Anna Schorek, experiences in the ghetto Theresienstadt, camp Christianstadt and death march, 1942–1945


Letter from Anna Schorek describing her experiences in Theresienstadt, the Christianstadt camp, and on a death march.


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  1. English
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Prague, IV.,

Na Bašte sv. Ludmily 19.


My dear ones,

this time, as an exception, I am writing you in German. For this letter, which will probably be very long, is not just for our dear friends who have written so cordially to us – that is, for Anny, Josef, Alfred, the Wintersteins – but also for all the many others, some of whom may not be able to read Czech, others not English. Don’t be angry that I report so collectively. But it is not only technically, but also emotionally a very difficult task to keep telling these terrible things again and again.

Before I report about us, I want to narrate in general about Theresienstadt. Because that is where we left most of our common friends in May 1944, whom we unfortunately have mostly not seen again. You will have heard and read more than enough about concentration camps. You probably don’t know much about Theresienstadt, but it was very bad. Especially because if our people had had some good will, it could have become a very tolerable social construct. We really had self-administration, it was absolutely not a concentration camp. But as it was, it became a morass of corruption and arbitratiness. There were 3 very clearly distinguished castes: 1./ The prominent persons (this is not ridicule, but die Prominenten was the official designation), their favorites, and their hangers-on. – 2./ The hard workers, including doctors and caregivers. – 3./ The old and those unable to work. – The first group lived in luxury and, above all, was protected from the feared transports to unknown destinations. – The second group earned money with great difficulty, but at any rate acquired its piece of bread and was not all too hungry, if never entirely sated. – The third group starved already in Theresienstadt, if they had no connections to Group 1. – So only one segment had it really bad there. But the people behaved as if everything was a matter of life and death, like in the concentration camp, completely ruthlessly and demoralized. I can say with pride that our mutual friends were among the very few left to the old, Dr. Lederer-Beers, Dr. Erwin Langs, Dr. Alts, Igel and Rita, Dr. Tschiassnys, Dr. Reisz. None of these ever returned. I don’t know about Igel and Rita. But both were very ill. – Most of these friends did not come to Auschwitz until October 44. At this time, one prominent person after the other was called in and shot dead: at the beginning of the year Dr. Edelstein, later Zucker, Friedmann, Epstein/Berlin, Krämer, unfortunately also Dr. Kahn and his wife, who had long suffered severe depression. All of these prominent persons, who knew too much, had to pay so dearly for their privileged position. When Theresienstadt was then liquidated, the rest were arrested as all-too-eager slavedrivers for the Germans. – Of our closer acquaintances, the following have returned: my brother Hans (Hans asks whether the Schäfer-Maierhofers still have Niky Himmelblau's things. All the Himmelblaus are dead.), Minka Krieger – both without family – Dr. Schild, Dr. Richavy – both without their wives – the two brothers Dr. Paul and master builder Otto Bellak, Dr. Wurzel from Witkowitz with his family, Erna Roth and her daughter, currently recuperating from severe typhus fever in Sweden. Dr. Julek Wechsb. And Dr.

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Liewer already committed suicide in Ostrau, Julek as a prisoner of the Gestapo. Dear Alfred, it is great good fortune that you decided so quickly back then. –The returned doctors probably have good prospects of opening private practices, but a managing position in a hospital is out of the question. I am very curious whether and how you have decided. Unfortunately there is hardly any hope, dear Anny, that Sidy will turn up. I was often together with her in Theresienstadt. She looked good and well cared for, had an easy, profitable position as seamstress in the children’s home, and lived relatively very well. I don’t know when she left.

