Hanuš Gaertner

* 1926  

  • “They established a family camp, which was special in that it had all types there, children, old people, and so on, so they’d have an alibi if the International Red Cross happened to come there or something, to see if the Jews were still there, because some people escaped from Auschwitz and told of the camp in the West, and so on. We were extremely lucky that we hadn’t been put through selection. Selection worked that when a transport arrived, Mengele and some of his Wacht-people stood there, and they sent one part of the people, the larger one, straight into the gas, and some few, perhaps they had some quotas that they could let the younger and more able people live. But in our case they sent everyone into the family camp. Before that they sent us into the showers, then they tattooed us, so I got the number 170284. Although the fact that they tattooed us was, as we later discovered, fortunate because the ones they sent to be gassed weren’t tattooed at all, they sent them straight into the gas, finito. So we had numbers, which in no way reflect how many people were there.”

  • “When I arrived in Prague in 1938, I wanted to join Maccabi Hatzair again. I searched for where Maccabi Hatzair was based in Prague. I entered Maccabi, and our rosh kvutza - our group leader - was Fredy Hirsch. He also played a big role in my life. We even did a summer camp in Bezpráví. When the transports started, Fredy Hirsch had a fantastic idea. He was also from Germany, from Aachen, he’d been living in Czechoslovakia from 1936 or so. He managed to get the Germans to make us a Jugendhilfedienst, that is, a youth assistance service, and so we could assemble, we even had permits and we could ride on trams in the evening, because Jews weren’t allowed to do that otherwise.”

  • “What happened: an order came that they were to choose some younger people and send them to work. So they ordered a selection, we had to come naked. In my case, the selection was conducted by one Schwarzhuber, who was the so-called Lagerführer; he was an Obersturmführer, something like a first lieutenant, and I think he commanded the SS guardsmen. There were towers everywhere, from which the SS guarded the camp. I’d never seen him before in my life, nor after. When he arrived, we had to say our number, no one asked for our names, and say who we were. I stood to attention and said: ‘170287, achtzehn Jahre, Schlosser.’ Eighteen years old, mechanic. He pointed to one side, and off I went.”

  • “On 10 August 1942 I also received a summons to the transport. Back then the Germans planned to build a railway siding from Bohušovice, which was the transports’ normal destination and from whence everyone had to walk to Terezín, so that the trains could go all the way to Terezín. So they loaded us into a BA transport, I was number 119, they put the young people there who were to work on the construction of the siding. But I didn’t work there in the end because I did other labour.”

  • “It begin with us living in the youth bloc. The custom was that there were roll calls in the morning, twice a day, morning and evening, we’d stand in five rows, in the frost, but the cold wasn’t the worst of it. They counted everyone there to make sure no one was missing. After the roll call they ordered all the men to the gate, and then we set off outside. Five abreast, that was their rule, so they could count easier, we’d go to some place about three kilometres away under the guard of the SS. There were various boulders there, like cobblestones but various sizes, which we had to carry another three-or-so kilometres back, and then we did that a second time. We returned to the camp at midday, but we went back to work in the afternoon, although the days got dark quickly. I did this once or twice, and one of the SS men beat me up for taking a rock that was too small, so he gave me a bigger one. So I reckoned I couldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t last long, that they didn’t give us any food and I’d soon exhaust all my strength. So what I did was that when they called for the men to leave, I hid somewhere at the very top of the bunks so no one would see me. When they had left, I came out and loitered around. Luckily, no one saw me, so I got out of it and didn’t have to drag rocks around.”

  • Celé nahrávky
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    Praha, 13.04.2017

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    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Memory of nations (in co-production with Czech television)
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    Praha, 26.11.2016

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No one asked for names in the camp

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Hanuš Gaertner

JUDr. Hanuš Gaertner, né Hans Gaertner, was born on 4 January 1926 in Hamburg. Both his parents were Czech Jews who had lived in Hamburg from 1924. His father had a logistics company there, his mother was a housewife. Hanuš attended primary and grammar school in Hamburg; from September 1938 he lived with his relatives in Prague. Until his expulsion in 1940 he continued his studies at the English Grammar School in Prague. He was a member of the Zionist movement of Maccabi Hatzair, and he briefly attended the Alijah Schule in Prague. On 10 August 1942 he was deported to the ghetto in Terezín. In December 1943 he was taken by transport to Auschwitz, where he stayed for half a year in the so-called family camp. In June 1944 he passed through selection and was chosen for labour in Schwarzheide, an auxiliary camp of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On 18 April 1945 the camp was evacuated and he was sent on a death march to Varnsdorf. From there he was taken to Terezín, where he was liberated in May 1945. He returned to Prague, where he was reunited with his mother and his younger brother Štěpán, who had waited out the war in Switzerland; his father had died. Hanuš Gaertner graduated from the Faculty of Law of Charles University in 1950. He was employed briefly as an assistant at the faculty before joining the Czechoslovak Press Agency (ČTK); he later worked as a German translator. In July 1968 he went to Switzerland with his mother and daughter; the family remained there following the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. He lived in Germany, worked as a lawyer and certified translator and interpreter. He returned to Prague in 1992 and lives there to this day. He is the chairman of the Association of Former Prisoners of Camp Schwarzheide, he compiled and published the book Schwarzheide - Nezapomeňte! (Schwarzheide - Do Not Forget!); a documentary was filmed about his life.