As you read Lotte’s memoir, keep in mind that Lotte was not a professional writer or historian. The following is her own account, originally intended for family, of her experience at Theresienstadt.
Editor’s note: Minor changes have been made to correct grammatical mistakes. In addition, Lotte’s memoir has been divided into four sections to provide clarity for the reader:
I was born in September 1913, in Prague. In 1914, World War I broke out. I can’t go into all the details. My father was in the army, got sick and died in August 1918, shortly before the war ended. In July 1917 my sister Nelly was born. My mother was a widow with very small children at the “ripe” age of 29. Nevertheless, we had the most beautiful childhood. Our mother was a remarkable and highly intelligent woman who replaced our father in every respect. We also had above average, wonderful grandparents, uncles and aunts. Our family was very close.
Though we lived with our grandparents in the same apartment building, when it came to our upbringing or education, nobody was involved other than our mother. She was quite strict, thank G-d for that, and brought us up single-handedly. (I am writing here in plural and will later write only about myself. It is very important for me to include my sister most of the time because we were always, and still are, very close). My mother’s two brothers–one a doctor (a gynecologist and surgeon) and the other in a high business position–helped us financially in their very discreet way. Nelly and I attended the same school and we both started to work when we were 16 years old. We did secretarial work, and I worked for 10 years in a big company as a top secretary. I enjoyed what I was doing.
In 1934, Nelly and I met our future husbands on the same day. These two men had been best friends for many years. We both had a very nice courtship; both gentlemen adored our mother, which was very important to us because, as I mentioned in the beginning, our mother devoted her life to her two daughters. Nelly married Hugo on December 27, 1937. I married my husband on August 11, 1938. When we got married we moved into my mother’s place because it was almost impossible to get an apartment in Prague. It was a very lovely place, and everyone had privacy.
The political storm in Europe began in Germany in 1934-1935, but of course in Czechoslovakia we weren’t directly involved, so we didn’t pay much attention. As soon as we came home from our honeymoon trip in Yugoslavia and Italy, there was a mobilization in Czechoslovakia. A few relatives were called to the army. Our beloved grandfather died on October 28, 1938 (I mention the exact date because in 1918, on the same date, Czechoslovakia won its independence). Our beloved grandmother followed her husband 12 days later after a happy marriage of 54 years. For us it was sad but we were all happy that these two great people didn’t have to suffer apart.
In March 1938 Hitler invaded Austria (Vienna), the birthplace of my husband Ernest. The war was now very close to Czechoslovakia. There were rumors about concentration camps, and people were getting panicky. On March 15, 1939 Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. During the time of the invasion we were living in Prague. Nelly and her husband Hugo left the country, not together, but Hugo first and then Nelly one week later. They waited in Italy for further papers, hoping to settle at least temporarily in Sweden.
I am sorry that I can’t go into all the details about how we communicated. Every letter (or almost every letter) was censored, so we created a code to be constantly in touch. I lost my job because I was a Jewess, and Ernest had to hand over the keys to his business to a German commissar. Ernest then started working as a gardener, mainly for something to do and to stop him from going insane.
Since Nelly and Hugo had fled the country, the Germans were after their whereabouts. Two German officers came to our place, demanding the keys to their apartment. We handed them to the officers and they confiscated everything that was in there. My mother was called to the highest court called the Gestapo to be questioned about Nelly and Hugo. We dressed her up like she was going on a trip, with her underwear and everything in triple. We feared that she would be imprisoned and we didn’t want her to be cold. But after about four hours she came home completely exhausted. We did not have another experience with the Gestapo.
In 1940 all Jews were moved to different apartments. For example, the three of us had to leave our apartment and move into a 4-bedroom apartment owned by a couple and their daughter. In one bedroom was the original family, in the second were the three of us, in the third bedroom was another family and in the fourth, again, another couple. In the kitchen lived a single girl who was a dressmaker. We had one kitchen and one bathroom to share between everyone. Nobody fought. It was not too comfortable, but we all managed. At the same time, every Jew had to wear a yellow Jewish star. There was a curfew, and no Jew was allowed on the streets after 8 p.m. There were certain stores where Jews could go, but you may read about this in the literature that was written during and after this crucial time.
October of 1941 was very depressing. People, specifically Jewish people, were called to the Jewish Community Centre, and the rumors about the concentration camps were not rumors anymore- it was reality. Many of our friends and relatives were deported to Poland. At the time, nobody knew exactly where. And to this day, only a few know where their dear ones are buried or burned. It sounds like a horror story, but this is all true.
