Category Archives: Children in Terezin

5 Essential Holocaust Teaching Resources for Middle School Students

While there are plenty of Holocaust teaching resources for middle school students, teaching the Holocaust to this age group is still very challenging. How do you make the Holocaust relevant to them? And what are some ways to guide them through this incredibly upsetting subject?

Here is a list of five resources that can help you teach middle schoolers about the Holocaust.

The Butterfly Project

This incredible project uses the arts to educate students about the dangers of intolerance. It makes the Holocaust accessible to children, and presents the subject matter in a way that is poignant but not overly graphic or frightening.

The way it works is as follows: schools order kits containing ceramic butterflies, painting supplies, and cards with biographies of children who died in the Holocaust. After learning more about the children, each student receives a butterfly to paint in memory of them. The school or a community center then install the butterflies as a permanent memorial to the children who died in the Holocaust. The hope is one day there will be 1.5 million butterflies on display around the world, one for each Jewish child the world lost.

Visit their website to learn more about The Butterfly Project or to order a kit.

Inge Auerbacher’s I Am a Star

The story of Inge Auerbacher, a young girl who survived the war in Terezin, is a compelling way to bring the Holocaust to life for your middle school students. Inge is the author of several best selling books, including I Am a Star, which details her childhood and her time in Terezin. The book can be purchased on Amazon or through the publisher’s website.

I Am a Star is available in many languages and an 30th anniversary edition will soon be released. The book was also adapted into award-winning play, “The Star on My Heart”, which premiered in Ohio in 2015. Her story has also been featured on Butterflies in the Ghetto.

Paper Clips

This documentary tells the story of a Holocaust memorial project started by teachers and middle school students in the small town of Whitwell, Tennessee.

As part of a Holocaust education project the students began collecting paper clips. Their goal was to acquire 1.5 million to represent each child lost in the Holocaust. The project took off and ultimately the entire community created a remarkable Holocaust memorial outside the school.

The Whitwell community built the memorial in an authentic cattle car from Germany. The result is a starkly beautiful memorial to the children of the Holocaust, and a powerful message about tolerance and acceptance of others.

Brundibár

Composer Hans Krása and librettist Adolf Hoffmeister created the children’s opera Brundibár in 1938. Incredibly, Krása was able to stage a production of the musical in Terezin.

The musical was later performed when the Red Cross visited Terezin and featured in a Nazi propaganda film. Tragically, Krása and most of the child performers were later sent to Auschwitz. Very few of them survived the war.

In more recent years, the children’s opera has become more popular. It is certainly a great play to bring to a middle school if possible. There are also videos of the production on YouTube that are worth viewing and discussing with your class.

Vedem

Vedem is a literary magazine produced by the teenage boys of barrack L417 in Terezin. Fourteen-year-old Petr Ginz established the magazine, and he published a new issue almost every week. Petr created much of the content himself and the other boys contributed to it as well.

The magazine featured pieces on daily life in Terezin, satirical essays, poems, and short fiction, as well as artwork. Tragically, Petr and most of the other boys from barrack L417 died in Auschwitz.

Their legacy lives on in the writings and drawings they left behind. You can read more about Petr Ginz and Vedem here.

I have also created a free Vedem study guide for teachers. The guide is available to all subscribers to Butterflies In the Ghetto.

These are just a handful of resources teachers can use to help their middle school students better understand the Holocaust. I’ve found these to be particularly powerful in bringing stories from the Holocaust to light.

Have you used any of these in your teaching, and what have you found to be helpful? Please let me know in the comments below.

Coming Soon: More Resources for Holocaust Educators

After two years of sharing the stories of Terezin artists, I came to realize that I could do more to support our amazing teachers and Holocaust educators. While still continuing to document Terezin artists, I am also working on developing lesson plans and teaching tips that feature their stories.

Entrance to the Terezin Ghetto Museum.

If you are a teacher or Holocaust educator, stay tuned for blog updates and check out my Resources for Educators section, where I highlight valuable resources for teaching children and young adults about the Holocaust. I also hope you will sign up for my mailing list to receive even more resources and inspiration for educators.

Let us join together in teaching our students about the Holocaust, and promoting the message of empathy and tolerance.

