To remember well, we have to know a lot more

A story and responses to it in Terezin, the former Nazi transport camp in the Czech Republic, during the opening session of ARTS OF TOLERANCE: a review of options for the Stories Exchange Project, 18-19 September 2000
Zuzana PodmelovaLecturer, Jewish Museum, PragueTerezin servivor
My life was the standard life of a Jewish person in the Czech lands.
I had many relatives in Vienna. In 1938 my relatives from Vienna came to Prague. They had no possessions, really. They were dispossessed of everything. For example I had one cousin from Vienna who ended up in a gas chamber; he was five.
Many members of my family went to Lodz, Poland, and then came back and went to Terezin and then perished in concentration camps.
In Prague, in the Spanish Synagogue, the Germans collected many pieces of clothing and also toys and other things that had belonged to Jews. I was in fact appointed as a worker in the Spanish Synagogue. My job was to select these things, to divide them, to wrap them up and so forth.
Then from the Spanish Synagogue I was sent to Terezin.
Here in Terezin my grandma died. I tried to help her, but I could not. We had no medical supplies, really. We had doctors, we had nurses – but we had no medical supplies. So we would just sit with the dying hold their hands or wrap our arms around them.
Many of these old dying people were people from Germany who had been informed by the German authorities that they were going to a spa – but suddenly they arrived in this hellish town.
I worked with young Jewish girls here in Terezin, and I ran a fruit and vegetable garden.
My husband was killed in the small fortress, and most of my family had to leave. But I stayed because I was working in the fruit garden.
And I got permission to look after three small Jewish children. I cooked for them on Sundays.
We were running this fruit and vegetable garden and I would steal fruit and vegetables from there and cook for these three kids on Sundays. These kids liked drawing. And I brought one of their drawings with me. The boy who drew it was five.
Art is very good therapy and we used it a lot. We would try to help the kids by inviting them to draw things they saw around them.
These three children were assigned to a transport that was supposed to be going to Switzerland. There had been other transports before that which were supposed to have gone to Switzerland, but they did not: they went to concentration camps. So I fought like crazy not to have the kids I had sort of adopted placed in that transport – but it really did go to Switzerland.
When I had survived in 1945 I thought all the persecution was over. But it was not true. I couldn’t keep my job. I couldn’t teach the subjects I was trained to teach. I felt persecuted and I always will.
That’s why I’m with the Jewish Museum. That’s why I try to spread the knowledge and to convey the message. I want to help people who suffer. I want to help people who are not being treated well, and I want to be a part of the community.
Olga FecovaParticipant in the Stories Exchange ProjectPrague
I want to ask one question. Maybe you won’t understand me properly—but let me talk about Kumar.
[see, also under "Stories and Responses, in the menu "Being a Citizen": "They forced me into the car and took me to the police station"]
Why don’t we all stand up now and go to the police station and ask them – let’s go there all together and ask them why they did that.
Look at how many of us there are here. If we go to the police station and say “tell us why, tell us how”—believe me, we could do something. But pretending nothing happened is not right. They had no right to ask him for his ID, and we should do something about it.
John ErwinDirector, The Stories Exchange Project
What happened here today, what happened here sixty years ago: I think we should know about both. And ACT upon both of them. I quite agree. No one, no one should forget about what happened today. And no one should forget what happened sixty years ago. But in order to remember well, we have to know a lot more than we know now: we always need to know more.
So whatever we can do today: excellent.
We can also try to make a relationship between then and now, a relationship that is meaningful: not a facile, simplifying link that makes nonsense out of history. The differences and the specificities of each time are very important.
But the police station is just down the road.
[Another story told by Zuzana Podmelova is in this menu, "The Holocaust": "It's very close to us, the past."]

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  1. i think that this story is very good!

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