On December 1, 1941 Ernest was called to be in a certain place at a certain time with about 40 lbs (20 kg) of belongings, including a cover for the night. One thousand young men were gathered in what was once an international business hall (Ausstellung). They slept on the floor, got little to eat and after three days were transported to a concentration camp not far from Prague called Terezin or Theresienstadt. It was a fortress built when Maria Theresa reigned. It was an army camp, transformed for Jewish people. In the beginning the Jews came only from Czechoslovakia, but later on it became a transit camp for Jews from Austria, Holland, and Germany. At that time I had no idea where Ernest would go. He left Prague on December 4, 1941.
On December 10, 1941 I was called in the same way as Ernest, and I left Prague 4 days later, not knowing my destination. It was very tragic having my sister gone and leaving my mother all alone. Sure, she still had three sisters and one brother in Prague, but the communication problems and curfew made everything very difficult. I also have to mention that when Ernest left he was assigned No. 991, and his very good friend, and my best friend’s husband who was called at the same time was No. 990. What a coincidence because these men were together most of the time! When I left I had No. 240 and my friend who I just mentioned, Martha is her name, had No. 241, and her little daughter, Alena (6 years old) No. 242. We were absolutely frantic to be together and most of the time stayed close by each other.
It was really too long ago to remember all the details. I forget how long we were on the train. It was not a Pullman but more like a cattle train. Before we got to Terezin, we crawled out of the train and from under one of the other wagons crawled our very good friend. I had no idea that he was there. He was deported in October of 1941, and told me that Ernest was at Terezin also. He said that he would let Ernest know that I was coming. I was excited, upset–whatever you want to call it. But I was very happy that Ernest was alive.
The whole train, I mean the people on it, had to go through some kind of procedure, numbers, names, etc. Then a group of 22 women was led into an army barrack, Dresdner Kaserne, and pushed into an absolutely bare room. There were also children among us, including little Alenka, my friend’s daughter. In a little while we were told to take out our dishes and casseroles that we had brought from home. We all made a long line in an absolutely open corridor with the wind blowing and the snow falling heavily. We were served a liquid called “soup” with all kinds of ingredients, some potatoes, beans and who knows what. We were very hungry and cold, so of course we ate. I also have to mention that I had brought some bread and yeast cake from home, but everybody was too scared to eat it because we wanted to keep it for later. I guess the idea of surviving started the very first day. Everything that I had I shared with Martha.
Late in the afternoon a crew of men arrived carrying mattresses on their heads. They put these on the floor, and finally we had a place to “rest.” It was heaven. There were 22 people in this room, all on the floor, with about 10 inches of space between each mattress–just enough space to walk to the wall where instead of paintings or wallpaper, we had put in nails and “decorated” the walls with our belongings. (It is very hard to go into detail, but I have plenty of literature and you will find more information with sketches in there.)
Two of the men who brought in the mattresses were Ernest and Karl, Martha’s husband. You can imagine how happy everyone was! We were all very scared about what would happen next. In the morning we were all called into an “office” for another registration. The barracks had to be cleaned, food had to be cooked, children had to be looked after etc., etc. I was given the job of cleaning out some other rooms to prepare them for the next people to arrive. I could only see Ernest on some kind of pretext. He would have to come from his side to our barracks (women only) with mattresses or maybe papers. That I really can’t remember any more.
Three times a day we lined up for food. In the morning we lined up for black water, called coffee. In a few days we realized that it was not necessary for everyone to line up, so we managed to get a big pot and took turns getting this “delicious brew” and a piece of bread. At noon everybody went to get their own food. There we got some sort of coloured water. The main colour was grey, this was soup, and again we got coffee and bread. We always had plenty of this dark liquid with the name “coffee” because we were always saving this from one meal to another, for fear, not to get anything later. At night we would eat potatoes with the shell (don’t mistake them for baked potatoes) and some kind of water–gravy. On Sunday we got a little piece of meat. It was horse meat, and a delicacy. You can only compare it to a steak. Once a week they served us some sort of coffee cake with a sweet sauce that looked like chocolate. It don’t know what it was, but we usually saved it, sliced it and put the creamy dark stuff in-between to be “served” as a cake. It was “delicious”–or just the opposite. For the time being I should stop talking so much about food, though at the time it was very important.