Hana Brady and the Long-Lost Suitcase

Hana Brady’s story was shared with the world through an incredible turn of events. The story involves a battered suitcase with a few words painted on it: Hana Brady, born May 16, 1931, Orphan. Who was the young girl who owned this suitcase? Thanks to the efforts of Fumiko Ishioka, director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, we now havethe answer. Here is Hana’s story.

Hana Brady as a child. Used with permission of George and Lara Brady.

Hana lived with her parents and older brother George in a small Czech town called Nové Město na Moravě. She was described as a happy, active and athletic little girl who was very close to her family. Hana was just eight years old when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. The family’s life became restricted, and they were forced to hand over their radio and other valuables to the Nazis. Their Christian friends stopped playing with them, because their parents feared they would be punished for playing with Jewish children. Hana and George remained close and supported one another during this time.

In March 1941, their mother, Marketa, was assigned to a Nazi transport and taken away. Soon after, they were forced to sew yellow star badges to their clothing along with all the other Czech Jews. When one man in town refused to comply, a Nazi officer was furious and ordered the arrests of all the other Jewish men in town. Hana and George’s father Karel was arrested and taken away a few days later, and the two children were left with the family’s housekeeper.

Later that day, their uncle Ludvik, a Christian man married to their father’s sister Hedda, arrived at the house. He had heard the bad news, and came to bring the children to his home. He helped the children pack, and Hana gathered her belongings in a large brown suitcase with a polka dot lining.

The children remained with their aunt and uncle until May 1942. That was when the children received a notice ordering them to report to a deportation center. They were taken to the center, where they were forced into a large warehouse with hundreds of other Jewish families. After four days in the warehouse, they were put on a train and sent to Terezin.

George as a child. Used with permission from George and Lara Brady.

The train stopped at Bohusovic Station, and Hana, George and the others on their transport had to carry their luggage the last few kilometers to Terezin. The children were separated into homes, and Hana was assigned to the girls’ home in barrack L410. She slept on a thin burlap mattress on a three-level bunk bed and was initially confined to the barrack due to her age.

Hana was unable to see George and missed her brother terribly. Some of the older girls looked out for her, and she became friends with one of them, a dark-haired girl named Ella.

Hana spent her days with the room supervisor and the younger girls, doing chores and attending secret classes in the barrack. They learned songs in music class, the basics of sewing, and art class. Hana’s favorite class was art, and she adored her teacher, famous artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Hana produced many drawings, some of which still survive.

One of Hana’s drawings from Terezin. Used with permission of George and Lara Brady.

After she had been in Terezin for some time, the rules were changed and Hana was finally able to see her brother, who was assigned to the boys’ home in Barrack L417 and was working as a plumber in the camp. The siblings would see each other every chance they could get, and George was determined to do everything possible to take care of his sister. Hana in turn worried about George, and she would set aside her weekly buchta (a sort of plain doughnut) and give it to her brother to eat.

As the months went on, the camp became more and more cramped, and many people died from food shortages and epidemics. And every few weeks, people were assigned to transports heading East, to some unknown destination.

In September 1944, George was sent away on one of these transports. A month later, Hana was assigned to a transport and she was full of hope that she would be reunited with her brother. Hana’s friend Ella helped her to wash her face and hair, because Hana wanted to look nice when she saw her brother again.

The next morning, Hana, Ella and many other girls from their home were put on a dark train, which traveled nonstop for a day and a night. There was no food, no water, no toilet, and no way to know how long the journey was. Hana, Ella and the other girls held hands, whispered stories, imagined they were somewhere else.

On the night of October 23, 1944, they arrived at Auschwitz. The girls were forced out of the car, and ordered to stand on the platform. The guards selected a few of the older girls and sent them to the right.

Hana and the rest of the girls were told to drop their luggage and go to the left, where they were herded into a large warehouse. That night, Hana died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz at the age of thirteen.

George had also been sent to Auschwitz, but he managed to survive the camp, in part due to the plumbing skills he had gained at Terezin. He was liberated in January 1945 at the age of seventeen and returned to the home of his Uncle Ludvik and Aunt Hedda.

He learned that his parents were dead, and for many months searched for news of his sister. Eventually, he met a teenage girl in Prague who knew Hana from Terezin, and learned the horrible truth.

In 1951, George moved to Toronto and started a very successful plumbing business, married and had three sons and a daughter. But despite all his joys and successes, George’s loss of his parents and beloved sister was never far from his mind.

