A TALE OF TEREZIN (Also Known As Theresienstadt):
Interview With My Mother, Emilie "Miryam" Sapsovic
Child Survivor of Concentration Camp
As Told To
Esther V. Levy
SOME BACKGROUND NOTES:
The place of my mother's Birth, CHUST,
was in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains at the far eastern
tip of the czech republic. The little town in Carpatho Ruthenia
(Khust in Ukrainian, Huszt in Hungarian, and might have been
spelled Chust by the czechoslovakian administration) belonged
to hungary from March 1939 until its liberation by the red army.
there is no more czechoslovakia, but the separate countries,
the czech republic and the slovak republic. Chust was annexed
by the ukraine at the end of WWII and currently the locality
called "khust" is located approximately 20 miles from
the czech and hungarian border, nowhere near a large city.
Tell me a little about your background
in Czechoslovakia, before the war.
O.K. I was born on August 2, 1931 in
a small town called Chust, which was previously in Austria/Hungary
before World War II, in the Carpathian Mountains. It was not
good enough for my mother, she wanted to go to the big city.
So when I was about four years old we moved to Prague, which
is the capital of Czechoslovakia. I loved it there, I went to
school then, first grade. I enjoyed walking around in the streets
and passages, which were like malls underneath buildings.
I enjoyed going into a shooting gallery where there was an old
man who was telling me stories and showing me all kinds of magic
tricks, especially a trick which I still remember, with a little
bullet which you put between two fingers and you feel two of
them, so that made an impression on me. So I was a little wanderer,
I was a very happy child, very independent and I just enjoyed
life. I had compassion for this old woman who was selling pickles
in the street, and I usually bought a pickle. Sometimes when
she had to go someplace I took her place. I must have been about
five already, or six, at that point, and so she trusted me with
her business. I enjoyed and I was saying the Czech expression,
"Po korune a za korunu"---(-she sold it for a crown)--
" A Pickle For a Crown." And I just loved that. I also
liked to go to department stores and look around for all kinds
of beautiful things, which I couldn't afford, because we were
not very rich. But later on, my father became well known for
his orthopedic shoe repair work, so we became a little more prosperous.
And at that point, when things were just
about going very well, the war broke out, and we were taken over
by the Germans, the Nazis. They were like taking us, like, under
their wings, which was called "Protectorate," like
a protection, that's how it first started. Finally they started
to deport people, the ones which were not desirable, such as
Jews and political people who didn't agree with their regime.
So we were one of the first to be deported, because of our religion.
My father went first.
What year was that?
It was in 1941. I don't remember exactly
what month, but it was end of '41. And we were sent in December,
the rest of the family. But he really opened the camp, and fortunately
they needed his trade, because he was a wonderful professional
worker in his field, and the Germans picked a few for their work.
Didn't he go to build the railroad,
Well, it was a military barrack, the
men came first, there was a railroad there, but they set up the
barracks---it was Terezin, it was a military outpost which they
used for that, for concentrating all the people, the undesirables
which were meant to be sent away from there later to the annihilation
camps---which we didn't know existed at the time---
Tell me a little bit more about your
parents and your sister.
My sister Zora ("Dawn" in English,
we called her Zorinka) was two and a half years older than I,
she was 12 _, I was 10. We were very close, but we couldn't stay
in the same barrack. I was in Brandenborg Barrack.
Before the war, she was your protector,
wasn't she? You were always getting into trouble.
Before the war I was a tomboy. She was
a very good, quiet, feminine girl and I used to beat up the kids
who would pull on her braids, pick on her and make her cry. She
was beautiful, but I told people I was smart. I was her protector,
I kicked the boys in the shins, at 7, 8, and 9, just before the
war. We had a wonderful relationship, except for one thing, she
had a friend who was not very healthy, she had troubles mentally,
she had some problem, maybe ADD or something. The girl didn't
have any friends except for my sister, and I was so attached
to my sister that I always wanted to go along with her on her
visits to this friend, and it wasn't always possible. There was
a little conflict in that, but that was the only thing. She protected
me many ways. When I'd be overeating, I ate half a watermelon
once and I was very sick, and my mother would be very upset with
me. So Zorinka didn't tell on me, she just covered up for me
and took care of me till I felt better. So she was my protector.
