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The Black 11 of November, 1943 in Theresienstadt

This black day in Theresienstadt's history actually had a long and treacherous prologue.

Weeks before, the SS had suddenly stated that, according to their statistics of the population of Theresienstadt, 50 people were missing. Heads of the relevant departments were arrested and frequently interrogated the Jewish Elder at the time, Jacob Edelstein. The agitation among the population was great, for it was known that such a situation was enough to prompt new transports to the dreaded East. When Edelstein saw that the arrests among the senior civil servants were beginning to have increasingly wide-ranging consequences, he simply took the blame on himself and did not return from interrogation one day. Edelstein was, it is safe to say, the most beloved and popular man in Th., and there were only a few people who disagreed with him. His arrest hit us like a bomb and it was hard to say what was greater, the grief or the agitation.

Even while Edelstein was in custody, the SS ordered a census of the Th. population, which was then about 50,000 people. The whole population was ordered / with the exception of the seriously ill and feverish / to assemble in a field outside of the fortifications of Th., in the so-called Bauschowitzer Kessel. At 6 o'clock in the morning, in each barracks, in each block, people were ordered to assemble in the courtyard and to move towards the Bauschowitzer Kessel, organized by barracks or blocks. Just imagine: 50,000 people. Young and old, mothers with children in their arms, or in prams, old people who could barely drag themselves out, everyone had to come out. Assembly in the courtyard was at 6 o'clock and we proceeded to line up on the street in rows. There you stood in the side street until 8 o'clock and saw everyone ahead of you in the rows pass, going down the main street. The November morning was cold and the sight of the old people, who did not know what was going to happen to them, with their folding chairs and bread bags and poor clothes, only made the shivering in the cold even worse. After 8 o'clock our barracks arrived in the field, where about 30,000 people had already gathered. Mothers with baby carriages formed a column. One was led to the designated place, which was marked with a number on a wooden sign rammed into the ground and… waited. Stood and waited. It was 10 o'clock and it was 11 o'clock and it was 12 o'clock and nothing happened. The wide field was surrounded by Czech gendarmes, who stood very close together in places, so that in places you could not see between them. One got hungry and ate a piece of bread / that day we cooked in the communal kitchens /, but it was worse when one had to take care of human needs. No turning, no leaving, no hiding. It had to be done wherever you stood, on the spot, in front of everyone and above all the eyes of the gendarmerie. Finally, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the rattle of motorcycles and cars, the SS is here. The counting began. As if the agitation hadn’t been great enough to begin with, it was heightened by the arbitrariness and sadistic treatment of the Jews by the SS while counting. Each column of 1000 persons had a responsible person. If this column did not add up or if the SS man was mistaken, then the person concerned not only got the order to slap himself, he was also beaten by the SS man or else he was ordered to slap another Jew. Finally, about 5 o'clock, it was getting dark, again the rattling of the motorcycles, the SS left.

And we keep standing in the open field, completely frozen with agitation, hungry and had the opportunity to break ranks and sit on the cold, wet ground /it began to rain/. Of course, many did so because their feet just could not stand anymore. And one stood or sat and waited for permission from the SS to leave the field and go home. But it was 6 and it was 7 o'clock and no permission came. People were seized by an indescribable agitation, especially the older people could not be calmed down. One expected the worst. Children started to cry, they were tired,

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frozen and hungry and the mothers were helpless. The only thing they could do was to lay down with the children on the ground and protect them from the cold and the increasingly heavy rain with their own bodies. The boys formed circles - one in the other, in order to protect at least the weaker ones, and to drive out the despair, some began to sing. But this was immediately forbidden by the leaders, who were nervous and unhappy themselves. Finally, at 9:30 in the evening, permission to leave the field came. The order was to let children and mothers go first, but the crowd was so large / we could only use a narrow dirt road on the road that led to Theresienstadt, and were very closely guarded / that it was literally life-threatening to be in the squeezing, pushing, screaming mass. It was not until about 10 o'clock that the crowd eased a bit and then the real work began for those for whom helping was the first commandment. Many of the old people simply could not stand and dragged themselves to the half-finished barracks that were built for production purposes in this field and just lay there in a corner. That meant a search with flashlights, examining every corner, and again and again we found some collapsed bundle of unfortunate humanity in a corner that usually proved to be no longer alive. And so, after 15 hours of standing in the cold and wet with more or less empty stomachs, it was no small matter to use the two-wheeled carts that were available to get the dead and half-dead back to the ghetto or the morgue. You came home half-dead yourself and really appreciated what it means to have four walls and a roof over your head, even if it was in Theresienstadt. Not long after, a transport went to Birkenau, where all those arrested were sent, and also Edelstein. What happened to them there is today known to the whole world.

Opsala: R. Brammerová

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