“The difference between all the other ghettos and concentration camps was that Terezín was a town. Can you see the difference? Everywhere else there was a Jewish administration which was only supposed to care for the people. Edelstein received a town and municipal administration. He had to take care of loos, water pipes, electricity, he had to take care of everything. He was the mayor of the town, a Zionist who was really in charge of the town. I imagined that Israel would be administered as perfectly as Terezín. That it would be something absolutely extraordinarily excellent. Of course, there was a bit of nepotism and profiteering, too, it was all there.”
“Then I came to Auschwitz. That was a shock of my life. In lines of five we came to Mengele who asked us who we were and what we did. Depending on that, he pointed to left or right. He showed me that way and thus I went there. Standing next to me, there was Fricek Weiss, the well-known music conductor and jazz composer, and he went to the other side. I moved on and suddenly I found myself in some washroom, a kind of a hall where they shaved me and they took everything from me. When I came back, still wet, they threw some rags at me and I put them on. I came out and I saw my shoes. The shoes were very important to me, because inside the shoes I had my certificate, including my name, not a number, but my name, and even a photograph, I think, which certified that I was to go out of the ghetto together with two hundred other young people. To put it short, the shoes were crucial to me because I didn’t know what would happen next and I wanted to have some certificate of who I was, and so I found the shoes with my certificate, I quickly put them on and I ran outside.”
“I told him that I would like to send a letter to Ostrava. He said that it would be no problem because he had a guy who worked next to him and who was a civilian worker from Ostrava. And so I wrote a letter and sent it to Ostrava. It was on December 24th, on Christmas Day, and in the morning I was ordered to come to the command building before noon. I thought, oh my, they had intercepted the letter. But there was nothing else to do. I thus decided that I would go there. There was a soldier at the gate of the command building and he pointed to me: ‘To the left.’ I took the card with me and I went to the left. All of a sudden I saw a post office up there. I didn’t know about it, I only knew that this was the building where they were interrogating people, but I didn’t know that there was a post office there as well. I thus went there and I received the loaf of bread. I carried the loaf of bread, which had about 50-60 centimetres in diameter, and I was thinking what to do with it… It was on Christmas and there were ten of us boys. We thus divided it to ten pieces and we celebrated the Christmas Eve and we devoured the whole loaf.”
I have been lucky in my life. In Terezín as well as in Auschwitz
Petr Erben was born March 20, 1921 in Ostrava as Petr Eisenberg into a Jewish family as the elder of two sons. His father owned a beer-bottling factory and his mother was a housewife who was very active in the Zionist movement. The family moved to Frýdek, where Petr attended elementary school and later grammar school. When he was twelve years old he became a member of the Zionist organization Tchelet Lavan in Frýdek, he participated in its summer camps and later he worked as its group leader. In 1936 he went to Brno to study a German secondary technical school from which he then graduated in 1940. While staying in Brno, Petr continued to be actively involved in activities of Tchelet Lavan like camps, hachschara re-education courses, and education of young people. His younger brother went to Palestine before the outbreak of the war. Petr‘s father died in 1941 and Petr moved from Brno to his mother in Frýdek and later to Ostrava. On September 30, 1942 he was deported to the Terezín ghetto where he was in charge of assigning jobs to young people. In September 28, 1944 he went to Auschwitz where he remained until the evacuation of the camp in January 1945. He was subsequently deported to Mauthausen and then he was sent to work in the camp Gusen where he survived until its liberation on May 5, 1945. In summer 1945 he returned to Prague and he studied at the Technical University in Prague and then at a school for non-commissioned officers. At the same time he was still active in the Zionist movement and in 1948 he was recruiting volunteers who would go to fight for Israel‘s independence. In 1948 he and his wife-to-be Eva emigrated to France, and from there they went to Israel soon after. Petr Erben worked in construction industry and he lived with his wife in Ashkelon. Petr Erben passed away on April, the 5th, 2017.