We protected each other. My mother doted on her but my father
was amused by and doted on me, as if I were a boy. Before the
war I was very outgoing and very spunky, I was not scared of
anything. She was a quiet, very cultured little girl already
at that time, she was very studious. She excelled in school.
I didn't do my homework properly, I didn't care.
Zorinka was ordered in camp to star in Nazi propaganda films,
because of her beauty and charm. I had to stay in the barrack
where my mother was. Zorinka was in a separate group with older
As a 10-year-old child I was given the job of dental assistant
in the infirmary mixing the amalgams. I was wiping the blood
from the instruments and boiling them and assisting with the
operations, which the Czech government was still supervising
along with the Nazis. I contracted scarlet fever; I was hospitalized
for several months and almost didn't make it. When I was convalescing
I had a heart complication and I had to stay in the hospital
a long time, and my sister was bringing me spinach leaves which
she stole while she was working in the fields. She was putting
one leaf to the other and she put them in her slacks, in her
pants, which had a rubber band, which were like work pants. She
didn't eat it herself, she saved it for me. Also, my mother saved
her own bread ration, which was like a roll,( it was given us
every three days), to give to my sister. She only ate the soup
and whatever else we had, some vegetables, some "tureen."
What was that, exactly?
It was turnip and potato soup, the mainstay
of our diet, with the bread. The vegetables were cut up or mashed
up. We had no meat or milk, nothing nutritious for four years,
we were not really functioning very well, but we were surviving.
But my sister took that bread my mother had given her and she
gave it to an old woman who wasn't feeling well, she was very
compassionate, and my mother cried because she really wanted
the child to have it. But she understood my sister's heart, because
she was really very, very good. She was an angel. She was very
beautiful. She had flawless skin, her cheeks were pink and glowing
even without the nutrition, and she had a halo of dark golden
hair. She was blossoming into a beautiful teenager. She was a
beauty with pale gray, almost translucent eyes, the pupils very
big and black, with long eyelashes. She was in danger of being
used by the Nazis for her beauty, but luckily it never came to
What about the propaganda films she
had to star in?
They took some films about the camp to
show when the Red Cross inspection was supposed to come. They
prepared all kinds of goodies for the children, chocolate and
cans of sardines. We did not eat it, it was just laying there
to show how we were treated. And the beautiful children, especially
my sister, were called, and they were taking pictures of them
for how beautiful, how well-fed they looked. She did not look
undernourished. I was like skin and bones. My glands were sticking
out and I was something horrible to look at. I was a poor eater
even before the war. Anyway, they took a picture of her and they
wanted her to get undressed for the picture, to show the body,
but she was very modest and she started to cry bitterly, and
somehow they took pity on her, even the elite SS (the highest
in command of all the Nazis), because of her beauty, and she
didn't have to undress.
The propaganda went on for a few days, and there was a coffee
shop built especially for that propaganda. We had money printed,
ghetto money, which I still have, all kinds and colors of bills,
and the coffee shop people went in there and made believe they
were served coffee. It was made to look like a paradise.
Is this why it was called "The
It was called "The Paradise Camp,"
actually. And there was a square where usually we saw wagons
full of people with blood on them being dragged to like a jail
there, there was a jail. The name of it was "Pernost"
(in KleineFestung-Small Fort). If they didn't like somebody's
face or somebody walked wrong, or something like that-I could
have been put into jail because I was stealing potatoes from
a cellar--- I was walking around there and I was hungry, so I
put my hand down in the cellar, there were houses, barracks,
and I just took a chance. I took a few raw potatoes and I ate
them. That was a real treat when you were hungry. Anyway, that
square was the most horrible place, usually, because of the wagons
bringing people back and forth to jail. All of a sudden they
built a podium there and they started to play music, a concert.
