"Hitler's Gift to the Jews was one of the most
deceptive of all the places in which the Nazis incarcerated the
Jews during the Holocaust." Hitler's "model" ghetto. (from Norbert
Troller's book.) His narrative also reveals the horrors beneath
the facade of an "antonymous" Jewish government, which the Nazis
used to conceal their plans to exterminate the Jewish population
in a ghetto that was supposedly meant for the "elite" of central
Europe. In reality, Theresienstadt was nothing more than a convenient
collection location for transports to "the East": Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The terrible burden of filling the transports with the required
number of victims was put on the members of the Elder Council, the
Jewish administrative body. With devilish baseness and cunning (the
Nazis) did dictate the number of victims to be sent east, but they
put the burden of selection on the Jews themselves; to select their
own coreligionists, relatives, their friends. In the end this unbearable,
desperate, cynical burden destroyed the community leaders who were
forced to make the selections.
Originally a garrison town, founded in Czechoslovakia
in 1780 by the Emperor Joseph II in honor of his mother, the Empress
Maria Theresa. Theresienstadt was converted into a "model ghetto"
with the arrival of the first Jewish prisoners on November 24, 1941.
The ghetto during the deportation of German Jews
was used as an excuse for the deportation of elderly Jews who, plainly
could not have been of any use in doing forced labor in the East
where the extermination camps were located.
Theresienstadt (Therezin) became a collections
point for Jews from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, the Reich
itself, as well as many other occupied countries.
Of the more than 140,000 people who entered this
walled town between November 1941 and April 1945, over 90,000 were
sent to their deaths in Auschwitz-Berkenau and other death camps,
another 33,000 or so died in the ghetto itself. Only about 16,000
One of the survivors was an 81 year old Czech woman
who I spent two and one half days with in April of 1993. Valerie
Borsky entered the camp at the age of 29, in 1942 and was liberated
by Soviet troops in April 1945.
Her younger sister stayed in the camp for about
eight months before being sent to her death at Auschwitz, along
with 1,000 others, by order of Adolph Eichmann.
Her 50 year old mother and 55 year old father,
both in good health, arrived sometime in 1943. Despite Valie's efforts
to help her parents survive by stealing extra food for them, both
were dead from starvation in about one year.
Theresienstadt was unusual in many ways, being
the only Nazi concentration camp officially inspected by the International
Red Cross. (after a great hoax to make the ghetto presentable).
Inmates were forced to work around the clock, scrubbing streets
and buildings by hand, planting colorful flowers, painting buildings
a variety of pastel colors. Fresh clean linens and uniforms were
provided to the hospital, replacing soiled and
bloody rags. Many old and sick patients, including all insane and
those pretending to be crazy went East to be gassed, along with
hundreds of raggedy and emaciated children. Fresh new children were
brought in for the inspection, they too were killed after the Red
Cross gave the ghetto a clean bill of health. Everything was done
to create the illusion of "Paradeisghetto".
International Red Cross officials, after their
carefully orchestrated tour of the parts Eichmann wanted them to
see, determined that the Nazis were telling the truth; prisoners
were being treated in a humane manner, and they subsequently canceled
a scheduled inspection of Buchenwald, a camp in Germany which an
estimated 250,000 prisoners from 30 countries had passed through.
Over 43,000 were killed or perished in this camp.
Many other unusual events took place in Theresienstadt:
operas were performed, including Verde's Requiem. A full blown performance,
witnessed by Eichmann and other high ranking SS officers. All performers
were transported East and murdered by the Nazis including a very
talented young conductor from Prague who also directed a production
of Smetana's "The Bartered Bride."
One person's experiences
: Valie Borsky
The main gate of Theresienstadt
Valie moved to Prague after college. Her employment by a large Czech
business allowed her to earn a decent wage, and enjoy the bountiful
cultural opportunities available in this Mecca of music, theater,
and other performances which drew people from all over Europe during
the twenties and thirties.
Valie spent the first twenty years of her life
as a productive, and happy young woman, unaware of signs of impending
doom for her and millions of other Jews from one end of Europe to
the other. Her fate became sealed when Adolf Hitler came to power,
and the Nazi War Machine began it's historical conquest of Europe,
and decreed the death sentence for an entire raceã(religion)
of innocent Europeans.
Valie was arrested for being Jewish, and spent
over four years in the Nazi Concentration Camp (Theresienstadt)
located 40 miles from Prague. In 1941 the Germans took over the
town (Terezin) and transformed it into a concentration camp for
Jews. The so-called Ghetto averaged a population of 35,000 prisoners
during it's five year existence, but as many as 60,000 Jews were
jammed into the Ghetto during peak periods.