Then, years later, in 2000, he received a letter from a woman named Fumiko Ishioka, the director of a Holocaust Center in Tokyo. She had received a leather suitcase with polka dot lining at her center – Hana’s suitcase.

Fumiko Ishioka. Used with permission of George and Lara Brady

Almost nothing was known of Hana, and after months of searching, Fumiko had found George and sent him a letter in the hopes of learning about his sister. Later, George and his daughter Lara traveled to the center in Tokyo to meet Fumiko and a group of schoolchildren known as the Small Wings, and to share Hana’s story.

In March 2004, George and Fumiko learned that the suitcase was actually a replica created by the museum at Auschwitz after the original suitcase and many other items from the Holocaust had been destroyed in a fire.

While saddened to hear about the fire, George and Fumiko were grateful that the Auschwitz museum created the replica, which brought them together and allowed them to bring Hana’s story to the world.

Further Reading

Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

http://www.hanassuitcase.ca/?p=107

http://www.cbc.ca/hanassuitcase/

The Artists’ Affair Part 3: Bedřich Fritta

Another remarkable artist who was incarcerated in Terezin was Bedřich Fritta, who was imprisoned along with Leo Haas and Otto Ungar in July 1944.

He was born Bedřich Taussig in 1906 in Weigsdorf (Višňová), Northern Bohemia and demonstrated an interest and aptitude for art. In 1930 he moved to Paris to study art, and eventually settled in Prague where he worked as a graphic designer, technical draughtsman and contributed cartoons and caricatures to satirical magazines. He preferred to be called Fritta, his pen name, and this is what he family and friends affectionately called him.

In December 1941 Fritta was sent to Terezin on one of the first transports along with other artists, engineers and doctors who were assigned to help set up the camp. His wife, Hansi, and their one year old son Tommy accompanied him to the camp.

At Terezin, Fritta was assigned as supervisor to the camp’s drawing studio, where blueprints, construction plans and technical reports were composed. Those who knew him described him as extroverted, outspoken, and strong-willed, a man of great enthusiasm. It seems that Fritta and Leo Haas were the ones who first used materials available to them to secretly depict life in the ghetto. Some of the other men who worked with them began to do the same.

In addition to his work at the camp, Fritta produced over 100 drawings and sketches in Terezin, most of which were ink drawings, finished with a paintbrush and water to add shadowy dimensions. His drawings are characterized by the interplay of light and shadow, and their haunted, despairing figures. Some of his sketches depict barracks, transports leaving the ghetto, the cafe set up in preparation for the Red Cross visit, in which solemn people sit at empty tables while a band plays.

Fritta also created a  picture book for his son Tommy, a gift for the boy’s third birthday on January 22, 1944. The book, which the artist bound with heavy brown paper, was filled with colorful ink, pen and watercolor drawings accompanied by captions. Fritta depicted Tommy’s daily activities, but also images of a happy life outside of Terezin. For Tommy’s third birthday, Fritta and his wife Hansi even managed to plan a special party in the ghetto, complete with presents and a cake.

Following the Red Cross visit, Fritta and Leo Haas hid many of their drawings and paintings, Haas in the paneling of a wall, Fritta in a large tin case that he and some of his friends secretly buried. Tommy’s book was hidden in the ghetto along with Fritta’s other paintings. Soon after the Red Cross visit, Fritta, his wife Hansi, and Tommy were imprisoned in the Small Fortress along with Leo Haas, Otto Ungar and their families.

Fritta endured unimaginable suffering while imprisoned,  and was savagely beaten and interrogated daily. He later contracted dysentery, which depleted all that remained of his strength. When he was moved to a cell occupied by Leo Haas, his friend was horrified at how emaciated and ill he had become. In early August both men were forced to sign an indictment stating that they were guilty of creating propaganda and distributing it abroad.

The following day, they were put on a train to Auschwitz. Fritta was suffering from severe dysentery and malnutrition and was barely able to walk or move. When the group was suddenly forced off the cars at Dresden, Haas lifted his friend onto his back and carried him off the car and through the dark streets. After a check at Gestapo headquarters, the prisoners were sent on to Auschwitz, where Fritta was taken to the infirmary. The doctor tried to keep Fritta comfortable and Haas and other friends visited him and smuggled food. But at this point, Fritta was unable to eat, and drifted in and out of consciousness. The outgoing, enthusiastic, courageous man who risked so much to reveal the truth of Terezin died eight days after arriving in Auschwitz, in late August 1944.

