Pavel Kohn survived a death march from Auschwitz and a winter train trip in open coal cars. He arrived at Buchenwald concentration camp a frostbitten, exhausted 15-year old Jewish orphan, his parents and older brother already dead in the Nazi Holocaust.
On April 10th, Kohn, a Prague native now living in Southern Germany, said, "Although I was just a bit older than 15, nothing could suprise me anymore in terms of cruelity." He and other survivors marked the anniversary of Buchenwald's liberation along with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Nobel literature laureate Imre Kertesz of Hungary, who has written a best seller about Pavel's time at Buchenwald.
For those unaquainted with the subject a good start might be to go out and rent a copy of 'Shindler's List', or other good films like 'The Pianist' or 'The Sunshine Family'.
Buchenwald was a special camp– like Terezin, but even more brutal- if that can be imagined. Unlike Auschwitz, Buchenwald had no gas chambers. Prisioners were mainly worked to death as slaves in German industry. Famous for forcing prisoners to carry enormous loads up a slope while singing, the SS guards called them "Singing Horses." It was also the camp where Ilse Koch, the commandant's wife, had lampshades made from dead prisoners' skin.
Ironically, the camp was built on the Ettersberg hill in the summer of 1937, clearing a forest that had been the muse setting for Johann Wolfgang Goethe. It is estimated that about 240,000 slaves died of overwork, disease and diabolical medical experiments there.
We imagine a future film with Ann Coulter playing Leni Riefensthal. You know Ann Coulter, she of rightwing fame, who defended the enslavement of Japanese Americans in prison camps like Manzanita during WWII. She also advocates the same for Arab Americans. On second thought, maybe she should play Ilse Koch. You see, it doesn't take much to get us going on the subject.
Very few know about Terezin, however, and it has been lost to us until a recent PBS documentary which ran in concert with The Buchenwald anniversary.The film was titled: 'Terezin: Resistance and Revival.' Terezin was very famous in its day, because it was a Nazi propaganda 'Potemkin' village filled with prominent Jews too famous to immediately deport to the death camps in the east.
"Terezin to the Czechs. Theresienstadt to Germans. It was a Nazi concentration camp where some of the world's greatest musicians, composers, artists and theatre professionals continued to create despite the near certainty that they would be transported to Auschwitz.
Indeed, the Nazis exploited their art as propaganda — 'evidence' they said, that refuted emerging allegations of a Holocaust. They even made a movie to glorify the lie.
After World War II, the lives and work of these astonishing people were, for the most part, lost to history. All that began to change, however, with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the opening of the Czech Republic to the west. The long forgotten story of these people and their struggle is being rediscovered – in art museums, concert halls, school auditoriums and on the web. Survivors are talking – and a new generation is listening.
The irony of this revival is that the art, music and theatre that Hitler used to help cover up the Final Solution is, today, a memorial to the very people he despised."
"Theresienstadt served an important propaganda function for the Germans. The publicly stated purpose for the deportation of the Jews from Germany was their 'resettlement to the east,' where they would be compelled to perform forced labor. Since it seemed implausible that elderly Jews could be used for forced labor, the Nazis used the Theresienstadt ghetto to hide the nature of the deportations. In Nazi propaganda, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a 'spa town' where elderly German Jews could 'retire' in safety. The deportations to Theresienstadt were, however, part of the Nazi strategy of deception. The ghetto was in reality a collection center for deportations to ghettos and extermination camps in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe.
Succumbing to pressure following the deportation of Danish Jews to Theresienstadt, the Germans permitted the International Red Cross to visit in June 1944. It was all an elaborate hoax. The Germans intensified deportations from the ghetto shortly before the visit, and the ghetto itself was 'beautified.' Gardens were planted, houses painted, and barracks renovated. The Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Once the visit was over, the Germans resumed deportations from Theresienstadt, which did not end until October 1944.
Beginning in 1942, SS authorities deported Jews from Theresienstadt to other ghettos, concentration camps, and extermination camps in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe. German authorities either murdered the Jews upon their arrival in the ghettos of Riga, Warsaw, Lodz, Minsk, and Bialystok, or deported them further to extermination camps. Transports also left Theresienstadt directly for the extermination camps of Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Treblinka. In the ghetto itself, tens of thousands of people died, mostly from disease or starvation. In 1942, the death rate within the ghetto was so high that the Germans built–to the south of the ghetto–a crematorium capable of handling almost 200 bodies a day."
CULTURAL LIFE AT THERESIENSTADT
"Despite the terrible living conditions and the constant threat of deportation, Theresienstadt had a highly developed cultural life. Outstanding Jewish artists, mainly from Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany, created drawings and paintings, some of them clandestine depictions of the ghetto's harsh reality. Writers, professors, musicians, and actors gave lectures, concerts, and theater performances. The ghetto maintained a lending library of 60,000 volumes.
Fifteen thousand children passed through Theresienstadt. Although forbidden to do so, they attended school. They painted pictures, wrote poetry, and otherwise tried to maintain a vestige of normalcy. Approximately 90 percent of these children perished in death camps."
Born Prague, Czechoslovakia
May 30, 1922
Hana was born to a Jewish family in Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia. Her father, a metalsmith, made pipes, spouts and gutters for construction companies. Because her mother was frail, Hana was raised by her father and grandmother. She attended a Jewish school through grade five, and later went to business school.
"1933-39: In 1933 I read about the harrowing treatment of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition and told my grandmother, 'We're fortunate that we live in the 20th century in Czechoslovakia and such a thing can't happen to us.' Six years later on March 15, 1939, the Germans occupied Prague. It was a cold, snowy day. About a mile from my home, the Germans entered the city on tanks and trucks, with their guns pointed toward the rooftops.
1940-44: I was in my apartment reading "The Grapes of Wrath" when the Germans came to get me. I was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto. The Nazis used Theresienstadt as a "show camp" to convince people that Jews were really being treated well. When the Red Cross came in July 1944, the Nazis put up dummy stores, a cafe, kindergarten and flower gardens to give the impression that we were leading "normal" lives. We painted the house fronts on the inspection routes and the Nazis gave us extra food– one extra dumpling each."
Hana was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. After some months as a slave laborer in Germany and Czechoslovakia, she was freed when SS guards deserted her work gang on May 5, 1945.
A grave among graves, who can tell it apart,
time has long swept away the dead faces.
Testimonies, so evil and terrible to the heart,
we took with us to these dark rotting places.
Only the night and the howl of the wind
will sit on the graves' corners,
Only a patch of grass, a bitter weed
before May bears some flowers…
(All the above materials came from Terezin sites–most important is the Terezin: Resistance and Revival and the National Holocaust Museum site.
At Buchenwald and camps like it, Germany murdered its soul. At Terezin, it murdered its muse. Hundreds of Europe's most gifted and brilliant artists joined the six million plus slaughtered by German Nazi's and a complaisant German nation. Remember that Germany was a democratic state that permited the rise of Hitler and history's most prominent beast. You think such a thing can't happen in America? Think again. Everytime you hear the word 'Fag' think 'Jude' and remember Buchenwald, Terezin and the words of astonished souls like Hana Mueller. We've said it before and will say it again and again: "think of those content German housewives, who lived near Auschiwtz and never saw anything, heard anything, knew nothing, even as waxen, ashy flakes fell on their snow white Aryan laundry."
Question authority— Americans.
Children's Drawings from Terezin