The Nazis fooled the German Red Cross, and wealthy
Austrian and German Jews into believing that Theresienstadt was
actually a resort, and lovely spa with all kinds of cultural activities,
theaters, coffee houses, and beguiled thousands of Europe's elderly
Jews into actually paying a fee to live in this Paradise. Brochures
were produced by the Nazis, depicting Theresienstadt as a health
resort, a spa, located on a beautiful river, with acres of fruit
trees, rolling hills and lovely summers. Hundreds of wealthy German
and Austrian Jews fell for the propaganda, and requested an apartment
with a view. They were assured that they would love the place.
Valie worked in the Records Department, which made
up lists for transport to Poland and death in the infamous gas chambers
of Auschwitz-Birkenau. She soon learned that Theresienstadt was
nothing more than a way-station for Jews condemned to death by Nazi
Germany. Valie's main job became that of typing the names of inmates
bound for transport to the "East." Working twelve to fourteen hours
every day, Valie and her co-workers placed the names of more than
100,000 Jews from all over Europe on 70-80 lists for shipment to
their deaths. Men, women and thousands of children. Her own name
appeared on the "Transport" list on four
different occasions. Each time her name was removed
by co-workers, but another person had to be chosen to make up the
One of the cruelest schemes the Nazis used in Theresienstadt,
became the hoax of selecting a committee made up of so-called elected
Jewish leaders, headed by one person appointed by the SS, and named
"The Elder of the Jews."
During it's existence, Theresienstadt, produced
several so-called Elders, all of whom were simply figureheads with
no real power. They all perished one way or another, usually shot
along with their families, and usually after weeks of torture. Another
strange twist invented by the Nazis; each list of names destined
for transport, had to be submitted by a committee of the Elders
and approved by the Camp Commandant, who in reality cared less whose
name appeared on the heinous list, so long as the quota was filled.
This policy created a great deal of chaos, because even though some
inmates were considered safe" by their jobs or value to the ghetto
their names were often selected by other Jews who didn't know them,
but had to complete the necessary quota, often with less than twenty-four
Frequently, spouses would volunteer to go along
with their families, and it wasn't unusual for a mother to take
all of her children with her even though most suspected "Transport"
meant death, or being shipped to slave labor camps, which were much
worse than Theresienstadt. On the other hand, many families were
separated forever, when the father or mother or children appeared
on the list, and nothing could be done to make changes once the
list had been approved and submitted.
In the mean time, an estimated 160,000 people perished
in the Ghetto from many causes: disease, execution, and starvation.
Valie's parents arrived late in 1941 along with
her younger sister. Her father died at the age of 55 of starvation,
a broken spirit and broken hearted. Her mother soon followed. Her
beautiful blonde, blue eyed sister went to her death in the death
camp Auschwitz before her 21st. birthday.
Valie typed the names of many of her friends on
the death lists, including her fiancée. Valie's years in
the Ghetto were miserable, as were the lives of most other inmates.
Fleas and lice were a constant problem, the source of Typhus and
other contagious diseases. Hunger never left her. Stealing food
meant survival, but just barely. Every prisoner became emaciated
and many simply gave up and died.
Valie told me that stealing food became an honorable
thing to do, even though the penalties were severe if caught. Some
of the inmates who worked outside, harvested weeds and grass which
they cooked and ate. Eventually, the SS outlawed this practice,
but inmates furtively continued stealing grass and weeds, which
the horses grazed on. She told me that when boiled, the weeds and
grass tasted a little like spinach.
Potatoes became a most valuable commodity, while
the staple food was watery soup and stale bread.
Valie lived in a one of the military barracks,
sharing space with other women working in her department. They slept
on straw scattered on the wooden floor, with one tattered blanket
each to keep them warm during the wretched winter months. Many succumbed
to pneumonia and other diseases caused by malnutrition and the cold,
Valie continued to augment her diet by stealing
and or trading items of one kind or another for more edible food.
She finally got caught with three stolen potatoes, and the punishment
was a severe beating administered by one of the many Czech ghetto
police, hired by the SS, and armed with whips and clubs.
Valie suffered grievous wounds during the punishment,
which was supervised by a young SS officer who encouraged the Czech
to "beat her to death, to teach the rest a lesson." The club injured
her internally, but the worst consequence was broken bones in her
back, arms and shoulder. Even though hospitalized for weeks, the
Jewish doctors did not have the necessary medication nor equipment
to treat her properly, and as one result, she became a "hunchback,"
with a distorted spine and one leg shorter than the other. She never
stood upright again. Her height had been shortened by four inches
and she was crippled for the rest of her life.
All for three potatoes, and the maliciousness of
Such treatment of inmates was common, the brutality
of her fellow countrymen, was only surpassed by the inhumanity of
the Nazi SS. Eventually, the Czech police were dismissed and some
killed when they became part of the Czech resistance. One reason
they were replaced by SS was suspicion on the part of the camp Commandant
that they might become organized and cause trouble for him.