There was beautiful music, they planted flowers. The main SS
was called Rahm, that was the Commandante's name, he was the
one who managed this whole propaganda deal. And my father was
in another barrack, where the men were separated from the women
and children. He had a little shoe repair and shoe-making shop;
he made riding boots for the SS, he had to measure and deliver
them to their quarters, and they showed him with their gestures
of their hands to their throats, that if the boots didn't fit
he will hang. He had a very stressful job. He was kicked several
times, and before he got established as a worker he was lying
on the ground when he first arrived, sleeping on the bare stone
ground, before the barracks were set up, and he developed arthritis
and a bad knee which still bothers him to this day.
He was a young man then, yes? How
He was born in 1905. It was 1941 then.
So he was 36. And my mother was a beautiful blonde, with her
hair in natural big curls. My father is Ludvik Sapsovic, my mother,
six years his junior, was Fanny-she died in 1993. She went to
concentration camp a beautiful 30-year-old woman. We showered
with cold water, we had no soap, and she had the most beautiful
voice. Some people had a few sugar cubes, they were saving them
because it was very hard to get food. After my mother would sing
a song, the people in the barrack enjoyed it so much and would
be so appreciative they'd give her a sugar cube, whoever could
afford to give it away.
I always thought you were the only singer
in the family. Didn't you sing on the radio before the war?
After the war. We sang beautifully, both
of us. After the war I went to Hannah Benishova High School,
each day after school I had rigorous tutoring and violin lessons,
because I had missed four years of school.
Let's return to the girls and women of
Something was put in the soup ("tureen," a sort of
gruel) diet to prevent menstruation. There was, rarely, a special
treat of a sticky dumpling with jam, particularly when the Red
Cross was visiting our "paradise" camp.
. My mother was given the most terrible
duty imaginable: washing and preparing dead bodies for burial.
She had a tumor in her abdomen before the war but could not have
it operated on; in camp it kept growing and growing until she
had to have a 5-lb tumor removed from her abdomen with only ice
as an anesthetic. A highly respected and expensive Czech doctor
(supervised by the Czech government, as well as the Nazis) was
her surgeon, fortunately. My father, having gotten a little more
privileges as time went on, was able to share extra food with
this doctor (as well as others.) To seal the wound after the
operation, the doctor lay down with his whole body on her incision
and pressed with all his might. He saved her life. It was meant
for her to go on.
Something was put into the water to contaminate my sister's barracks,
it was believed. I went once to visit her there. We were free
to walk around. So I went to see her before she died when she
was sick already from the typhoid epidemic, and she sent me away.
With glassy eyes she begged me to run away, she said to me, "Please,
Milushka, run, run!" She knew she was going to die. Within
two weeks she died After our beloved Zorinka died of typhus at
age 14 (her whole bunker perished), my mother became severely
depressed and catatonic. "Melancholy," they called
her. She lay down, covered her head, and she did not get up.
I would sometimes remind her, while reading to her from prayer
books, that I was still alive. After two years, she started to
My mother's father, wounded in World
War I, didn't want to lose his leg, so he died young rather than
have his leg amputated. My father had two brothers who died in
camp, the older brother was Herschel who died in Auschwitz, and
Avram died in labor camp as a prisoner in jail together with
the Nazis. All my father's family was gassed. My mother raised
her three siblings and took care of them after the war: her older
sister Paula, younger sister Helen and younger brother David.
The siblings all survived the camps.
My mother's mother, my grandmother Gisela
(Giselle), was a midwife who went to medical school but never
completed it because she had to take care of a sick father. She
was ahead of her time, ostracized for using rubber gloves during
her deliveries. My mother was brought up in a house where she
had to dip her hands in disinfectants, and whenever anyone was
sick my grandmother made sure everyone stayed away. My mother
had typhus as a child, and survived because of my grandmother's
exceptional care of her. People were dying from this, because
there were no antibiotics and not much knowledge about treatments.