The artists’ wives and children were imprisoned in the Small Fortress for more than a year. Fritta’s wife Hansi died of malnutrition and disease in Terezin a few months after her husband. Their son Tommy survived the war in Terezin, an orphan at just four years of age. He was adopted by Fritta’s friend Leo Haas and his wife Erna. Haas returned to Terezin to recover their hidden paintings as soon as he could, and was successfully able to reclaim the tin box with Fritta’s works. He returned the beautiful, lovingly crafted picture book to Tommy, his last gift from the father who adored him.

Exhibition of Fritta’s Drawings
http://www.jmberlin.de/fritta/en/index.php

Tommy’s Book:
http://www.jmberlin.de/fritta/en/bilderbuch-fuer-tommy.php

Further Reading
The Artists of Terezin by Gerald Green

Children’s Stories and Poems: Terezin 1942-1944

Recently, I had the good fortune to read and examine one of the original 2000 English copies of the book Children’s Drawings and Poems: Terezin 1942-1944. Two friends who work in Special Collections at the University of Colorado generously gave me a tour of the archives after hours and located a sole book on Terezin in the collection. I returned to Special Collections a few weeks later to review the book in more depth. This hardcover book with its slightly worn dust jacket featured a child’s collage of a solitary humanoid figure. It was published in 1959, an English translation with an initial print run of only 2000 copies. A sticker on the inside cover read “Gift of Professor U.K. Goldsmith, 1973.” I wrote down the name, curious about the person who donated this book.

I own a later edition of this book, which features drawings and poetry from children who were in Terezin. Most of these drawings and poems are owned by the State Jewish Museum in Prague, and they were selected from more than 4,000 drawings and poems in the museum’s archives. Many of these works of art were created from any materials the children could find, such as scraps of paper, office forms, wrapping paper…This original edition featured reproductions that were far clearer and more vivid than the later editions. The paper felt heavy and opaque with beautifully vivid illustrations. Yet for me, two of the most poignant drawings were simple pencil lines depicting the outline of a child’s hand and sketches of butterflies. The hand was drawn by a boy named Frantisek Brozan and the butterflies by Eva Bulova. Almost nothing is known about them, but they were among the thousands of children who were sent to Auschwitz and murdered. There was a section in the back that featured biographical information on the authors and artists, but for most all that is known is what is gleaned from camp records: date and place of birth, date of transport to Terezin, whether they survived or died. In later editions, this section is still included, but all these years later no more biographical information has been discovered. Most of these young creators have been all but lost to history. That was the thought that stayed with me as I closed the book, leaving the two ribbon bookmarks at the page containing the poem “The Butterfly”, the one that captivated me from the start.

A memorial in Prague, illuminated by candles. May we never forget.
A memorial in Prague, illuminated by candles. May we never forget.

Later, after the visit, I researched the professor who donated this book. His name was Ulrich K. Goldsmith, and he was born to a Jewish family in Freiburg, Germany in 1910. He fled the country in 1932, passing through England and Canada before settling in the United States, where he received a PhD in literature from the University of California at Berkley. In 1957 he arrived at the University of Colorado, Boulder where he was the chair of the Department of Germanic languages and literature and co-founded the Comparative Literature department. He was known as a remarkable humanist and scholar of Stefan George and Rainer Maria Rilke. After his death in 2000, the university established a memorial prize in his name. Little else seems to be recorded about him, though surely his former students and colleagues have memories of him. Unfortunately, I don’t know how he acquired one of the original English translations of Children’s Drawings and Poems, or how he came to know the story of Terezin. If Professor Goldsmith were alive today and I had the chance to speak with him I would have asked him about these stories. Most likely, I will never know, but I will always be grateful to him for leaving this remarkable book with the library so that future generations may know the story of Terezin.

Hans Krasa and Brundibar: A Children’s Opera

Hans Krasa was born in Prague on November 30, 1899 to a Czech father and a German Jewish mother. He began studying the piano and violin as a child and his musical gifts became evident at an early age. Hans later studied composition at the German Music Academy in Prague and after graduation he worked at the New German Theater as a pianist and vocal coach. While working there, he met an Austrian-Jewish conductor and composer named Alexander Zemlinsky, who became his mentor. In 1927 Krasa accompanied Zemlinsky to Berlin, where he continued his studies and was introduced to prestigious composers of the day. Krasa was terribly homesick for Prague, and returned to his former job at the New German Theater. However, Hans also made his debut as a composer during this time with his work Four Orchestral Songs. Several other works followed, the most successful being his opera Betrothal in a Dream, performed in 1933.