I became very good friends with the other 21 women I shared a room with. Our group was a necessity, I must say. Most of the girls were from Prague, but I only knew Martha before we came to the camp. I was cleaning the different rooms and sometimes I would work in a different place like the offices, but always in our barracks. The spring of 1942 came and the war was in full swing.
One thousand healthy women were selected to do fieldwork and I was among that group. We were sent in small groups of 45-50 to the beautiful woods of Czechoslovakia. The name is Krivoklat, or in German, Puerglitz. We stayed in small barracks with 24 women in each, and were allowed to bring one small suitcase with us when we left. We were told it was only for 2 months, and this time what they told us was true. Working in the fresh air from 5am to 6pm planting trees was heaven. Later the village people named the area where we worked “Jewish Woods.” I wonder what kind of trees are there now.
A Czech forester was minding us, and of course he had some Germans above him. Our forester was always very nice and never cruel; he would smile at us when he walked by. One day he came, and very discretely told us that he was going to Prague, and that if we wanted him to bring messages to our families then we should not be scared. I am always a coward, but this time I was brave and gave him the address of my uncle who I knew was constantly in contact with my mother. I said in the message that I was okay, that Ernest was okay also and that we hoped someday, somewhere we could be reunited.
For the next 3 days I was scared to death about the foolish thing that I had done. I was not scared for myself but for the rest of my family at home. If the forester were caught, then many people would have lost their lives (later on they were lost, but not on account of my foolishness). On the fourth day the forester came back and his face was one big smile. For everyone who had trusted him, he brought back a message or something. My mother had sent me a nice amount of money that I was never able to use, but the feeling of it was great. Money was contraband altogether and I had to hide it all the time. The forester also told me that my uncle’s fiancee, who was a Gentile, a very nice person, was coming to see me at a certain place and time. I almost died of fright. Listen to how this smart man did everything for me!
In the morning of this important day, we marched into the woods at 6am like everyday. He told me and my girlfriend, Greta, that he was going to make a big bushfire and that was going to be the secret hiding place for my uncle’s fiancee. I took Greta with me, and we marched. When we got to the bush there were two big eyes looking at me. It really was Fritzi. Neither Fritzi nor I could speak. We could only cry. I couldn’t even come closer to her because at that very moment two farm-workers walked by us. The blood in my veins stopped. I was so scared for Fritzi, especially since she had taken such a risk to come see me. She had brought a suitcase from home full of coffee, chocolate, sugar and other things that I can’t remember. I saved all the food to share with Ernest, Martha, and her little girl when I returned to Terezin.
I now had the suitcase to hide. Fritzi crawled from the bush on her stomach, and for years after I didn’t know what had happened to her. She was okay and returned to Prague without being caught. Oh yes, my suitcase. What to do with it now? Greta and I walked away from the bush, kicking the suitcase along the ground. The bushfire was still going, that was fine, but out from the middle of nowhere came two more farmers. In desperation to cover the suitcase, I pretended to be going to the bathroom. I went right over the suitcase and didn’t care if they saw me or not. The two farmers left without paying attention to us, and we proceeded back to the barracks. Two other girls spotted us and brought a wheelbarrow over to where we were. We smashed the suitcase into it, covered it with gravel and earth, and waited for the moment when we could bring it inside the barracks. Once inside, I emptied it, put everything in my bed and started to cry. I cried for my family who I left behind, for myself and for not knowing what was going to happen to us next.
As I said previously, we stayed in the forest for 2 months, and I have to admit that it was the nicest time during the four years I was at Terezin. Every day in the morning the bell would ring to signal it was time to get up. A guard would come inside the barrack “to see the girls naked, or something!” The food was good because we were working for the nation and thus receiving three times as much food as at Terezin. After two months we came home to our husbands, fathers or friends who were waiting for us. We all looked healthy and tanned from working all day outside. We were all glad to be reunited again.
You couldn’t trust anybody at this time. When I went back to Terezin I was jobless, and because I had good experience as a secretary in my “former” life, I was assigned to the Evidenz. I would compare it to a city hall. Every transport of Jews that came in or out was registered very accurately, and every “inmate” was assigned a number with a card that contained all the important dates. I have to explain that starting in November 1941 transports came almost daily or every third day with over 1000 people. The few transporters were men, but later they mixed with women and children. The transports came from all over via Prague.