My mother always wanted the best for her loved ones, she had
big dreams. My mother was a cultured person with a lot of natural
intelligence, despite her lack of schooling; my father was less
On May 5, 1945, the Russians liberated
the camps. We spent a year in Paris after the war, having found
it unbearable and oppressive to live under communism in 1948.
We had applied for a visa to Israel at first and paid our way,
intending eventually to come to America because we had family
Tell me more about the liberation, in
My mother had a little cooker, as
I said before we had acquired some extra privileges by the later
years, and I would distribute the food she prepared to people
who came and left, because people were coming from all over,
and then they were taken away, but of course we stayed because
they needed the shoes and boots, the SS. Other people were being
taken away to other camps, to Auschwitz, to Bergen-Belsen, and
there was a rumor which turned out to be true, that they were
already starting t o build gas chambers in Terezin, on the outskirts.
The Germans were losing the war, and the Russians were getting
close. The Germans were getting ready to clean out the camp and
run away, and my father was starting to make shoes for them to
run away in. They were called "Jewish Shoes." Money
and papers were to be built inside the shoes. My father was ordered
to make the shoes, and we knew there was danger involved, but
we were preparing ourselves to go underground; he had connections
with the underground. (We knew that the Nazis would kill as many
people as possible before they cleaned out the camp and ran).
On May 5, 1945 the Russians came.
It was the most marvelous day. It was heaven. We started to eat,
we ate every day, they brought food. It was a miracle. I was
in a little bit of danger because there was this Russian officer
who liked me. I was 14 years old, and he really took a fancy
to me. He touched my hair, and he wanted me to go with him to
Russia, he really did. He told my parents he'd pay them well,
and they should let me go. Of course, my mother and father were
opposed to it, and luckily it did not happen, but that was the
only dark shadow of Liberation for us. But otherwise, it was
just wonderful. We were starting to get to ourselves. We were
How many children do you imagine survived
along with you?
I don't know. I had a few people there
I knew. We were walking around there. I was playing, I had a
little ball (when I didn't work), we played ball with a few boys,
they were a little older than me. They were like my sister's
age group. I don't remember anyone my age, because the younger
children went to death camps. I only survived as a 10-year-old
(when I first came) because of my father's protection. A 14-year-old
could work. I have a friend Regina who is a survivor, she had
been in Auschwitz at age 15, she worked there, she lost her parents
and her whole family. Of course she has agoraphobia and a very
bad life. She survived but not too well. Somehow it did not touch
me, I don't know why, my nature maybe. I did not get depressed
from all that, I just picked myself up. I was crying when my
mother was lying there for two years. Then I was in a bad way
because I kept telling her, "I am here too, I am here!"
and she didn't want to hear me.
After the war, how was it when you were
ready to leave?
After the war, we just made preparations
to be packed up, I don't remember too well, the Russians made
arrangements for us to go home, I guess. We went back to Prague.
How did you begin your lives over, what
about your belongings?
We were very fortunate, because before
we left we had friends, we had Gentile friends. We left some
of our belongings and some of our pictures and furniture, even,
we left at their house in their care. We rented another apartment
in a nice place, because we had the money saved, put away, what
my father gave to the friends. We had money, luckily, so we could
work with that, so we could afford a beautiful apartment right
off of St. Wenceslas Square, which is the most beautiful street
in the world, they say, it's a beautiful place. They have parades
there, it's like Fifth Avenue in New York. We were like one side
street away from there. We had a fairly good life, my father
built up his business again. But first, I went to a recreation
camp. All the children went to recreation camp. It was the most
wonderful experience of my life. I learned how to swim there,
and I had companionship there, there were friends, there was
dancing, there were songs, which was the most wonderful thing
imaginable for me, which I didn't have for 4 years. I was 14.