We were in Theresienstadt from Sept. 42 to May 44. Aside from the generally depressing conditions, we had terrible private misfortune: we came immediately in the transports to Poland. Lissi came down with a severe scarlet fever and then jaundice, so that she lay for 3 months in the hospital, hungry and miserable. This misfortune was our good fortune, because it meant we escaped the transports. But my father, Irka, and Lore, and many friends had to die. –We were all three heavy laborers. I worked in the laundry, Lissi as a nurse on the infections ward, Franzi in agriculture. In Spring 43, Erwin and Lizzi came to Theresienstadt. Lizzi worked with me in the laundry, was brave, hardworking, and indescribably goodhearted. At Pentecost 43 a terrible misfortune happened. Franzi, who had had an unexplained fever for weeks – probably an undiagnosed scarlet feverjumped one night from the 2nd upper storey of her barracks and lay there with a broken pelvis and smashed ankles. She had no reason at all to do this. We lived in the best harmony, and she had a magnificent fiance, whom she loved very much. She was suspended between life and death for a half a year. She got typhoid fever as well. But this misfortune was our good fortune, too. We were in the transport again, and again we got out of it. But Lizzi, Erwin, Franzi's boy went and were lost. Franzi recovered, despite all the predictions of the doctors, and is more beautiful and in better condition than ever, she's just easily fatigued. So we didn’t come to Auschwitz until May 44. We were glad to go, because we looked forward to seeing our loved ones, and of course we didn’t know that it was Auschwitz. We learned immediately that they were all dead. Franzi withstood this shock wonderfully, Lissi less so. I had to be brave for all three of us. Our transport was the first that was mustered out for work in Germany, about 2 months after our arrival. Of course, I was rejected because I looked terrible. But I came along anyway and so we were transported to Christianstadt, Germany's biggest munitions factory. This was a subdivision of the concentration camp Gross-Rosen. Until the Fall, we maintained more or less. But with the cold, our hunger became intolerable. And when we were evacuated at the beginning of February 45, it got catastrophic. On the third day of this miserable hike, the children and I resolved we would rather be shot dead trying to escape than exhausted at the side of the road. We were not shot dead. We went without bread, without papers, clothed in shreds of rags right through Germany on the border between Silesia and Brandenburg, always eastward toward the sun and the thunder of the artillery on the nearby front, toward the Russians. / The other refugees had turned to the West, away from the front. / Farmers took pity on us and let us spend the night in the cattle stall, as we asked, and

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gave us food, which we never had to ask for. On the 6th day we found ourselves in the middle of the German front fleeing from Breslau. In this dire danger, when a single call would cost us our lives, the only Catholic church in the whole area was the first building that opened its doors to us. The priest, whom we told the whole story, took us in and hid us, even though he had Germans quartered in the building. We received from him and the others in the building wonderful, warm quarters, fantastic food, linens, clothed, and shoes; they did all this so cheerfully and as a matter of course, even though they themselves were in need and danger. This change from darkness to light was our most staggering experience of these years.

After a week, the Russians were there. After 7 weeks, we had recovered enough to work as members of the Red Army as linens seamstresses in the military workshops, i.e., we traveled along barely behind the front, where we had lots of work, but wonderful treatment and plenty of food. At the end of April, we joined a column of people returning to Czechoslovakia and arrived in Ostrau in mid-June after a march of 350 kilometers.

Franzi soon moved to Prague; she is an assistant to Erich Ziffer, who returned from Russia. They lost their son, who was a Russian soldier. Lissi finished her old high school within 3 months, took her final examination with honors and has matriculated at the Technical University here to become an engineer. She already knows the required languages – Spanish and Russian in addition to those learned at the school. Both children learned Russian at my wish back then in Prague, and that rescued us. Because otherwise we wouldn’t have risked fleeing toward the Russians. –So we have been in Prague for 14 days now. We have strenuous months behind us trying to replace our destroyed documents. Our name is now Šorková – after Schorek [an old nickname of Josef Schornstein].

We can’t think about emigrating now, this is not allowed because of the shortage of workers. We thank you all, especially you, dear Rufus, for your willingness to help, just as we must thank Samek and Brüll. It is very cold, and if you can help us with stockings, gloves, oil, or fat, that would mean a lot, especially cigarettes. –Soci and Marta, don’t be angry that I'm not answering you separately. We have conveyed your wishes. Dear Dr. Erich Böhm, your cottage is orphaned. Poor Erwin referred us to you when we parted, he was the children’s guardian. I long the most for the Spitzers. Are the Budapesters rescued? Mila, Evchen, now I am really an old woman, but a healthy one, despite everything. If I only hadn’t had such a yearning, especially for Lizzi. My poor primarius [chef doctor, Annys partner in Prag] hasn’t come either.

All, all of you, write and in detail. We embrace all our dear friends, all children!

All three Šoreks, your Anny


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