Anna Hyndráková, roz. Kovanicová

* 1928  

  • “When the Germans gave out specific instructions for this and that person to be deported to Terezín, it was to my knowledge the Jewish Community who assembled and distributed the list. They came at night – they had permits for staying out after 8 p.m. – and they brought in a sheet of paper saying that we had to report in three or four days at the radiopalace. We were allowed to bring in 50 kilograms per person. The paper said how should suitcases and baggage be marked and that we had to wear those slips of paper on our necks. A hectic situation followed. There was little time and we had no real valuables at home anymore – all of it we had to turn in previously. Everything had to be turned in and whatever had not been had to be hidden. I had a dress which I inherited after my cousin with a skirt. In the rear of the skirt I could feel something. I concluded that my parents hid something in there and in order for them not to be nervous about me talking I only asked them about it in Terezín. Those were rolls of money. My parents knew that a transport from Terezín to Auschwitz was being dispatched. This was the first transport to be gassed in Terezín, No. BY. So they got us out from the waiting room and they hid us in Šance at Mr. Frída’s, a prisoner. He had a tiny room there where he probably did his business with the policemen, SS-officers and whoever. And they hid us there for some three days. A pickle happened there. A man in civilian clothes walked in without knocking. My dad stood up, shook his hand and introduced himself. But the guy was a SS-man in civvies who came to do some black market and he begun to shout at my dad. That this had never happened to him, for some Jew to shake his hand and introduce himself. It seemed like a big outrage but this Frída grabbed the guy’s hand, walked him out and sorted it out somehow.”

  • “It was May. We did the counting and realized that in June it would be the December transport’s turn. We all waited in suspense what would happen when their deadline passes. I remember walking with a friend in Lagerstrasse and her telling me: ‘So, tomorrow, if a soot lands on your nose, this would be me.’ But nothing happened the next day. They did not send them to the gas chamber. Instead they later made an overall selection. Block by block we had to walk in front of SS-men sitting behind a table who had wine bottles by their feet. They acted drunk and probably were. We had to undress. It is fairly humiliating for a mother to undress in front of the daughter although today we see it differently. We had to put our clothes over our right hand so that they could see our number on the left forearm. We stood there in the line and they were asking about our number and our original occupation. Everyone said something even though at that time it was not too common for women to work. My mom told me to say I was a gardener and so I did. She said she used to work as a dressmaker. They sent me to the correct side and my mother to the other one. People keep asking me whether I met Mengele. I always answer that they did not introduce themselves to us.”

  • “We went for the march with some Volksturm soldiers guarding us. Later the SS-men came to guard us because a lot of people escaped as we did, it was more difficult then. We were in a forest. On one side there was some thicket, on the other one tall pine trees. We asked the soldier for permission to pee. We went to the tall forest, holding our hands. He called for us to return; probably he thought we were ashamed to crouch there. We thought – will he or will he not shoot? We agreed that it was better to get shot than to trudge with them further. Well, he did not shoot.”

  • „Until then I was always told by my parents to greet acquaintances, to say: “Kiss your hand”. But now my mother told me: “Don’t greet anybody now, who doesn’t have a star, they’re not allowed to speak with you!” Some people violated this directive and greeted my mother, somebody didn’t, someone pretended not to see here and there were those who crossed to the other side of the street so they wouldn’t have to meet her. [...] This wasn’t anti Semitism, this was fear for one’s existence! Somebody could report it and there were many informers indeed. I remember walking with a friend of mine, who’s of mixed extraction, on the street. I had a star but she didn’t. Some woman came to us and started to yell at her in a very vulgar way: “Aren’t you ashamed of walking with a Jew?!” And my friend came home and insisted on also wearing a star. So her mother put a star on her coat because she actually also had to wear it. On the other hand there were people who didn’t greet us during the day but who after it got dark gave my father a cigar or expressed their sympathies and compassion in another way. But of course, it was very dangerous to do it openly. There were people who weren’t afraid of risking but there were also those who were scared and deemed it unnecessary. It was a very complicated situation.”

  • Question: “Could you send something from Auschwitz?” Answer: „Yes, we were sending these cards. We always had to write: „Wir sind gesund und hoffen dasselbe von euch.“ (We are in good health and hope the same for you) And our signature. It had to be in German [...] that was the only thing we could write, nothing more. However, we had arranged certain communication codes. When the handwriting was large, the conditions in the camp were tolerable, if it was tall, it’s intolerable. And that it’s necessary to read the first letters of each line. There stood “Gas” (gas) and “Tod” (death). I know that my sister got the letter because a friend asked her if they have some news from us. But what would you make of “death” and “gas”? I knew a doctor, he’s passed away already, he was an extraordinarily intelligent man. And he told me that he’d already been in Auschwitz and still didn’t believe in the existence of the gas chambers! I can’t figure how he could not believe. I suppose that a normal human mind denies believing in something like this.”

