Toman Brod

* 1929  

  • “You couldn’t go to the theatre, to the cinema, the restaurant, the park; you couldn’t go shopping in the normal hours, they confiscated our radios, telephones. Those were all signs that something bad was in the works for our community. As a boy I regarded it as something that didn’t really concern me. In every cinema and elsewhere there were signs: ‘Juden nicht zugänglich’ – No entrance for Jews, but I didn’t pay attention. I reckoned: ‘I’m a Czech boy! No one here will recognise I’m of Jewish descent.’ So I continued to visit the cinema, and I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarves there. I saw Babička [Grandma] with Terezie Brzková and Nataša Tánská. I saw Korbelář in the film To byl český muzikant [That Was a Czech Musician], and so on. And I also didn’t miss out on the fantastic event, the film King Kong! I saw that already during the Protectorate! So my memories of the cinema were the same as those before the war. I didn’t give myself any limitations, not until in the autumn of 1941 when they instructed us to wear the stars. In September 1941 I had to wear these big yellow six-pointed stars visibly on the left side of our apparel with the inscription JUDE. That was a shock for me. And I cried over it, because for me it was something of the first tangible, or real reminder that I don’t belong to Czech society any more, an unimaginable fact that I should walk amongst the other inhabitants of Prague with such a marking of difference. When we went to the Jewish dentist, Mum told him how I had cried after hearing the decree, and he said the memorable remark: ‘Boy, I’m afraid that you will have more serious reasons to cry than this.’ And he was right.”

  • “That was completely illogical, that the Hitlerites took five thousand people, Jews, gave them a six-months quarantine period, and then murdered them without keeping at least some of them for work on the Hitlerite war effort. That’s irrational. I have yet to find any logical arguments that would explain this complete illogicality. Something that goes beyond common reason. They gave them a deadline, which they really did meet. Why did they set a six-months quarantine period, just to destroy them afterwords? There are some speculations that perhaps they were planning a visit of the Red Cross. Something like what was in Terezín. But can you imagine that they would invite even just a formally independent subject into Birkenau? With the gas chambers and crematoriums within eyesight? Where the prisoners, perhaps even with suicidal intent, could tell someone: ‘Look what’s going on there.’? The Hitlerites never even mustered the courage to send some delegation to Birkenau. In September 1944 they sent a delegation of the international Red Cross into Auschwitz, where they showed them the brick houses and told them they contained prisoners, they set up a meeting with the Hitlerite officers, they said that everything there was according to the law, that the prisoners are regarded as captives, that they are well cared for, but they never dared to send any delegation to Birkenau. And also, why didn’t they leave the healthy people, who could work, alive? In that crazy Hitlerite Reich, which was all irrationality, there were irrational acts, instructions, regulations. There were many inexplicable and by common sense unexplainable things going on in the Hitlerite Reich. And one of those is the murder of the September transport in 1944. I think that no serious research activity was able to uncover any relevant, convincing evidence. Many of these regulations were given by telephone, so perhaps no such regulation exists. But perhaps they really did think in Berlin that there might be a delegation coming there, and then when there was no delegation in the foreseeable future, some bureaucrat said: ‘We have precise regulations here that we are to hold them here for six months, so we’ll murder them.’ I don’t know. The Hitlerites didn’t always follow common sense. Not even their own common sense.”

  • “We saw the tall chimneys, and there really were flames and smoke coming out of them. So we asked: ‘What is it?’ The prisoners used their own kind of black humour, so they said: ‘That’s great, those are bakeries, they bake great bread...’ When we later found out that they were gas chambers and that they burned people there, we didn’t want to believe it. ‘That’s complete nonsense.’ Even in the Auschwitz camp, people, at least the newcomers, were not able to imagine that people could be destroyed, killed, murdered in this way.”

  • “In the ‘men’s’ block they put us in the barrack number 13 – the so called Straffkomanndo. Prisoners were put there to be punished for various misdemeanors. We got in just because there was free space. Living conditions were similar to those in family block. Our task was to carry stones and wood on a small wooden cart. Especially we had to bring firewood for kitchen. We were bringing it from a crematorium where the firewood was piled up. Therefore we were regularly going to the yard of crematorium. In summer 1944 the last transports of Hungarian Jews were still arriving. On our way back with the firewood sometimes we passed along the ramp after a transport was cleared out – majority went straight into the gas chambers, only few got into the concentration camp – and a lot of stuff remained on the ramp: food, clothes. This was a great opportunity for us. If there was no guard around, we jumped on the ramp and took some clothes, shoes, shirts, sometimes even salami, conserves or bread. This really helped us to survive. We didn’t depend on our regular poor meals no more. We improved our food this way; we could obtain some clothes and shoes. In case we had passed trough at the time when some transport had arrived, people were passing by us into the yard of crematorium. We saw women and children being escorted by SS-men into the crematorium. These were horrible scenes. We saw people who were going to perish in a few moments. They had no idea where they were going. They were told they were going to take shower. They looked like they were taking a walk.”