Composer Hans Krasa
Composer Hans Krasa

His most notable work, however, the one which would become his legacy, was a children’s opera called Brundibar, the final work he completed before being transported to Terezin on August 10, 1942. In Terezin, he produced an arrangement of the opera which became wildly successful, performed a total of 55 times. The premise was straightforward: two poor children, a brother and sister named Pepicek and Aninka, go to the market one morning, hoping that by singing they will be able to raise enough money to buy milk for their sick mother. A cruel organ grinder named Brundibar bullies the children and prevents them from singing. Pepicek and Aninka are joined by a dog, cat, and brave sparrow and the children of the town and together they prevail over the tyrannical organ grinder.

The message of triumphing over a tyrant resonated strongly with many people imprisoned in Terezin, which may have contributed to its popularity. It also provided a creative outlet for the children in Terezin, and those who survived remember how participating in the opera offered them a temporary relief from the horrors of their daily life in the camp.

Brundibar was involved in the Terezin deception, as it was performed for the Red Cross and featured in a propaganda film shot at the camp. This is by far the darkest aspect of the opera, the way in which it was exploited by the Nazis. At the same time, Brundibar should be remembered for the respite it provided for the children of Terezin.

Hans Krasa continued to compose in Terezin but Brundibar is by far his best remembered work. In October 1944, Krasa, along with other composers and many of the children who performed in the opera were put on a transport to Auschwitz where most were murdered upon arrival, including Krasa. He is memorialized by the opera Brundibar, which continues to be performed to this day.

Below: Clip of Brundibar performance at Terezin

Below: This video tells the story of the children’s opera Brundibar, and follows a present-day staging of the opera.

 

Picture of Hans Krasa from Krizkova, Marie R., Kotouc, Kurt J. & Ornest, Zdenek. We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine of the Boys of Terezin. The Jewish Publication Society, 1995. Print. Used with permission.

More on Hans Krasa and Brundibar:

We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezin (by Marie Krizkova, Kurt Jiri Kotouc and Zdenek Ornest)

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2003/sep/06/classicalmusicandopera

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/09/theater/reviews/09brun.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Ilan Ramon and Petr Ginz: The Astronaut and the Prodigy

There is an incredible and tragic connection that exists between the young prodigy Petr Ginz and the astronaut Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space. He was born Ilan Wolferman in Ramat Gan, Israel. His father’s family fled Germany in 1935 and his mother and grandmother were Holocaust survivors who were imprisoned in Auschwitz. They left Poland after the war, and emigrated to Israel.

Ilan graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in computer engineering in 1987 and joined the Israeli Airforce, where he became a highly accomplished fighter pilot and earned the rank of Colonel. During his fighter pilot training he adopted the surname Ramon. In 1997, he was accepted by NASA and began training to be a Payload Specialist, a process which took five years. He participated in the 113th mission of the Space Shuttle Program, aboard the shuttle Columbia.

Though described as secular, as the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan saw himself as a representative of the Jewish people. He opted to eat kosher food on the mission, and consulted with a rabbi on how to keep Shabbat in space. Ilan also brought with him a variety of objects that held special significance. These objects included a small Torah scroll that was saved from the Holocaust, a dollar bill with the image of the Lubavitcher Rebbe – and a copy of a drawing by Petr Ginz.

Petr’s drawing depicted a lunar landscape, mountainous and desolate, with an image of the Earth shining in the distance, though Petr did not live long enough to see the first pictures of Earth taken from space. Ilan took the image to commemorate Petr, who died in Auschwitz, and all the others who were affected by the Holocaust.