  • What about the regime in the other camps, was it a big difference compared to Auschwitz? Well, it’s hard to compare. We had to work our hands to the bone and standing in the courtyard, waiting for them to count us took forever. In Christianstadt we had to get up at three in the morning and gather outside in the courtyard. We worked from six in the morning and had to walk to the workplace which was several kilometers away from the camp. After our return to the camp we had to gather on the courtyard again and stand there until they counted us, which often was an insurmountable problem for them. I can’t really say these were humane conditions but they were certainly more humane than anywhere else. After all, they didn’t have the order to exterminate us. But still it was very hard. For example, if a woman gave birth to a child, the other women wrapped the newly born baby in scraps of newspaper, took it on a bike to the nearest forest and dug it into the ground. [...] These were no sensitive souls. But if you didn’t die there, you survived (i.e.: if you weren’t gassed, you could survive the harsh conditions of the camp. Note by the author.).”

  • „Before it was like some sort of booths or kiosks that were separated from each other. In these booths we had our mattresses – it was very tight in there. Then the transport left and just very few people, including us, stayed there. Us children, we were playing, running around, jumping etc. I can’t really imagine how our parents were spending their time. The jewish community provided us with food. We washed ourselves in such a canal which was in the courtyard. There were also taps with water and dug out latrines. It was terrible compared to home but wonderful compared with the kind of life we later lived in Theresienstadt or even Auschwitz.”

  • „They were usually very young girls. Semi-literate, semi-educated, we often had the impression that they must have been former prostitutes, enlisted by the SS. Suddenly they wore shiny uniforms and with it came their power over people’s lives. Formerly inferior, dull women that struggled with their lives and either joined or were called on by the SS, I don’t know. But now they had the power over people and could yell and beat people. [...] And again, they had their counterpart in these gallant SS men. [...] We had the impression that they even were crueler then the SS men; and they were much younger – an 18-year-old, 20-year-old girl and she stood there with a whip. I remember this one story when they ultimately allowed us to go to the bathrooms: I stood there on one foot with my other foot being in the washing cradle – that was the only way you could wash yourself! We didn’t see a bathroom for many days. And there was this one SS girl running around furiously, lashing us with her whip and yelling: “You dirty, stinky Jewish swine!” And this gave her such a supernatural power. They were dreadful. Or we would stand on the “Appelplatz” for fourteen hours and they didn’t allow us to go to the toilet. They weren’t able to count us, although we stood in columns of five… it was an insurmountable problem for them. They were terrible beasts.”

  • “So after you came back to Prague, you went to your aunt. How was that reunion?” “Terrible, terrible, because she… “They lived with us after they had fled from Germany. She had a daughter and three pretty sons. These boys were really good-looking. Her daughter died even before the deportations and the guys, though of mixed extraction, were deported because they already were mature. Only one of her sons came back. And she must have thought: “Why has this girl returned when nobody is waiting for her and my boys didn’t even though they have a mother here waiting for them so eagerly to come home.” She must have thought along these lines or so I figure today. But it wasn’t my fault that her boys didn’t come home. She didn’t accept me too well.”

  • „When we came to Theresienstadt, we came with a transport that for some reason which was unknown to me was penal. It was supposed to leave for the east within three days (they called it Ostentransport). It was the first transport to leave Theresienstadt and go to Auschwitz, and the first one to go to the gas chambers. My sister and brother-in-law knew about this and entertained contacts to somebody who had something of a privileged position – not like a function but rather because he did some petty business. We stayed in a little room that wasn’t as awful as the other rooms. One day, an SS man in civil clothing came in and my father because he was raised that way stood up and wanted to shake his hand and introduce himself. That SS man started to yell at him how come that such a dirty kike dares to approach him. Our host took him outside and probably bribed him or something. That was my first terrible experience, right after our arrival to Theresienstadt. Although he didn’t have a uniform, he didn’t have a star either, which my father somehow disregarded.”

  • „In the time when the second transport was supposed to go to the gas chambers, they did a selection. They picked young people as workforce, I was among the selected. My mother went to the selection three times but never succeeded – she was fifty. My father didn’t go to the selection as he wouldn’t leave my mother alone. They both stayed there. My brother in law, the husband of my sister, was assigned to a transport which came to Auschwitz in the fall of 1944. He survived Auschwitz but perished on the death march. He was a strong, young man, an officer of the Czechoslovak army. My sister came on a later transport but as she carried a child in her arms she went straight to the gas chambers.”

