questions please let me know, and I will gladly give you more information. The overall situation is resolving quickly, and soon life will be like it was before the war.
Pepiku, despite all the details, I gave you just a glimpse of what we went through these past few years. Writing every detail would take a book of at least a thousand pages. If you see german barbarism in a movie, please believe it; I am exaggerating nothing; matters were even worse.
You can tell all your friends who may still think that germans are human beings - and don’t worry about saying something wrong - that a german is neither a human being nor a wild animal, but something for which no dictionary word exists. I admit that if I hadn’t lived through all of this myself, I wouldn’t believe it.
Finally, please do me a favor and send me an airmail letter describing everything about you and how you are doing, including, especially, all details about your family.
Please give my heartiest regards to your wife and daughter.
Please accept my heartiest congratulations. Viktor and I envy you a little bit, as you have a “big” daughter, and we, already an old couple [38 and 24 years old] still have nothing.
Heartiest regards to you and your wife
Viktor and Daisy later emigrated to America and settled in a suburb of New York City, where they raised their two sons, George and Tom. Daisy died on January 22, 1969 at the age of 47. Viktor died peacefully of Alzheimer’s disease on October 6, 2000, at the age of 93. Pepik also emigrated to America. When he came through Ellis Island he said his name was “Joseph.” When asked for his middle name he said “Pepik.” Thus, in America he was “Joseph Pepik Mautner.”
Edited by Arthur Fredericks Engoron and Perle Goldstein Benatar, New York City, summer, 2019
Copyright – Arthur Fredericks Engoron – 2019
That's it for The Wheatley School Alumni Association Newsletter # 41. Please send me your autobiography before someone else sends me your obituary.