Then, after summer camp, I came to school, and I started my rigorous
training, every day, morning till night. School, school, school.
I had no inkling of math, I had to start from scratch: mathematics,
geometry-it was horrible. I went straight to the third year of
high school (it was called Gymnasium), and they had very good
teachers and very strict teachers, but they took a little consideration
of me. I was very scared of my math teacher, I had nightmares
of him, his name was Petrus. I just couldn't bear it, I didn't
understand at the beginning. It was so complex, the geometric
questions, but later I had a friend who came to my house and
she was a geometric and mathematic whiz. I excelled in languages:
Latin, English, Russian. We had very strict, very good training
in languages. So I was giving her lessons in Russian and English,
and she gave me lessons in geometry. And of course I had other
tutors, which were very costly. I became a good student, which
was unbelievable, because as I said, as a young child I wasn't
interested. I went to school to have fun, I was breaking the
benches there, I was enjoying life, I was playing ball, I was
joking and singing, a carefree child. My sister was different,
like I said before. The teacher even told my mother, "How
can this be, are these children from the same family, from the
same father, because they are so different." The other daughter
was in all the honor societies and things, the highest level
of schooling. Later on I devoted myself to schooling and became
a good student, I don't know how but it just happened. I matured
and devoted myself to studies.
When I left in 1949 when we went to Paris, I managed the whole
exit, the whole thing for my parents, the visa, the embassy business,
the whole paper work, we paved our way to Israel, and instead
of going there we went to Paris to wait for the quota to come
to America. I managed all that, as an 18-year-old.
So you were 18 and in Paris, there couldn't
have been anything better than that, after four years in concentration
18 and in Paris, the responsibility was
all on me, I was the manager of our lives. We lived in a beautiful
pension, in a beautiful section of Paris, as I said we
did have money because of my father's trade. He worked for the
rich people who could afford to have shoes made to order, and
people who needed custom made orthopedic shoes. The life in Paris
was something unforgettable. It was a whole series of culture,
of concerts, of museums, of Bois des Bolognes, I took in everything
with my French boyfriend Georges. I learned Spanish from a French
textbook with Georges. He was a medical student. I was very close
to him, but ultimately we did not marry, I would have been glad
to, but it didn't work out.
Tell me about Steven Melnick
Ah, Steven Melnick. "Stepanek"
was his endearing nickname. He was a little baby, the son of
my mother's best friend Anna ("Annushka"). Before the
war she was a rabbi's daughter who married a non-Jew. We were
very close. She helped us pack everything when we had to go to
concentration camp. Her husband didn't live to see his little
baby because he helped the Jews, and he was tortured and beaten
to death because he helped some Jews to escape. So this woman
who was disowned by her own family, a widow with a beautiful
little boy, we helped her as much as we could, because she was
in need. A year later after us, she came to the concentration
camp too. She came to Terezin with her year-and a-half old, maybe
two-years-old baby, and he was my little protégé.
How did he survive the camp, as a baby?
I don't know. Because he was a "mishling,"
he wasn't pure Jewish, his father was not a Jew, that's why he
didn't go to Auschwitz. There was a little bit of a distinction
there between the Jews and the half-Jews. She was very ill there,
Anna, she had encephalitis, which left her with one eye almost
closed and her mind not functioning properly, and that little
boy we took under our wing. We gave him food, my father took
care of everything what he needed, made shoes for him from leftovers
from the Nazi's boots, he took a chance and took his own life
in his hands to do it and made little shoes for the boy. That
little boy who is ten years younger than me is now one of my
best friends, and we talk often and we are really very close.