On July 24, 1942 my dear mother came to Terezin. I already knew that she was to come the day before her arrival because the lists of the transports came into the office. I was waiting for her on the street when she walked past me in the line. Of course she was not allowed to get out of the line, and of course I couldn’t get close to her. Later that night I found her in the barrack where she was staying. After negotiation with some of the girls using a piece of bread from my own ration, and with the “ok” from the girls in my room, I moved her to my mattress. We shared “only” four weeks together, but these four weeks were as happy as any could have been under these circumstances. I found her a job peeling potatoes where she could sit down. But my mother never complained. She was always telling me “. . . when we go home. . .” Shortly after she arrived, my mother was called to one transport to be deported. Working in the Evidenz office, I had the privilege to apply for my mother to be removed from the list. It was a very difficult task because this meant that somebody else’s mother, father, brother or child had to take her place. But in a misery like this- the shirt is closer than the coat.
My mother was again called to another transport. The same thing happened, but finally on August 24, 1942 my mother was deported. Ernest helped her onto the train. A friend of mine who was a capo, similar to a policeman, was allowed on the train. Later he handed me a letter from my mother. I have this. One day I have to have it translated for you. It said, “I am very comfortable in a little corner and I hope it will stay like that.” That was the end of it. Many friends, relatives, uncles, aunts and cousins went through this hell and only Ernest and I survived. How and why? Nobody knows.
After my mother left I was heartbroken. I quit my job. It was too much for me to constantly see the names of those coming and going and not being able to help. I got another job at an unemployment office. It was hard to send people to work. Very often I had to be in the Courtyard at 4 a.m. to gather 30 or 40 women for various jobs the Germans said had to be done. I had to have every name and number on my sheet and all the women had to be accounted for. When they came back in the afternoon or evening, not one “Jew” could be missing.
I could go on and on with all kinds of stories. One night at 2 a.m. the Judenaelteste (in plain translation it would mean the oldest Jew) knocked on our door. Of course we panicked (I was living together with my friend Dittl). We opened the door and this kind gentlemen (he was awful) told us to hurry up, and that we had to get ready for another transport that was coming. We both were very tired from the previous day, but orders are orders just like in the army. We got dressed and went to the railroad station to wait for the “lucky” people who were torn from their homes and families. We helped put them in their ubications (rooms). Usually these people were very happy to see us. Poor souls–they didn’t know what they had to face. After three or four days being in Terezin, the people would have to pack again to be transported. Only G-d and the SS knew where the train went, and if those people would ever see their loved ones again.
In 1942 on New Years Eve my two dear aunts came to Terezin. I tried to help them as much as I could because they were both in desperate condition. My aunties were two sisters who were very close and didn’t know what was going to happen after the first day they were separated from each other. It took me and Ernest a few days before we found where each of them “lived.” One aunt had become very ill and we found her in the hospital. Her sickness was one more reason for deportation. This particular transport came on Rosh-Hashana and left on Yom Kippur. Of course this was done on purpose.
Nice, don’t you think? I never found out what happened to these two nice little aunts. The same year in October, one of my dearest uncles arrived. He was one of my mother’s brothers and was engaged to Fritzi, who I mentioned before. My uncle was treated better at the camp because of his profession as a surgeon. At the time the rules were not so strict anymore. He came quite often to see me and Ernest. We put all our meal rations together, and I made a “delicious” meal from all the stuff. Ernest and I always had a wonderful relationship with my uncle.
There were always some surprises. One day a rumor (it was not really a rumor) went around the camp saying that three or four German girls were going to go around barracks, search through everything including personal belongings and take away contraband possessions. Contraband items were sardines, money, and even toothbrushes. Let’s say everything that the Germans could have used was contraband. Of course we were all very upset because everyone had hidden something that we had brought from home. I was lucky that I had hidden my money in such a good spot than nobody could find it, though I could not use it anyway. I had also hidden a box of sardines for almost two years now. After the “angels” left we celebrated right away by eating the sardines. I don’t know how many girls participated in eating this one box, but many were around, and everyone had at least a taste of it.
One day Ernest came from work and, believe it or not, brought a “real egg.” I don’t know how or where he got this egg but it was fresh and hadn’t been cooked yet. For a few weeks this egg sat on a shelf, and finally I cooked it and gave my little girl Alenka a gift. She looked at it and was very upset at first but then became happy to have this egg. That was the only time that anyone saw a chicken egg at the camp.