**To view Petr’s drawing and NASA portrait of Ilan, please visit: http://www.science.co.il/Ilan-Ramon/

 

Ilan and his crew members completed their mission, but tragically, their Shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry, killing all on board. The disaster happened on February 1, 2003, which would have been Petr’s 75th birthday. The copy of the drawing was destroyed, but part of the diary that Ilan kept on the mission survived the disaster. Though badly damaged, after 5 years forensic scientists were able to restore about 80% of its content. One of the pages was a handwritten copy of the Kiddush prayer, another way Ilan expressed his pride in being part of the Jewish people. The diary that Petr kept, along with many poems, stories and articles have been saved. These writings give us greater insight into who this man and boy were, and ensure that some part of them lives on. I greatly admire their many achievements, but they shared other qualities that impress me even more than what they accomplished. Most of all, I remain in awe of how they were able to look beyond their immediate surroundings, to imagine all that lies beyond the confines of Earth and how they had the courage to envision and to work for a better world.

Further Reading

Memorial site for Ilan Ramon:    http://www.science.co.il/Ilan-Ramon/

Petr Ginz: A Prodigy Behind Walls

Petr and Eva Ginz with their parents before the war.
Petr and Eva Ginz with their parents before the war.

The life of Petr Ginz, an artist, writer, Esperantist, magazine editor and scholar, dramatically illustrates the creativity and talent of so many children who died in the Holocaust.

Petr was born on February 1, 1928 in Prague to Otto and Miriam Ginz. His father was a manager in a textile company, and both his parents were passionate about Esperanto. In fact, his parents met at an Esperantist convention and taught the language to Petr and his younger sister, Eva. The children were from an interfaith background; Otto was Jewish and Miriam was Christian.

From a young age, Petr’s intelligence, curiosity and passion for knowledge was evident. He wrote his first novel at age 8 and wrote 5 novels in all before he was deported to Terezin. A skilled artist, Petr also illustrated the novels himself. He was interested in a wide variety of subjects, including literature, art, science, history and geography, was an avid reader and also recorded his experiences in a diary. Petr’s enthusiasm for the arts and learning did not diminish after he was transported to Terezin at age 14, in October 1942. He continued his studies and borrowed countless books from the makeshift Terezin library, and wrote short novels. He also made a major contribution to the cultural life of Terezin when he established a literary magazine called Vedem (We lead), which he published weekly. Petr wrote many of the pieces himself, and other boys from his barrack contributed work as well. The magazine featured pieces on daily life in Terezin, satirical essays, short fiction, poetry and artwork.

A close bond developed between the boys of Petr’s barrack, L417. They called their barrack the Republic of Shkid, and created a flag and national anthem. Their creativity and imagination in such circumstances were remarkable, as was the amount of work they produced for Vedem, much of which survives today.

Petr often wrote very matter-of-factly about the events he experienced and life in Terezin, and even managed to insert some humor. He did write some poignant pieces as well, most notably a poem in which he described how he missed Prague, though he knew it did not miss him. He described how he could not return because he was living like a caged animal but would always long for Prague, his “fairy-tale in stone.”

Tragically, he would never see Prague again. Petr was assigned to one of the last transports to leave Terezin, in September 1944. His sister Eva, who adored him, wrote about the day Petr left in her own diary. After Petr boarded the train, Eva spotted him at one of the windows and managed to pass some bread to him through the window, to hold his hand one more time before she was chased away by guards. Eva wrote honestly and poignantly about how she worried about her brother and wondered if he was still alive.

At the age of 16, Petr was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, like hundreds of thousands of others. A prodigy was lost that day, and we will never know how many other gifted, talented young people were lost that same day. What remains are the writings and drawings he left behind, which his sister Eva preserved and shared with the world after the war, a poignant reminder of all that was lost the day Petr Ginz died.

Picture of the Ginz Family from Krizkova, Marie R., Kotouc, Kurt J. & Ornest, Zdenek. We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine of the Boys of Terezin. The Jewish Publication Society, 1995. Print. Used with permission.

Further Reading
We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezin (by Marie Krizkova, Kurt Jiri Kotouc and Zdenek Ornest)

The Diary of Petr Ginz (edited by Chava Pressburger)

Franta Maier and the Boys of Room 7, Part 2

A few days after arriving at Terezin, the children were assigned to various barracks based on their age and gender. Franta later spoke of the impact this trauma had on the children, saying that they were in shock at their world being torn apart once again. Franta remained in charge of these children, and he was able to access the barracks whenever necessary.

Under Franta’s influence, the children received extra rations and were kept on a schedule which included exercise, classes and recreation. He was assigned to be a madrich (leader) in Room 7, in which 40 boys aged twelve and thirteen lived.