  • “As a child I used to tell myself: ‚So what? I am a Czech boy! Here, nobody will recognize that I am of Jewish descent.‘ So I kept going to the movies and I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs there. I saw ‘Grandma‘ with Terezie Brzková and Saša Tánská. I saw Korbelář in the movie ‚To byl český muzikant‘, and so on. I also had to make use of that fantastic opportunity and see that King Kong movie! That was already at the time of the Protectorate. So I had as many movie cinema experiences as before the war. I would not limit myself at all until fall 1941 when they ordered us to wear yellow stars. Since September 1941 we had to wear those big hexagonal stars stating JUDE. For me, that was a shock. And I also cried about it because it was the first real and material reminder of the fact that I no longer belong to the Czech society.“

  • „A call-up order for transport came in July 1942: ‚we were going to Terezin‘. It seemed to me that some adventure was coming. I was a child then. What will be next? Something interesting? Prague was rather boring already; maybe it will be more interesting in Terezín. Children are naive; they do not worry about possible danger. Children are living in present. Our leave happened in normal mood. We took few luggages which were allowed. Later it was all stolen anyway. The only things we had in Terezín we had carried in our hands. We were summoned for the transport in a so called new showground in Holešovice, Parkhotel stands there today. Huge empty wooden barracks designed for fairs stood there then. Jews were passing trough this place for a provisional registration. We spent there three days. Then we were escorted to a railway station in Bubeneč, approximately 1000 people. By train we arrived to Bohušovice near Terezín. The last few miles we had walked. Another life period had started for me, my brother and my mother.”

  • “On one day in October 1944 I was ordered to go to the kitchen to peel potatoes with others. Suddenly a boy appeared shouting a selection was going on outside and that some boys should leave the concentration camp. I have decided intuitively. I ran outside and saw a line, approximately of twenty boys, selection was already in process: left – right. I quickly joined the line, but to my surprise I was not among the selected. Majority of boys was standing on the other side. I followed my intuition again and behind the SS-man’s back I ran over to the other side. The question remains, if I have saved my live by this action. Selected group left the concentration camp immediately. Was my decision right? Living conditions in the place to which we were sent showed up to be even worse than in Auschwitz. Boys who stayed in Auschwitz have survived relatively without complications – but only 45 from 90 approximately. In which half would have I been, if I would stay in the line? It is better not to know what lies ahead... Maybe I would survive, maybe not. I can’t say if my decision was right for sure. I have survived too, but in a disastrous shape.”

  • „It was dangerous even to just walk the streets with Christians. Just to be in contact with them, befriend them. There were many collaborators all around and the anti-semites were publishing for instance the „Aryan Struggle“ tabloid, featuring a full page – they called it ‘Reflector’ – of citizens’ denunciations. Those editors would for instance publish: ‘Some Jewish woman was seen at the street without a star, talking to a so-called white Jew.’ A white Jew was a Christian who manifested sympathies towards Jews and those people were publicly pilloried. And that was very dangerous. Whoever was caught without a star would be imprisoned or sent into a concentration camp.“

  • „In the middle of December 1943 we got a call-up order for transport to East. 5000 people were to be transported. Only wagons for cattle were available. Men and women were entrained separately; in each wagon approximately 50-60 people. They put a barrel of tea and another one as a toilet inside. We got a slice of bread and a piece of salami each. Then they locked the door. To travel in such conditions was absolutely unimaginable for me. The horror had started. Soon there was not enough fresh air; we drank the barrel of tea down. The barrel with excrements got full to overflowing. It was all just omen for horrors lying ahead. I can’t remember how long our journey took, I guess day or two. I felt like it was endless anyway. Most time we spent standing on siding tracks. Finally the end of our journey came. We had no idea where the train stooped. It was freezing night, some unknown railway station. An order came: everybody out! We stumbled out of the train; some people had died already during the transport. We were encircled by SS-guards with barking dogs. Prisoners in striped clothes were hanging around, shouting, screaming, beating and invectives. We were stunned by awe. What an apocalypse we had entered in? Then we were told it was Auschwitz-Birkenau. Nobody knew what it meant. We were loaded up on trucks and swiftly driven away. In distance we saw some strange floodlight lanes or avenues. After we got near we realized these were alight high voltage wired fences. Already in Terezin someone told me, if I would arrive in some place with wired fences and warning signs: ‚Halt! Lebensgefährlich Hochspannung!‘, this would mean a concentration camp. We knew we ended up in the concentration camp.”