We also had a Christmas party. Everybody came out with some treasures from home, and we cooked. It was unbelievable how we improvised. We exchanged gifts and distributed cards (some are still at home, the gifts also). We had a wonderful time, but were very scared that some Germans would walk in and find out that we were happy for a while.
I also have to mention a very cute story. In our midst we had a very refined lady with her young, married daughter from Vienna. Everyone except her spoke German and Czech. Hansi, this little lady, spoke only German. I don’t have to tell you that in a situation like we were, the girls became very vulgar and used the word prdel (ass) in almost every sentence. One evening Hansi came to me and asked me what the word prdel meant because she had heard it mentioned in almost every sentence. She told me, “as far as I could understand it fits with everything.” I told her that in the situation we were living in she was perfectly right. This little episode I retell many times because I believe it is very cute.
We had few highlights in the four years that we were staying in this “sanitarium.” I was very fortunate to be good friends with a few girls. I forgot to mention that I had moved from my first barrack to a smaller “house” that was a few steps up from where I had lived before. The toilet was in a different building! We called our house vogelhause, which means birdhouse. There were 8 women and Martha’s daughter, Alenka. My friend’s husband, Karl, worked in the hydro and had access to small electrical appliances. One day he brought us a small electric cooker. This little cooker, which was the size of a dinner plate, was a great luxury. Because we were not allowed to have such a thing, we had to hide it in different places. We “cooked” soup and other “delicacies” on our little stove. What we appreciated the most was the hot water we had available to wash ourselves, dishes, laundry and floor. This was the procedure. Everyone had a partner, even when we carried the water from downstairs. We would wash ourselves, do the laundry we had to do, and then wash the floor. Everything was from one bucket. I could give lectures about saving energy. With washing the dishes, we usually did all the dishes together. We would take turns doing them, but I would do them often because I liked to.
We didn’t have too many things to wear, or to change into. We had very creative girls in our midst: a dressmaker, a milliner and so on. From an old blanket a skirt was born. From a men’s shirt a nice dress or blouse was made. For years they called me “white collar girl” because I had made two small collars out of handkerchiefs. I washed them almost everyday and pinned one to my dress or blouse. I have to say that I looked quite fresh in this “uniform.”
The days passed with working, reminiscing about our families, guessing how long this would last, and making plans without seeing any end to this misery. We were singing, dancing and pretending to be happy. In Terezin, I don’t have to repeat this, but there were many talented people. Professionals from every group were at the camp. Actors, dancers, muscicians, singers, painters and more would perform. They would practice weeks and weeks, and on the day of the performance a transport was called and everything went into the air. They would start practicing again, and so on. As you know, nobody can beat the Jews, but even with the stamina we had, only a few survived. The bilanz! It is very sad that the 6 million Jews who perished could also have written books, but what happened to them? I am still here to tell you my story.
By October 1944 Terezin was overcrowded. The Germans gave another Befehl and deported 1000 Jews every 3 days. My uncle, cousin and Ernest’s brother and wife were called to go. Ernest was also on the list to be deported. I wanted to go with him voluntarily, but he was very much against this. He knew that we would be separated immediately when we got to our destination, and that it would be better if I stayed at Terezin for as long as possible. My girlfriend, who I was working with in the “employment” office, and also living with, was the head of that unit, because I was an important part of her work, I was not to be deported immediately.
Ernest was very happy that I was staying at Terezin and that I had the chance to take him off the list of this immediate transport. When he was ready to board the cattle train, he collapsed in the courtyard just as his name was called. He was taken away, but I was not close enough, nor would the boys let me to go to him. Later that night he was well again, but in six days the ordeal began again. On October 18, 1944 Ernest was called to leave Terezin. Nobody knew where the train’s final destination was. First, it was going to Auschwitz-Oswieczim but I hope I can write about this another time. You can all imagine how heartbroken I was. I had no idea where Ernest was being transported to, and when, if ever, I was going to see him again. But I suppose that I am very strong-minded and because I was relatively young I was full of hope. There was nobody from my entire family left at Terezin except me. After Ernest left, my friend Dittl was after me to move in with her. She had her own room that she had shared with her friend before she was deported. Beginning November 1944, I left my other friends and took the rare opportunity to move to a better barrack. I started “house” in the barrack called Madeburger Kasserne. The room was very nice, and we both had enough “space” for our belongings. We worked very hard together in the same office from morning till night and sometimes in the early morning hours when transports were coming or going.
