Something was left inside us: we are always afraid

ARTS OF TOLERANCEWorkshops, Performances and Discussions organized by the Stories Exchange Project
18-19 September 2000
TerezinCzech Republic
Unidentified Questioner
Was the religious life very strong here in Terezin?
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
Well, the Jewish people who came here were on all different levels as far as religion is concerned. There were Orthodox people, and there were secular Jews. In Bohemia Jews were very secularized. There were even Christian Jews here: there was a Catholic Mass. The priest had a Jewish star but he held a cross. The smallest synagogue in the world is located here, and we didn’t even know about it. It was located in a pig sty: a makeshift miniature synagogue.
Everybody followed his own heart. So you could go to synagogue or you could go to Catholic Mass.
There were people who lost their religion in this hell. They said, "If there is a God, he would not allow this.” And there were people who did not have any religion, but when they got into this terrible situation they turned to God.
I was not brought up religious, but I would never say that I’m a total atheist. Because when the selections were happening, I always prayed that I would stay with my mother. If one of us was to die I always thought “Please God, don’t let don’t let my mother die before me.”
If you go to the Crematorium here, you will find that there were two types of burial: for the Christians and for the Jews. Of course there would be at least thirty people in each one, and we could only follow the procession to the gate.
So we lived one next to another, and we had the whole spectrum of religions. We also had all different political views, and people of all social strata. The educators who took care of us children—not necessarily teachers but also Boy Scout leaders or such things: one was a Communist and another was a Zionist. They had all sorts of political views, which they tried to communicate to us.
But they did it in the right way. No matter what their political views were, they were trying to develop the best qualities in us, and we absorbed this quite well.
The orientation that prevailed in each of our rooms depended upon the particular educator We were influenced a little by the Zionist, and would use a little bit of Hebrew. But it was just a kind of mess and we took whatever we could from it.
And all these teachers were good: they taught us to be good people. I don’t remember anybody stealing from anybody else. Everything we had was displayed on shelves that could be easily reached: everything was open. But nobody would ever steal anything from anybody. Even if we were hungry and saw somebody else’s bread we wouldn’t take it. If somebody received a package from the outside with bread and sugar and some cookies, people would share these things, even though they were invaluable.
The last grade I had gone to before Terezin was the fourth grade, and when I got out at the end of the War I was able to catch up with whatever I had missed. And I know that all the people who survived had very good careers and are decent people. As far as I know, none of our fellow survivors became bad people or criminals.
So this was school in Terezin.
Marketa VaculovaOstrava
You spoke about some people losing their belief in God. My great-grandfather went through the concentration camps and he lost his belief in God. And because of that, it got lost in our family. His daughter, my grandmother, never had her children christened and the rest of my family never got christened.
My great-grandfather spent the entire War in a camp. He came back but died within a year.
My grandmother does not have too much information.
My great-grandfather was a Social Democrat, and was the mayor of a little town. Along with other members of the Social Democratic party he was in an internment camp in Moravia and then in Dachau as a political prisoner.
His daughter, my grandmother, has always been trying to pass on what he told.
But my family lost their belief in God.
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
But sometimes it’s not lost for good.
Sometimes people would not tell their families what happened to them. After the War survivors either wanted to talk about this experience or would not mention it and wanted to forget about everything.
I was one of those who would tell their family. I always told my children: they knew everything.
But some other people were in a sort of denial and didn’t want to tell their families what happened. So now people are often searching for their family past and are asking for help.
I think it is not the right thing to do to keep it. I think you should pass it on. Because if you forget all this, it could happen again. So we need to be reminded of it.
Daniel CampbellMadrid
I have close friends in Austria. One of their their grandfathers was in the SS. But he slipped through the de-Nazification process and was never punished.
I am not Jewish. I am not from Europe. I have never experienced this, and no one my family has ever experienced any of this. But I have feelings of remorse for what I’ve seen, and I have feelings of disgust for the people who did this.
How did you get past these feelings? If you had feelings of disgust for the Germans and hatred. How did you get past that?
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
I am often asked by German children if I hate them.
It’s difficult.
I say to them, “Try to imagine. If somebody killed all your family, what would you say? Would you forgive?” I never answer them. I only answer with a question. “Try to imagine what would be your feelings if somebody killed all your family. Do try it.” Those are my feelings.
Is it enough?
Daniel Campbell
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
It’s my answer. I can’t tell you if I believe or if I don’t. And I can’t believe that I hate, but I can’t tell you that I don’t.