We don't see each other, but we are very close. Our lives are
not touching too closely because we are busy with our own lives,
but we are very close in our spirits, emotionally. That's the
story of Stepanek. And also, I must say, before the war, my sister
and I were so in love with that little baby, that we both wanted
to have him for ourselves to play with. My sister would tell
my mother, "I'm going to see Stepanek, don't tell Milushka"
(an endearment in Hungarian or Yiddish, like "Mila,"
for my name, Mirjam). At the same time I would tell my mother,
"Don't tell Zorinka, I'm going to see Stepanek." And
we met there, and we were fighting over him. He was the most
adorable baby, and we were wrapping him and swaddling him and
carrying him and singing to him, and we had a very nice time.
That was just before camp. And then everything changed, with
You came to the United States when?
In 1950 we came, because the quota took
a year, and we stayed with relatives, who sent us the papers.
We had very rich relatives in Detroit, millionaires actually,
who wanted us to stay there and be under their wing, but we decided
to do it on our own and to go to New York and make our own way.
We were kind of proud people. But we did have a lot of help from
other relatives here, we were put up in their apartments and
in their houses until we found our own place, until we got situated.
And I went to work in New York City as a saleslady in a French
shop, Delbeau, because of my fluency in French, and I made very
big money, like fifty dollars a week, which was very much money
in the 1950's, and I could afford to buy beautiful clothes, and
I was quite happy. Then I had some relationships which didn't
work out, and then I met my future husband, Erwin ("Eric")
Levy while I was holding a book (I was always reading, incessantly,
mostly novels). I was a high school graduate and now an American
citizen, and I took some night courses in languages at George
Washington College. I studied to be an interpreter at the U.N.
After an April-- December courtship, I got married and had three
children , David, Esther and Sharon. I got divorced once the
children were grown.
A child's recollections are not the same
as an adult's. They are a unique perception of having lived through
a unique and horrible time in history. What was the effect on
your body and soul through your life, do you think?
I do feel that nothing really matters
as much as people think it does. It did affect me that way. Material
things are nice to have, and I am a kind of collector of them,
I guess because I did not have too many things. Maybe this is
how it manifests itself, by my house being cluttered, which I
am aware of. I cannot throw much out. But I do like to give away
gifts; I get things to give away. That's my way of coping with
it somehow, I guess. I just feel that I want to have things around
me, in case I need them. Maybe that's the lack of not having
it. I think that I can see the pattern, that I like to know I
have enough paper in the house, that I have enough food in the
house, and when I used to entertain I made sure I had the most
delicious food and most of it. And also, relationships. I was
very close to my children, and I was very close to my mother
when she was alive, because being together in that kind of situation,
we would go into fire for each other, we would do anything for
each other. My mother was ill the last few years of her life,
and I would spend all my time and my energy taking care of her,
in spite of people telling me to live my life and I should not
do so much for anyone else. But this is what happens, I guess,
from this kind of a situation. It was a need to be able to help
someone in need. And I am still doing it, with anybody who needs
You've been a caregiver all your life,
just as your mother was.
Yes, we were giving food away whenever
we could in Terezin, we were known as philanthropists because
there was just a handful of people like us who could help, who
had a few privileges, like a tailor and another worker. Our life
was bearable, but most people were suffering unbearably. It was
really something to be thankful for.
Your mother took care of her surviving
relatives as well, right?
Yes. After the war when we came home
and we got into our apartment-our apartment was not too big,
it had like a big parlor and a hall and one bedroom ---and people
were coming from all over the place to stop off before they went
somewhere else. They were misplaced, they didn't know where to
go, how to find a home. Many friends, not only relatives, we
took in, and they slept all over the hall, all over the kitchen,
there were cushions and pads and comforters so people could sleep
over. My mother went over to the market and bought a goose, and
she cooked up delicious meals for them. We fed everybody. We
were saving people's lives for a long, long time. I was a part
of doing this, I was cleaning the foods and vegetables, helping
my mother, and we were singing right through it, we were having
a good time doing it, even. My father went to Romania, because
he heard my mother's sisters survived there. He found them and
he brought them back The older sister, Paula, was in Auschwitz,
lost three children and a husband. The baby sister Helen had
been in hiding with a Hungarian family, she was not in camp.