In our midst we had the famous Rabbi from Germany, Dr. Leo Baeck. I remember that we asked him to come over for dinner one night. Dittl and I were very excited that this gentleman was going to spend an evening with us. At that time I am pretty sure he was in his seventies. We busied ourselves with how to clean the place, what to serve and what to wear. Important, don’t you think? Believe me, I don’t remember the menu anymore. For sure I made a “soup” from potatoes, and as a dessert I am pretty sure we made our famous Malakoff. This was coffee cake with this so-called chocolate sauce. Instead of a tablecloth we put a bed sheet on the table. It looked “just beautiful.” Dr. Leo Baeck came in a dark suit, white shirt and a tie–it was really something. He bowed, kissed both our hands and was very happy to be in our company. It was an unforgettable evening. This kind of thing happens only once in a lifetime. As a matter of fact, Dr. Leo Baeck survived Terezin and died later in London, England. What a man!
Starting mid December 1944, transports from Slovakia started to arrive. I was constantly looking for the names of my family members and for the names of my brother in-law-s family. Sure enough one day I found Hugo’s sister and niece. I was very happy to see them. Marika, his niece, was 9 or 10 at that time. Uci, Hugo’s sister, was very sick in the hospital. Marika was put in the Kinderheim, or the home for children, and was very upset about being separated. I tried as much as I could to comfort both of them, but it was not very easy. One day Marika was confined to the hospital, gravely sick with meningitits. I was beside myself with worry. Another very good friend who was a doctor was also an inmate. He worked at the hospital where Marika was. I went running to him and told him that Marika is my niece–she almost is. After weeks of fighting death, Dr. Kral called me and wanted me to come to the hospital immediately. He said that he wanted to show me something. I ran down from the second floor of the hospital where I was staying. He pointed towards the courtyard where Marika was walking with a “nurse.” Dr. Kral had tears in his eyes. It was really an accomplishment to heal someone under these circumstances.
Not everyone was as lucky as Marika. Time dragged on and on. We had no idea what was going on in the outside world. We were only hoping that one day a miracle would happen. In the beginning of 1945, more and more transports were coming in. But in these transports there were partners of mixed marriages. After they arrived at Terezin, the Jewish half of the marriage was deported to another camp. Every new transport brought new rumors- the end of the war is close- but after so many years we had lost confidence. At the end of April 1945 more and more rumors came. There were rumors that the Czech guards were starting to believe “the end is not far” some of them had also had enough of the terrible war.
Almost everyday there were transports from other concentration camps, mainly from Germany. Very sick people arrived in their stripped uniforms. Muselman is how they were called. They would beg for a piece of sugar, raw potato, or a piece of stale bread. It was obvious why these people were fighting for a lump of sugar. We, the remaining healthy ones, were busy from morning till the next morning finding beds and clothing for them. Most of them could hardly walk, and others we had to squeeze into the hospital. Typhus broke out and it was very dangerous for the healthy inmates to be exposed to them. If we had gotten sick that would have been the end of everything. Many people were infected and did not survive.
On May 8, 1945, the Russian Army came to Terezin and we were all liberated. At first it was very dangerous because they allowed all the typhus stricken people to leave the hospital and the disease spread very quickly. It is still a miracle to me how the “nourishment” I got in those 4 years allowed me to escape without any sicknesses. I was in contact with the sick people for 24 hours a day and didn’t catch the disease. There was a special angel watching over me–I suppose. The next two days were total confusion and chaos in the camp. The Red Cross arrived and the inmates were all running around without a specific direction. Buses arrived from Prague with people coming to pick up their spouses.
On May 10, 1945 there was one of these buses in the courtyard with 3 or 4 boys standing around it. These boys (men) were debating whether they should go on the bus with this load of people. I was listening in on their debate and asked one of the boys, who I knew, if I could come along. The bus driver overheard my conversation and told me that if I was satisfied with standing room, then I could come. Whoever knows me knows that I am not a hero, and never was, but in a situation like this, I had to take the chance. I wanted to be one of the first into Prague, and wanted to find what happened to Ernest and everyone else in my family. I had to be ready in half an hour. I ran to my room, took my money that I had hidden for all these years, got dressed, took a toothbrush and promised my roommate, Dittl, that under any circumstances, I would return to Terezin. I only wanted to go to find out what was happening in Prague.