  • „Once in school, where one is extremely “attentive”, I emphasized the dots with an ink pen (the tattooed number from the camp). All of a sudden the professor stopped talking and said: “Kovanicová, I knew you had that tattoo painted. In the teachers’ room, we argued if it’s real or faked!” I washed away the ink and said: “Professor, look, it’s really tattooed!”

  • „We didn’t go to the selection right after our arrival, nor did go to the sauna (a specialty of the Theresienstadt family camp). They took us there and accommodated us. One side of the room was for men, the other side was for women and children. I stayed with my mother on a bunk bad on the 3rd floor (we could both climb up there). [...] And there the “Auschwitz way of life” began. We had very little and very bad food. That’s where we learned about the gas chambers. When we came in May 1944, the transport from September 1943 had already been gassed. In the meantime, there came the transport from December 1943 that saw the doom of the September transport. They told us about it. We signed cards (like post cards) that we were there for half a year for “Sonderbehandlung” – special treatment (that was actually the official way they termed it). So we knew what was coming and we waited to see what would happen to the December transport when in June their half year was up.”

  • „The worst thing was that we could actually see the other side of the platform, where our former camp was, and we knew that our parents were there. And they knew (presumably) that we were here. One day, however, that camp was empty. When we were leaving the selection, we didn’t know which group had the chance to survive. Whether it’s going to be the elderly people and the children, or the young people who were capable of working. Of course we felt that it’s rather going to be us who would be sent to work. And it proved to be true. All of a sudden, the chimneys were smoking and the camp was empty. I was overcome by such a… I hardly ever cry from that time on.”

  • Celé nahrávky
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„I went to visit Auschwitz several times. But I always came back from there fairly frustrated.“

Anna Hyndráková in the 1940s
Anna Hyndráková in the 1940s

Ann Hyndráková was born in 1928 to a Jewish family. She spent her early childhood the same way as thousands of other Czech children and according to her words, the Czech identity was equally important as the Jewish identity for her family. In 1938 came Munich and with it the anxiety of what would follow. At the same time, however, there was faith that the present situation will be short-lived. The year 1939 brought the invasion of the German troops and the creation of the Protectorate. In 1941, Jews had to wear the humiliating star on their clothes and many more special regulations and restrictions - the purpose of which is to isolate Jews from public life - follow. Nevertheless, the Jews still believe that all of this has to end soon. Ann Hyndráková - at this point still Kovanicová - experienced bullying in school; she‘s not allowed to run in squares and parks and to greet acquaintances. Eventually, the only remaining place where she can play is Jewish graveyards in Vinohrady, Old town, and the so-called Hagibor. The father of the family loses his job and is forced to paint lamp shades at home - the children help as well - to provide for the basic living needs of the family. In 1942, the tragic story of the Kovanic family begins. At the end of this story, Anna is the only family member to survive. The family got on a transport to the Theresienstadt ghetto (in Czech Terezínské ghetto) in October 1942 after having spent six weeks in a gathering camp in Prague-Holešovice. They arrived in Theresienstadt on the 24th of October. Ann‘s pregnant sister, Truda, and her husband Francis were already waiting in Theresienstadt for them. In the summer of 1944 Ann and her parents were chosen for the eastern transport to Auschwitz. After the arrival in Auschwitz and a temporary stay in the so-called „family camp,“ there followed the notorious selection. Ann passed and was sent to the „Frauenlager“, i.e. the part of the camp for women, whereas her parents didn‘t pass - after a short stay in the family camp on the other side of the platform - sent to the gas chambers. Ann‘s sister Truda and her little daughter arrived in Auschwitz in the autumn and were sent from the transport directly to the gas chambers. Ann Kovanicová (Hyndráková) was able to get out of the extermination camp after some time and subsequently lived in several other camps, however, had more favorable regimes. Together with two friends, she later managed to escape from the death march dispatched from Christianstadt to the infamous Bergen-Belsen. After a few days on the run, however, they were caught by the SS and sent back to the labor camp Niesky and later on to Görlitz, which was headed by the sadistic murderer, a professional villain, Hermann Czech. Ann Kovanicová (Hyndráková) left Görlitz by the beginning of May 1945 when the approach of the Red Army led to the disintegration of the camp‘s administration and guard. She left on a horse-drawn cart along with twelve other people that were leaving for their homes. She reached Prague with three other people with a poster saying: From the concentration camp back home. From Ann‘s family, however, nobody but herself returned home.