The Story of My Parents

Daniel Sheck

The story of my parents, Ze'ev Shek and Alisa Shek (née Ehrmann), is a Holocaust story with a happy ending. A rare and inspiring story. To both of them, each in their own way, an invisible hand brought forth a drop from the small and miserly cup of miracles that delivered children, women, and men from the horror the Nazis set upon Europe and all of human history. The same wondrous hand later reunited them—after snatching Ze’ev from the grasp of the Angel of Death, who, after a long chase through various labor camps and death camps, had nearly caught up with him at the Kaufering concentration camp. This same hand completed its mission by letting my parents fulfill their Zionist dream, a dream of making aliyah, having a family, and building the state.

Wedding photography of Alisa and Ze'ev Shek, November 1947. Courtesy of Rachel Shek.

Ze’ev, who grew up in a strictly Jewish orthodox family in the Moravian town of Olomouc, was in Prague when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. He had settled there to pursue his dreams of Zionism and his fondness for soccer, as he liked to describe his decision to leave his family and religious way of life. By the time he was deported to the Terezín Ghetto, he was already in a relationship with Alisa, who would become his wife and partner until his death in 1978, at the young age of 58.

From the moment he arrived at the Terezín Ghetto, he became obsessed with the need to document what was going on around him, as if he had anticipated that the Nazis would try to cover up and that the rest of the world would refuse to believe the atrocities happening across Europe. This was a mortally dangerous task, since the Nazis  knew as well that there might come a day of reckoning for them, and so, collecting any kind of documentation was strictly forbidden. And yet, with the help of Alisa, he managed to safeguard all kinds of documents, from worthless ghetto-money to proclamations by the ghetto commander.

When he joined his mother on a transport to Auschwitz, he made Alisa promise to continue this task, which she meticulously did until the liberation of the Terezín Ghetto by the Red Army. She also began keeping a diary, 1 which was published a few years ago by Beit Terezin in Israel and is an important and unique source of information about the last months of the ghetto. She abruptly stopped writing when news about her beloved’s probable death reached her after the liberation. The information turned out to be false and she and Ze’ev reunited in Prague and went on to emigrate to Israel.

Ze'ev Sheck. Courtesy of Rachel Shek.

Ze’ev’s obsession with documentation did not end with the war. Upon his return to Prague, he promptly began to gather the documents he and Alisa had safeguarded and many more items from other sources. These efforts continued well into the 1950s, including during his posting as a diplomat at the Israeli embassy in Prague, and he found ways to ship dozens and dozens of boxes to Israel, where they are safely archived at the Yad Vashem Archives and Beit Terezin. He considered the “ingathering of the archives” no less important than the “ingathering of the exiles” (encouraging Jews from around the world to immigrate to Israel). There is evidence that throughout his career he never stopped asking people to hand over their personal archives to the relevant institutions in Israel.

Not surprisingly, he was also among the founders of Beit Terezin in Israel, a place of living memory and documentation of this very unique episode of the history of the Holocaust.

However, he was not one to live his life in the past. Far from that. He chose what is a fundamentally optimistic profession – diplomacy – where he could put the Zionist ardor of his youth to precious service for the young Jewish state. The Holocaust was never a taboo subject in our home. It was present, not as a threatening shadow, but rather the opposite. Perhaps as a source of strength and as proof that life, in spite of everything, is worth living to the fullest. This was the spirit of the Terezín Ghetto: unarmed resistance and the triumph of the spirit, with a little Czech humor mixed in.

My father developed mental strengths and a grandeur that astound us to this day. Thus, he volunteered, as part of his functions in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, to be part of the delegation that conducted the negotiations for establishing diplomatic relations with Germany. Courage and greatness of spirit were required of my parents to receive in our home in Jerusalem the first German ambassador, Rolf Pauls. For my parents this was not about forgiveness or pardon, but about a sober understanding that it was the right thing to do -right on the national level as well as on the human personal level. Each, in their own way, had turned a page. Not because they wanted to forget the disaster they and millions of others had experienced, but because they understood that it is not possible to change the already-written pages of history, whereas it is indeed possible to fill the blank pages of the future with better things.


1 ‒ Partly reprinted in: Alisah Shek, ‘Tagebuch (Oktober 1944 - Mai 1945)‘, Theresienstädter Studien und Dokumente, 1994: 169-206; see also: Alisa Ehrmann-Shek, Ich denke an einen ewigen Sommer: Tagebuch und Zeichnungen aus Theresienstadt, 1944/45 (Wien: Schlebrügge. Editor, 2018).