I remember distinctly that it was a beautiful and sunny May day. As the driver had told me, for about 4-5 hours I had standing room only. Under normal circumstances this trip was about 2 hours long at the most, but let me tell you that as long as I live I will never forget what I saw: the defeated German army, men, women and children. The decorations were ripped from the soldiers. There were babies in broken carriages, or a few children in one baby carriage and the “proud German mother” wheeling her brood to “safety.” I am not a cruel person, but this had to be filmed, but not for me. I was not heartbroken, but still I had not idea what was to come.
Finally I arrived, and everyone got out. One of the boys had a mother-in-law, not Jewish, who was living not far from where we were. About 6 of us stormed her place, and she kindly offered us coffee. She was very happy to see so many of us and started to cry. At about 5 p.m. I had to leave to start towards my destination. This I have to explain in more detail. When Ernest was deported I was optimistic. Or maybe it was just intuition. We had promised ourselves that with G-d’s help, and if we survived, we would meet together in a certain place. But to be on the safe side, we both remembered 3 addresses; the first was Fritzi’s, my uncle’s fiancée. The second was my girlfriend’s mother who was married to a Jew, and had converted to Judaism during her marriage. She had brought up all 3 children in the Jewish faith, but when Hitler came, and her husband was not alive anymore, she had brought out all her papers in order to save her youngest daughter. The third address was the address of Cathy, a devoted woman to my family and grandparents. My mother would call her into our house sometimes to help out with domestic chores.
It was about 5 p.m. when I walked onto the street. Prague of course is the city of my birth, so I know it very well. I started walking towards the nearest tram station. I was very naïve. Many sections of Prague had been bombed the day before so there was no tram service what so ever and there were only a few taxi cabs. Only tanks and war machinery were moving on the streets. I started to walk. Under normal conditions it was about a one and a half hour march to the address I wanted to reach before dusk. I walked and I walked. Many streets and corners were blocked or closed. When I came to the main artery: the beautiful Wenzelplats-Vaclavaske namesti where the majestic museum is, I was stuck. I was unable to cross because the tanks were coming from all directions. Finally, in my desperation, I approached a soldier with an American cap who was standing next to me. I asked him in Czech if he would be nice enough to lead me across the street. I was quite lucky because he turned out to be a Czech man. He took me by the arm and we crossed the busy street. A man in uniform put up his arm and all the tanks stopped. We walked down the street together while he asked me all kinds of questions. I was very scared and careful about what I was saying. He was quite insistent about walking me to my destination, but I was careful not to tell him the exact address. I scared him by saying that I might have some disease since I just came from a concentration camp. I told lies and so on. After giving him a kiss on the cheek I shivered and he let me go. It was getting dark and I began to run to get to my destination.
Fritzi lived in a very old section of Prague, and to be honest, in a beautiful old palace but in a horrible district. My heart was in my pants when I reached the second floor of her building. Maybe all these details are too long, but it is important to be specific. I knocked on the door and a voice said, “Who is it,” from the inside. “It is me, Lottie,” I replied. There was no answer. I knocked again, was asked, “Who is it,” and repeated, “Me, Lottie.” The little curtain moved from the window in the entrance, and the scared face of old Fanny (the old lady who had been staying with Fritzi for years) was looking out into the staircase. The curtain fell down again. “Please Fanny, Let me in! It’s Lottie!” I said again. In a little while the curtain moved again, for Fanny had not believed what she saw. Finally she opened the door a few inches to look at me. She started to cry and let me in. Of course who expected to see somebody after four years of being incarcerated? We both started to cry. She closed the door fast. Fanny could still not believe her eyes. Fritzi was not home. She was volunteering for the Red Cross and would return home sometime during the night. Fanny immediately made coffee and coffee cake. After so many years I had my first real bath in a clean bathtub. She put me on the sofa in the living room in real, clean, white sheets. What a luxury! It was like a good or bad dream. We were talking until the late hours. I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I think I fell asleep with Fanny sitting at my bedside. Around 3 a.m. Fritzi came home. Fanny was waiting for her in the kitchen to tell her what a surprising visitor she had. Fritzi came into the living room, woke me up and we both began to cry. All the questions came up- who survived? Where is my uncle? What do you know from all our relatives? To all the questions I had a negative answer- I don’t know. We were talking until the wee hours of the morning. At 7 o’clock Fritzi had to be at the Red Cross station again. I got dressed and started my journey around Prague to see the remaining people.
