“I had been ill all the time. Being a child, malnourished and without proper hygiene and everything – all the contagious diseases that were there, I contracted all of them. They were carried mostly by bedbugs. As there were those three-storey beds where we had been living. If you would sleep at the bottom you were lucky that you didn´t have to climb anywhere. But it was quite dusty down there. And if you would be on the top, which we always wanted, bedbugs would start to fall on you as soon as the light would go off. And bedbugs were carrying diseases. I had all the diseases possible. The worst part was when I got pneumonia as a seven-years old as I was already at death´s door. That was bad indeed I would say.”
“They had to take fifty kilos – that was all that Germans were allowed to take with them. I saw them being registered. And, of course, they... they were yelling that they would come back. That goes without saying, because... they were not angry, just unhappy, as there were miners and textile factory workers who built houses there. Some of them... or maybe most of them trusted Hitler, some of them didn´t, but only few were directly involved in it. And you could say they were suffering, so to say, for what had happened. Of course, everyone is responsible to some degree, but as far as individuals are concerned, today, you can´t say that the masses are the makers of history, so to say."
“Another shock for me was when I went outside and saw people who came with this death march. Those wretched people, completely ruined. And all the yelling, as dogs... since that I don´t like German Shepherds, even though I love animals. They were barking. All that noise and yelling. And there was this lady standing next to me and a man would approach her and say: 'You don´t recognize me?' And she just stared at him – as he was just skin and bones. You couldn´t recognize those people. They were half-animals. They were no longer human beings. They were famished, broken. And they brought typhoid to Theresienstadt. And people who survived Theresienstadt and the war had been dying because of that even after the war was over.”
“I remember one dreadful situation. In October 1944 it was the last transport east, and the Germans themselves chose who would go in it. Before that the choosing was done by the Jewish ghetto council. I had to go stand in front of an SS man and tell him exactly what my Mum told me to. I was five years old [correction, seven], I had to say that my father was German, that he was fighting in the German army. We were standing outside on a meadow the whole day, I was tired and frightened. If I had said something different or if I had just cried, they might have placed me and Mum in to the transport. But I managed it splendidly, and so we stayed in Terezín. Well, and then May came and it was the end of the war. I was horrified to see people arriving at Terezín from the death marches. Those weren’t even people, the way they were all emaciated. The Germans herded them on with dogs, there was noise and barking all over the place. And then the war ended.”
“And I remember one more horror. In the morning they used these carts in Terezín to bring the bread, and in the evening [to take away] the dead. I can’t look at a dead person to this day, because I keep seeing it like it was happening right now. That was an everyday experience. And another terrible experience was how we passed cardboard crates with human ashes down in a line. Each crate had a number. The crates were loaded on to carts. I know now that they emptied them out into the nearby river. It happened that some people recognised according to the number that the ashes within belonged to one of their relatives. That went right to the core.”
“When they liberated Terezín, we kept waiting to return home. They promised us they would send a train for us and then also buses. And we kept waiting and waiting and no one came for us. Well, and so Mum took me by the hand on 13 May, and we secretly passed out through the gate from the ghetto with the German women who had to tidy up in Terezín. In the night we got to Bohušovice, to the station there, and in the morning we arrived home by train, to Prague. They didn’t want to let anyone out of the ghetto, and on the evening of the thirteenth the ghetto was completely closed off because of a typhus epidemic. A lot of people died there from typhus, and Terezín was closed until the end of June. Luckily, we got home on time.”
“What memories do I have of the ghetto? I know that everyone was terribly afraid they would be taken away by another transport. That I was constantly ill. The worst illness I had was impetigo, I had blisters from that all over my body. The nice things that I remember are that the culture there was on a high level. They staged Broučky [The Beetles, a classic Czech children’s story - transl.] and Brundibár [an opera by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása - transl.]. I was part of various clubs, I learned to dance, read and write. That was nice. I remember that the International Red Cross came to check on us. They built us a merry-go-round there, I had to go round and round on it in front of the camera, and we had to pretend we were well cared for. We had to shout praise to Commander Rahm in German, saying that we were so stuffed full of sardines that we didn’t want any more.”
Helena Brázdová, née Franková, was born on 9 May 1937 in Prague, where her mother moved to from the west-Bohemian town of Kynšperk nad Ohří. Her mother was a Jew who married a German from Chodová Planá near Mariánské Lázně. When the first anti-Jewish decrees started being enacted in the Protectorate in 1939, the married couple formally split up. Her father was subsequently reposted to a better position in Germany, and her mother and little Helena remained alone in Prague. They had to move out of the comfortable flat in Vinohrady to a small rented place in Prague-Karlín. On 20 November 1942 Helena Brázdová and her mother were taken by a CC transport from Prague to the ghetto in Terezín. They were accommodated together in the Hamburg Barracks, and later in wooden houses behind the Terezín church. A lack of nutrition caused Helena to contract many illnesses in the ghetto. Her memories of life in the ghetto include carts filled with naked dead bodies, a constant fear of being transported no one knew where, the harshness of the Nazi prison guards, and impoverished prisoners arriving from death marches. She also remembers a number of cultural events for children, which helped her get through the difficult moments. Helena and her mother were liberated in Terezín in May 1945. They did not want to wait for the transport home, and so they secretly escaped from the ghetto before it was completely closed off because of a typhus epidemic, and they returned to Prague. Of her mother‘s relatives, none returned from the concentration camps. Helena Brázdová and her mother moved to Kynšperk nad Ohří, where they live to this day. Until her retirement she worked in the education system.