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.
Nesarim: Child Survivors of Terezin by Thelma Gruenbaum