When the Germans realized that the Russians were
closing in on Prague, Adolf Eichmann received orders from Heinrich
Himmler to set up gas chambers and kill all the people still in
the camp. The gas was delivered and one of the buildings was set
up as a gas chamber. The Commandant made preparations to follow
The Commandant, an Austrian (all three Commandants
of this camp were Austrians) named Karl Rahm, a tool maker in civilian
life, became concerned that if he followed through with gassing
the thousands of inmates, he could be tried as a war criminal. He
didn't want to risk being hanged as a war criminal, so he procrastinated
on the orders to gas all the remaining inhabitants, and made good
his escape just before the camp was liberated by the Russian army.
Rahm did get captured by the Allies, was returned to Prague after
the war, where the Czech courts tried him and sentenced him to death.
Rahm did hang, as did other's involved with crimes committed in
In the mean time, the Russians found a raging Typhus
epidemic, and did the best they could under difficult circumstances
to help the sick inmates. Many perished, but Valie survived.
After a brief period of recuperation, Valie set
out along with other former inmates for Prague, expecting help from
the government. The forty mile walk was very difficult, because
many were still ill, and weak from years of suffering.
Upon reaching Prague after a most difficult journey,
Valie found total chaos. None of the officials could offer help
or assistance. She had no money or other assets, just the clothing
on her back and a cardboard suitcase with a few extra tattered things
She was helpless and hopeless. Hungry and desperate.
She wandered around Prague, along with many others who had been
recently liberated, finally finding her way to the oldest Synagogue
in the city. She was fed, and given shelter in "Old Prague," along
with a few coins which she used to rent a tiny apartment, sharing
it with another woman and her nine year old son, who also had been
in the ghetto.
Everything a person needed to survive was scarce,
there were no jobs available, the country had been occupied by Germany
for almost five years, and now the Communists were trying to put
things back in order.
Valie managed to find her way to Austria, where
she found domestic work, and saved her money to leave Europe. Her
words to me were; "I didn't want any part of Europe. I hated my
own people, and other Europeans as well."
She booked passage on a ship bound for Australia.
During the voyage Valie met another Czech named Vladislav Borsky.
(her maiden name was Tick). They fell in love and were married during
the long voyage.
Vladislav was not Jewish, and he had survived during
the war and occupation by becoming a bootlegger, providing the occupation
forces with booze, some of which he made himself. An engineer by
education, Vladislav, was a very bright and resourceful man. He
had plenty of money, and when their ship reached the shores of Australia,
he purchased a house and took a job operating an aluminum factory.
Eventually, he opened his own business and they prospered.
Vladislav wanted to return to Europe, at least
for a visit, or maybe to return to Prague and pursue his career
as an engineer. Valie refused and they decided to visit friends
in America. After this visit, they decided to immigrate to the states.
They settled in Oakland, California where Vladislav worked in his
profession until retirement.
They had one child, a boy, who went to medical
school and practices Ophthalmology.
They never returned to Europe although Valie expressed
a desire to visit Prague once more before she died.
Valie who seemed healthy except for her injuries,
suffered a heart attack in August 1995 and died after two days in
During our many talks, she expressed little bitterness
or hatred against any one. Her son, knows about her past, but not
She has always been reluctant to discuss in detail,
her terrible experience and suffering at the hands of the Nazis,
but because she trusted me and felt time may be running out, she
shared her story with me.
As a person who entered several Nazi concentration
camps shortly after their liberation, and saw the manner in which
millions of innocent people were killed or died because of the Nazi
policies, and having returned to Europe several times, re-visiting
places where I saw so much death and destruction, I've come to believe
that even though many have seen documentary films of the Holocaust,
and read about the terror perpetrated upon millions of Europeans
by Hitler and Nazi Germany, if you haven't smelled the smells, personally
viewed the deep pits filled with unknown corpses, it would be difficult
to develop a realistic feeling for the significance of Valie's experiences.
In 1994, we visited Theresienstadt. I walked on
the same ground Valie walked on. I visited museums in the Little
Fortress, I went into the deep underground dungeons, where hundreds
of prisoners were tortured and murdered by the SS. I'm haunted by
the ghosts of Valie and the others.
Valie is an Angel now, and she's at peace. I'll
never forget this kind, gentle woman who treated us so graciously,
cooked special Czech meals for us, and patiently answered my long
list of questions of her life in what has become to be known as
the most unique concentration camp of all. Not a designated "Death
Camp," rather as the "Gateway To Hell."
left to right: Vladislav Borsky, Dickie Ferree, Valie Borsky and