Meeting of Theresienstadt Survivors at the Herzlilienblum Museum on May 24, 2010
Dr. Margalit Shlain
Survivors of ghetto Theresienstadt and their families were
invited to the Herzlilienblum Museum in Tel Aviv, to visit the exhibition “Monopoly – Life as an Illusion” and to view the permanent museum exhibition.
The Israeli ambassador to France Daniel Sheck and his sister Ruth Sheck-Yassur were moved to find in the exhibition a drawing by their mother Alisa Ehrmann-Sheck, “Reading Girl”, which she drew in the ghetto as a young teenager.
At the moving meeting, organized by Irit Fenig from the museum, we heard the story of Lea Hedwig Provisor and Ernestine Davidovits, daughters of Dr. Desider Friedmann, who was nominated in June 1943 to head the bank of the self-government in Theresienstadt.
Lea Hedwig Provisor related with emotionally thestory of her father who, still a law student, followed Dr. Benjamin Herzl and in time became a Zionist leader, head of the Vienna Jewish community and member of the Austrian parliament.
As a ten-year-old girl she insisted to study at a
Jewish school where Hebrew was taught and, after Austria was annexed, in 1938, by Nazi Germany, she immigrated in the framework of Youth Aliyah to Palestine, aged 16. Until today she carries with her the pain of not being able to take leave from her father who at the time of her departure was imprisoned at Dachau concentration camp. She managed to correspond with her parents up to 1943 through the Red Cross and looked forward to meet them at the end of the war; she lived in the illusion that their lives are not endangered since they were sent to ghetto Theresienstadt.
Her sister Ernestine Davidovits, who emigrated one year later, in November 1939, did take leave from their parents. She spoke in high terms of her mother “about whom nobody speaks”, who also had a certificate to immigrate to Palestine. She could have saved herself, but preferred to stay with her husband who was not allowed to leave Vienna after his release from Dachau; she shared his fate in ghetto Theresienstadt – until they were deported to their deaths in Auschwitz.
For Lea Hedwig Provisor the visit to the museum
brought a surprise, at the floor dedicated to the ghetto children were handcrafted articles created by Trude Groag
with children in the ghetto. The surprise: the great-granddaughter of Trude is married to Hedwig’s grandson; they have a special connection to this part of the exhibition.
Dr. Arie (Leo) Goldschmidt, who was sent from Vienna to Theresienstadt, related how, as a child aged ten, he was made to take part in the deception staged for the Theresienstadt visit of the delegation of the International Red Cross on June 23, 1943. He was brought to a children’s home, established specially for this visit. “They seated us, suitably clothed, around tables with white tablecloths on which there were cans of sardines and chocolate bars, lent by the SS canteen. After the visit all this had to be returned untouched. They told us to ask the camp commander Rahm who accompanied the visitors: “Uncle Rahm, why do we get sardines again?”, as if we were fed up by the unvarying diet.
In spite of the prohibition two children and I filched a bar of chocolate and finished it. After the visit, when it was found that one chocolate bar is missing, we admitted it, but we were not punished, only reproached.
28 years after this scene, during a pharmacist’s course, a woman approached me and asked if my name was formerly Leo, because she was sure that I was one of the chocolate thieves during the visit of the Red Cross delegation in Theresienstadt. This was Alice Kelerman, one of our counselors at the children’s home, who was only a few years older than we were. She told me how Willy Groag succeeded “to reconstruct the missing chocolate bar by filling the wrapping, which was found, with cardboard and, if the number of chocolate bars returned to the SS would not have been identical to those received, the councilors would have been sent to the ‘Small Fortress’ from where nobody was supposed to return alive.”
Achim, Joachim Bagainski , who was brought to Theresienstadt from Berlin, aged 5, related that his mother worked in their first months in the ghetto as housekeeper and cook for an SS officer and how he used to walk after her outside the enclosed ghetto area to play with the children of the German soldiers – nobody suspected him because of his “Aryan” looks, blond with blue eyes and his fluent German. After his mother was transferred to work at the mica plant, where this mineral was split to be used by the German war industry for insulation, he stood in line at the food distribution and in exchange for the regular ration card they got and the special ration his mother received for her essential work, he got their daily ration of murky soup and a quarter loaf of bread for three days. As a child he used to play with his friend with marbles they had brought in their pockets when they entered the ghetto and also “soccer” with buttons.
Hanan Bachrich, who came to Theresienstadt at age 18 in 1942 from the Czech “Protectorate”, spent in the ghetto “only” 2 months – since the ghetto was actually a transit camp to the East. He related how a group of young people from youth movements was organized to care for the needs of all its members and “everybody who arrived and still had food from home shared it with the other members of the group”.
Yehudit Brinckmann who arrived in Theresienstadt from Denmark in October 1943 remembered the shock experienced by Danish Jews – the sudden transition from their homes to ghetto conditions; she was interrupted by one of those present who claimed that in Theresienstadt they were accorded (relatively) exceptional conditions since they were “privileged” and save from deportations to the East.
Attached are fragments of a letter I got after the visit.
Thank you for the wealth of information you gave us about our grandfather Dr. Desider Friedmann.
The evening organized at the Banking Museum of Discount bank was moving, both for our mother and for us.
Thank you for convincing our mother to attend the event in spite of her misgivings, after all, the evening impressed her very much and gave her a lot.
Hedy Provisor (Friedmann) Amitai, Roni and Gilead Pri-Or