  • “The procession then carried on from Vyšehrad, but we got into a dead end – that was Vyšehrad Street, where we were stopped by a police cordon. And luckily for us we didn‘t know that the main group was headed along the riverbank, so me and a friend, we said to ourselves: ‘Ah what, there‘s not point us waiting here.’ We went home, and in the evening we heard on Radio Free Europe about what had happened on National Avenue. So we said to ourselves: ‘That‘s the end of it.’ ”

  • "She was a family cook who was with us ever since the times of my grandfather. Back then in Bučice, my grandfather had a young cook named Anna Valentová who later married mister Kopský. My grandfather hired her when she was but a girl. Later, when my father moved from Bučice back to Prague, he took this cook Anna Kopská along with him and she cooked for us during the 1920s and 30s. She stayed with us even after that, even though she was probably no longer paid. In fact, I do not really know what was her arrangement with my mum, but she was more like a family member. And she was a good fairy of ours, helping us during the most difficult times. After the war she saved my life, supporting and feeding me during my serious illness. So she was of great help to us.“

  • “Now we knew what would come, we had been just waiting for our destiny. The 6th of July came. It was Thursday, a nice sunny day. Dr. Joseph Mengele visited our block. He was a camp doctor. Mengele was a handsome well-built man. On every occasion he was wearing uniform and white gloves. None would suppose him to be a mass murderer. He behaved politely: he stroke children’s hairs, he asked them if they were not hungry or if they were satisfied with their wardens. He would be seen as a decent and respectable man without his SS-uniform. There is a legend among survivors that some boy plucked up courage and walked up to Mengele: ‘Herr Lagerartz, we are a group of boys under sixteen, but we are healthy and strong and wiling to work. Give us a chance.’ The camp doctor Mengele didn’t shoot him dead, perhaps he was in a good mood that day, and he really performed the last selection among our group of boys. The performance started in almost empty ‘child’s’ block. Mangele with other SS-men and camp’s typist was standing on the right side. Typist’s task was to write down our numbers. We all were only numbers already. Of course we knew very well the meaning of words ‘go away’ or if the typist wrote down our number. We were naive no more; we knew what meant left or right. Each of us tried to look manly, strong and healthy. I was in relatively good shape still despite the months of starvation. I was tall boy. I thought I was not a ‘muselman’, I had a chance. We were all marching naked in front of Mengele, clothes in one hand, boots in the other. He was pointing left or right. This polite guy Mengele really saved my life when he found me able to work. He selected around 90 boys. Within one hour – I had not even time to say goodbye to my mother – we were escorted to adjacent ‘men’s’ block.”

  • “I myself saw how it went, that was in October I think, the East Germans besieged the embassy here. Well that was a big sensation, because there was a great long line of cars parking all along Petřín. Wartburgs and Trabants and goodness knows what. Those were then snatched up by all the small-minded Czechs who where leeching a living off of this. But of course that was all just a symptom of how everything was falling to pieces. Then the Berlin Wall fell, so in fact these people who then had the opportunity to leave for West Germany, they could have chosen an easier way. And maybe they wouldn‘t have lost their beloved vehicles.”

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“It was a nice sunny Thursday when Dr. Joseph Mengele visited our block.”

Brod dobovy orez.jpg (historic)
Toman Brod
zdroj: Dobová: Archiv pamětníka, současná: Eye Direct, Post Bellum

Toman Brod was born on the 18th of January 1929 to an assimilated Jewish family living in Prague. In July 1942, he was deported to Terezín with his mother and brother. In December 1943, his entire family was assigned to a transport heading to Auschwitz. He survived Auschwitz in the „child‘s block“ in the “family camp” until June 1944, when he luckily passed through a selection performed by Josef Mengele right before the family camp was liquidated. Then he was moved to the „men‘s block“. In November 1944, Brod escaped onto a transport and was sent to the Reich to work in a forced labor camp, Gross-Rosen. There, the living conditions were even worse than in the „men‘s block“ of Auschwitz. Both his brother and his mother didn‘t survive the Holocaust. After liberation, Brod fell ill with typhus. After arriving home in Prague, he fell ill with tuberculosis. Brod became a member of the Communist Party before 1948. His complicated destiny is marked by his cooperation with the State Security between 1959 and 1965. Unlike others, Brod does not deny or downplay his role. At the end of the 1960‘s, Brod changed his mind and defied the totalitarian regime. He was fired from his work as a Historian and expelled from the Communist Party. He made his living as a taxi driver and water pumper. He also signed Charter 77. Today, Brod is a well known Czech historian. He wrote a book about his life called „Ještě že člověk neví, co ho čeká“ (Better not to know what lies ahead).