But my mother's brother David had it the worst; he was in Bergen-Belsen,
and he was skin-and-bones, weighed 70 lbs at six feet tall. We
didn't know he was alive till two years after the war when we
got a postcard from him. He was in Brussels. We didn't take him
in, but the two sisters, my aunts, lived with us. We married
them off, both, from our house, we took care of them like our
children, like my sisters. And my father's family, all the adults
and children, were all gone, all to the gas chambers except for
the one brother I mentioned earlier who was killed as a political
prisoner accidentally together with the Nazis in prison at the
end of the war.
I am a fatalist, I really am. Kismet.
If it wasn't for my father's two calloused, dirty little hands,
I don't think we could have made it.
That's how I am here today.
He still works, to this day. He is
94 years old, he has a little shoe repair shop. He lives in my
house, in my best bedroom, I take care of him, and he has a good
life with me, thank God.
AFTERWARD by Esther Levy
This tale of my mother's most challenging
and tragic time of her life was a story recounted to me often
throughout my childhood and beyond. It was embellished in great
detail in her parents' accounts, and unfortunately I could not
do any formal interviews with my grandparents before they grew
ill and eventually died. My grandmother Fanny was an animated
(when not depressed) family historian who told the stories with
great passion. A beautiful blue-eyed blonde, with the elegant,
modest grace of Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman, died on May 14,
1993 at the age of 81 and I was in deep despair. My grandfather
Ludvik, a generally quiet, spiritual and congenial man who loved
to watch the soap operas and murder mysteries, would get really
excited telling his stories and my grandmother, mindful of his
health, would usually insist he stop for now. He died in April
2005, just 3 weeks shy of his 100th birthday.
The SS Commander Karl Rahm I learned
was executed in 1947.
This is my legacy, for seemingly I share
more character traits with my maternal grandparents and mother
than do my brother or sister.
My mother once mentioned to me the children's
opera "Brundibar" (Bumblebee), which was performed
at Terezin some 55 times. The person who wrote the opera I believed
perished at Auschwitz. This staged production was intended to
be one of the propaganda films. I got a glimpse of "Brundibar"
on television and videotape ("The Journey of Butterfly")
and as I searched the innocent faces of the original actors (ever-changing,
as they were frequently deported to the death camps) looking
for my would-be Aunt, Zora, I recalled how Mom told me her older
sister was forced to act in the propaganda films because she
was an extraordinarily beautiful teenager. Where the films ended
up is anyone's guess.
I deeply mourn the passing of my beloved
mother, who died at the age of 74 on May 22, 2006 after various
illnesses spanning about 2 years. She is in my soul, I think
of her every day. I wear her hats, scarves, jewelry and clothing.
I had the good fortune to visit the Czech
Republic and most specifically Prague recently, and the highlight
of my journey was a day trip to Terezin. Most of the tour was
spent at the Small Fort prison and we couldn't really tour the
ghetto streets where a new village was flourishing, but my visit
to the crematorium, looking at the marble slabs in the morgue
where surely my grandmother washed the dead bodies preparing
them for Jewish burial (before mass graves and later cremation
became standard procedure?), touched me to the soul.
I noticed a bird was making a nest in
one of the solitary confinement rooms of the prison.
On the highway to Terezin (once accessible only by train, as
the Nazis re-routed the road so it led past Terezin rather than
into it), I noted that there were fields of sunflowers.
The beauty of nature proved a stark contrast
to the horrific history of the "Paradise Camp" ghetto
(the prison was never shown to the Red Cross)---that gift to
the Jews from the Nazis: a self-contained, self-governed village.
My tears are dried for now, and I leave
to my daughters and the public at large this "Tale of Terezin"
which I acquired by holding my mother captive with a tape recorder
as she drove us to her doctor's appointment in her beloved New
------Esther Vivien Levy