Franta kept the boys on a disciplined schedule, and made sure they were clean and that the room was orderly. But what made the greatest impact on the boys was how Franta would speak to them at night and tell them that no matter what the Nazis did, they could not take away the boys’ dignity and humanity. He told them they had three duties: to survive, to respect their parents, and to be ready for a new life when the war was over. He encouraged them to love life, no matter what hardships they endured.

Still, Franta had fears and vulnerabilities that the boys did not know about. They did not know about the heartbreak he experienced when he proposed marriage to a woman named Lucy, hoping to save her from the transports. Lucy accepted his proposal, but Franta’s mother convinced Lucy to break off the engagement, believing this was the wrong time and place to marry. Lucy was later transported with her parents, and Franta was unable to forgive his mother for years. The boys also didn’t know how much Franta feared for them, how at night he would break down and cry silently as he wondered what would happen to them the next day.

A creative life developed in Room 7; they were the first home to produce plays, and two literary magazines, Rim Rim and Nesar were created and circulated. A sense of community developed among the boys of Room 7, and deep friendships were forged. When some of the boys had to leave on a transport, there was a profound sorrow when they had to say good-bye and the entire community felt the losses.

In September 1944, Franta was assigned to a transport. The night before he left, Franta said good-bye to the boys in Room 7; the scene was poignantly described by Pavel Weiner in his diary. Franta was sent to Auschwitz, where he learned that his family was dead, as were most of the children. He vowed he would live to see the Nazis defeated. In January, Franta was placed on a death march to a work camp called Blechhammer. As the Russians approached, the Nazis abandoned the camp, and Franta walked out of the camp to search for food. He was discovered by some Russian soldiers, who sent him to a repatriation center in Czestochowa. He later became a civilian assistant to an officer for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Franta worked hard to get properties back from the 24 relatives he lost during the war. He returned to his hometown of Brno and later married a woman who had lost her husband in the war. They immigrated to America in 1947, and Franta found work in a business that produced malt for breweries. Though he initially did not know anything about this industry, he learned quickly and became a successful businessman in the malt business and later the paper export business.

Franta died in 2013, and the surviving boys of Room 7 remember to this day how he profoundly touched their lives. Franta put forth tremendous effort to provide order, stability and compassion to these young boys, and their bond with him and with one another remained strong many decades later.

Further Reading
Nesarim: Child Survivors of Terezin by Thelma Gruenbaum

Pavel Weiner: Boy Chronicler of Terezin, Part 2

In spring of 1945, as the Allies made progress on their liberation of Europe, Pavel’s mood lifted and he could again hope that freedom would come at last. Pavel wrote that freedom was such a beautiful concept for him and that he would be willing to risk his life for it. By late April, air raids occurred daily as the Allies approached the Czech border. The prisoners in Terezin were distraught by the arrival of emaciated survivors from Nazi death camps. In a deeply moving scene, Pavel took his bread ration and handed it to his mother, Valy, saying, “Give it to my father when he arrives.”

Pavel’s last entry was April 22, 1945 and in it he described a chaotic day in Terezin. Hundreds of people ran away with as many stolen goods as they could carry, a quarantine was placed on part of the camp and many inmates were fighting with each other. Then the good news arrived that the Red Cross was now taking care of them. Hope arose that freedom was drawing near. Soon after, Terezin was liberated and Pavel returned to Prague with his mother. They searched for Ludvik and Handa, and Pavel learned that his father and brother did not survive. We do not learn his thoughts from this time, as Pavel no longer kept a diary after he left Terezin.

In 1948, Pavel and his mother moved to Canada, and Pavel later moved to New York City, where he married and had a successful career as a chemical engineer. He had one child, a daughter named Karen. In 1979, Pavel discovered that his mother had kept his diary for all those years and he made the decision to edit the diary and translate it into English. It took Karen a long time before she could bring herself to read the diary, afraid of what she would find. After reading his diary and accompanying her father to Terezin, Karen believed that her father’s story should be shared. She began assisting her father with editing the translations. Sadly, Pavel did not live to see his diary published, but Karen persevered and the diary was published in 2012, ensuring that her father’s experiences would be shared with others.

Further Reading
A Boy in Terezin: The Private Diary of Pavel Weiner, April 1944-April 1945
By Pavel and Karen Weiner