Monthly Archives: November 2015

Franta Maier and the Boys of Room 7, Part 1

One of the many extraordinary individuals dedicated to the children of Terezin was Franta Maier, the madrich or leader of the boys’ home in Room 7 in barrack L417. This was the same home where the young diarist Pavel Weiner was assigned, and he and the other boys who survived remembered the profound impact Franta had on their lives many years later.


Determined, take-charge, passionate, generous and resourceful are some of the words used to describe Franta by those who know him. These traits were already evident when Franta was 18 years old. The year was 1940, and Franta was sent to Prague to complete a teacher training course. There was a severe shortage of teachers to educate the Jewish children who were being expelled from the public schools, so Franta had to complete the course in two months. He passed the state teacher’s exams and was assigned to teach a class of 60 third-graders. Some of the children came from a Jewish orphanage, and Franta noticed that these children were unkempt and anxious, and their lunch consisted only of cold boiled potatoes. Franta spoke with the leader of the Brno Jewish community, Otto Zucker, who listened to his concerns and later observed Franta’s classroom. Nothing changed, however, and in a few months, the Nazis closed the school.

Otto Zucker offered Franta a position as the teaching and education chair at the orphanage, where 200 boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 14 lived. The orphanage was poorly funded because it was dependent on donations. Due to the war, many people were reluctant to provide money. Franta was well-known and popular in the community for being a talented soccer player, and managed to arrange for better washrooms and accommodations.

Franta also managed to introduce many positive changes to the orphanage and organized singing and music groups, Shabbat services and classes. Children from the outside were invited to participate in these activities, and friendships developed. Women from the Jewish community helped with the laundry and taught the children about grooming and how to take care of their clothes. This was a valuable service, because the children at the orphanage regarded themselves as unattractive and inferior to other children.

Franta observed that the children needed someone to listen to them and care about them, someone who could take a leadership role and instill discipline while demonstrating concern. He tried his best to be that person, and encouraged the other orphanage workers to do the same. An especially poignant scene is a description of Franta, a skilled violinist, walking down the hallways when the children were in bed, playing folk songs and lullabies to soothe them to sleep. He did this to comfort them and because he knew this was an experience that these children never had before.

The positive changes that Franta introduced were tragically halted on March 15, 1942, when he and the entire orphanage were transported to Terezin. Franta would need to rely on his intuitive understanding and all he had learned in the past two years to meet the immense obstacles he would face in mentoring the children of Terezin.

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

Pavel Weiner: Boy Chronicler of Terezin, Part 1

As I mentioned in my earlier post about the young diarist Helga Pollak, there were many who kept diaries in Terezin, including children. Many of these documents have been lost, which makes the ones we do have all the more valuable. One diary that has been translated and published in English belonged to a young boy named Pavel Weiner.

Pavel was born and raised in Prague and lived in a middle-class home with his parents Ludvik and Valy and his older brother Handa. The family was not particularly religious, but their social network consisted mainly of their Jewish friends and relatives. Everything changed when the Nazis came to power and began enforcing anti-Jewish laws. And then in May 1942, Pavel and his family was sent to Terezin, ending the life they had known. The family was separated and assigned to different barracks, and Pavel was sent to Room 7 in building L417, which was the designated Kinderheim (children’s home) for Czech boys. The Kinderheim was created by Jewish administrators of Terezin and was designed to create better living conditions for the children and to facilitate secret classes for them.

Much of Pavel’s diary takes place in the heim, and focuses on his relationships with the other boys and the youth leaders who ran his heim. He didn’t start writing his diary until April 1944, when he was twelve years old. Despite the situation he was in, many of the challenges Pavel faced were interpersonal. He argued with the boys, and was sometimes teased and excluded by them. This led to Pavel feeling alienated from them much of the time. He longed for affirmation from Franta, his youth leader, and often was hurt when Franta appeared to favor other boys over him. Pavel worried intensely about his father’s health and his mother’s well-being, and yet he often argued with them, in particular with his mother. Pavel also founded a literary magazine, Nesar, which was no easy task, as he struggled to recruit the other boys in his heim to contribute articles and drawings and worked hard to build a readership. Still, he managed to produce thirteen issues, and later contributed to another magazine called Rim Rim.

Many months later, in August 1944, Pavel reflected more deeply on his feelings and the situation he was in. He discussed his anger that two years of his life were stolen from him, that he had no opportunity and no freedom in Terezin. He vowed to write about his feelings so that he might learn from them, to study hard and to start a new life for himself, even within the ghetto walls. He tried hard to keep to his goals, though it was far from easy.

Then in late September 1944, the terrifying news arrived that another transport was scheduled, consisting of men aged sixteen to fifty-five. In a panic, Pavel raced to find his father and learned that his father and his brother Handa were on the transport. Terribly upset and anxious, Pavel returned to his barrack to find that his youth leader, Franta was also on the transport. The sight of Franta sitting around the table with the boys overwhelmed Pavel, and he couldn’t hold back his tears any longer.

In entries that follow, Pavel reflected on the sorrow he felt following the transport and continuously worried about his father and Handa. Most of the boys in his heim were gone, including the few he considered friends and he was terribly lonely, longing for a friend to confide in. He wrote about his loss of enthusiasm and motivation for everything, and no longer felt any comfort or pleasure in anything. Despite his depression and intense feelings of loss, Pavel continued with his studies, continued to write, and began to work in the ghetto bakery and warehouses. Rumors of the Allied advance drifted into Terezin as the winter dragged on, but the liberation still did not come. More and more, Pavel wondered if the liberation would ever arrive and if he would live to see it.