Unidentified Questioner
Did you see your father again when you came back?
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
I was so lucky that I survived with my mother. I was always praying, as I said, do not leave me here alone. Do not let me stay here after my mother. We were lucky to spend those years hand in had. Sometimes you would go to the bathroom and you would come back and the rest of the people would be gone. We were lucky that in all these selections that we went through we always went together. We survived together, and my mother stayed with me in our home after I married, and she died ten years ago. She was eighty-four. There were very few who were so lucky.
When we were told that we were going to build a new ghetto my father went two days ahead of us. He went in a transport that was for men only. We somehow wanted to believe the Germans even though we doubted it, so we were hoping we would meet him. But we went to the same place, and that was Auschwitz, and we never saw him again.
We never found his name on any of the lists but the ninety nine per cent possibility is that he went directly to the gas chamber.
People whose names do not appear on any of the lists were later on declared legally dead. He was forty-six years old and his date of death is given as the date he left Terezin.
My son is now forty-six, the same age.
Unidentified Questioner
Do you remember the day of liberation?
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
We were liberated in Mauthausen and we were in such bad shape that really there was no particular joy. My mother was so exhausted, and I think that it was really only a matter of days before she would not have survived.
We were liberated by the American army, and they started to cook for us, but the food was not very nourishing.
And coming back to Prague was not very happy either, frankly speaking. We were taken back on a truck and the truck was broken and it didn’t move, so we ended up in Ceske Budjovice and they put us on a train and we arrived in Prague at four o’clock in the morning.
They housed us temporarily in a bomb shelter and told us the next morning, “You can go home now.”
That was the difference between us Jews and the political prisoners. They were in really bad shape, but they had a place to go. They had families they left behind. But when they told us we could go home we had nowhere to go. We didn’t have any family left.
So we spent some time at a neighbor’s house. But then we were believed to have typhoid, so we were put into quarantine. They let us out after two weeks, but we didn’t have a place, we didn’t have a home.
So we spent nights at various shelters.We were continually looking at lists to see if our father was coming back. We would hear there would be a train coming, so would go to look for him. We were looking for him for many days. There was not a particular day when we decided not to wait for him anymore but we kept waiting and waiting and— .
Coming home was not all that joyful. People imagine that it was joyful, but when we came back we had nothing, no place to go, and we had to start again from scratch.
I had four grades of school behind me, and when we finally got an apartment I started school. I had to catch up.
And we kept waiting for my father, it took a long time for us to get over it.
Christoph LeuchtRegional Foundation for Foreigner QuestionsBerlin
How long before you felt safe again?
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
How safe do you suppose— ?
No, at that time we supposed that everything was over. Everybody supposed that. And after a short time we felt that it hadn’t changed so much. After the war we supposed that everything was over and we were free. And we felt safe. And after a short time we recognized that it was not as safe as we had supposed it would be.
Christoph Leucht
How do you mean that?
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
There was not such freedom, such— . Do you feel quiet safe? Somebody from your fam—
No, I feel quiet safe. But it hadn’t changed quite as much as we had supposed that it would have. We expected that the War would change much more than it did.
But we were free of course, and I was—safe.
Personally I feel safe. But I do not feel that the world is safe. Everyday everything could happen to everybody.
Something was left inside us: we are always afraid.
My husband is not Jewish, and he supposes that it is something in my family. But it isn’t. All my friends from Terezin are more afraid than they used to be.
For example when my children – I always expect some catastrophe. When my children are not at home on time I always expect that something has happened to them.
Some people suppose that it could happen to anybody else, but not to them. I always feel, “If it happens to somebody else, why not to me? ” I am always expecting something to happen. I am never quite quiet.
The anxiety is left inside us.
I have a son and a daughter and they both have families. I am happiest in the evening when I ask them if they are all at home: then I can fall asleep.
I’m not the only one. All of us are this way.
Christoph Leucht
In Germany after the War Romany people had to face the same police and judges and people in powerful positions that were oppressing them before the War. So there was no change for them. For you, when you came back to Prague, were there the same police who were oppressing you as Jews before the War, or local authorities – or neighbors?
Helga Weissova-Hoskova
Some people had changed. There were some people who were very good
Do you remember, I told you about the girl who came and said, “Don’t play with her because she is Jewish”? This girl grew up during the War and came to me after the War and asked me, “Do you remember?”
I did.
But she remembered it too. And she asked me, “Can you forgive me?” So she had changed.
But some of our neighbors stopped saying hello to us – and they still haven’t spoken to us today.
So—: people are different.

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