I went first to my girlfriend’s mother. Every reunion was more tearful than the other. I have to remark that I was one of the first survivors to return to Prague. Everyone had questions and I could answer few of them. From there I went to my former office. Only a few people were still there, but all were very happy to see me again. Then I went to see Cathy. There were more tears, etc. I don’t know how many miles I covered in this day.
When I got back home, Fanny was very happy to see me. The minute that she opened the door to let me in, she looked very bewildered. I had no idea what had happened to her. The first question was, “Lottie, is Ernest alive? Have you seen him?” I was very astonished by this question, but she repeated herself several times and of course I gave her a negative response. I didn’t know where Ernest was. After a few minutes of playing “ping-pong,” she told me to go into the bathroom. I opened the door and almost fainted. Standing there was the skeleton of Ernest. He was half his original size, with his feet swollen from hunger. His body was covered in exema, even his fingers. His head was shaved off and completely bare. We started to cry, unable to talk, for at least 5 minutes.
So, actually you can see that even in our very desperate situation, we had enough sense to make arrangements in case we both survived. We are very fortunate, for there are only a few couples that survived this hell. Ernest was in the bathroom, and why I had to meet him in this chamber was very simple. He had diarrhea, was vomiting and was extremely ill. Why? After starving, and being so unhealthy, everything that he ate made him sick. A small example that I should mention: There was a jar, that to me and Ernest, looked like a jar of marmalade. In this situation, as hungry as he was, he reached for this jar, opened it, and drank it. To our astonishment, it was some kind of glue! Now you understand why he was in the bathroom. I could go on and on.
In the horrible condition that he was, he went to see our old friends, a very dear friend. He immediately gave Ernest a cane because he could barely move without it. He also gave him a pair of shoes, and an outfit to wear. Ernest looked more like Charlie Chaplin, only the moustache and bowler were missing. He also went to some business friends, with whom he had left some merchandise (silk for scarves). This “honest man” was “very happy” to see him, but the merchandise had been burned in a “fire.” Who believes him? There were many more stories like that.
Our reunion was on May 11, 1945. This is a date I will never forget. The following day at 4 a.m., I was standing in line to look for some accommodations (apartment). There was a long line, and at about 2 p.m., I was a lucky one to be walking away with some papers in my hand for an apartment. There was lots of red tape, but the next day with some “very important” city workers, I was led to our new “residence.” The place was sealed off. I was given a key, and was now the lucky owner of a beautiful, ultra-modern, fully furnished, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment. Before us some kind of German family had lived here and they had kept it in immaculate shape. Apart from the furniture, there was quite a bit of linens and dishes also. Not everyone was so lucky!
I had promised that under all circumstances, I would return to Terezin. I left Ernest behind with Fanny and Fritzi. There was a train leaving for Terezin maybe twice a day. So, there I was, sitting for this long journey, seeing a Russian soldier every few miles. After maybe 3 hours we reached our destination. It was already dark and I had to walk about half an hour to reach Magdeburg Kaserne. I was scared to death. There were soldiers all over the place, guarding every corner. Thank G-d nobody paid me any attention and I reached Dittl. She opened the door for me and her first reaction was, “You are a fool. Your husband is alive and he might be in Prague any day now. What are you doing here?” A list of all the survivors from Ernest’s concentration camp was already in her hands. I had to explain to her that Ernest had escaped and was already at home. I assured her that we had reunited, and that he was safe. Dittl insisted that my place is with my husband. She made me pack my belongings and get back as fast as possible.
This is exactly what I did. But before I could get out, I had to be quarantined because the Typhus had spread in wide proportions. I was already at the station, on the train and could not get out of Terezin. I went back to my room and took only a few things for Ernest. I got these things in the Kleiderkammer, a stockroom of shoes, suits and underwear for men and women. These were the things that people had to leave behind when they got deported. With this piece of luggage, I tried again at the station without any success. Lucky as I was, I spotted a little red car with some very important Czech people. I asked them where they were going. Prague was their answer. After long negotiations, they were very kind in deciding to take me. I was scared to go, but there were no other alternatives. Knowing that Ernest was waiting for me, and with no communication, this was the only way to get back. It was a very rough trip. The road was blocked, the car was small, and I was scared. But everything was fine. I thanked the two gentlemen, and never found out who they were.
After staying another night with Fritzi, we moved into our “new home.” It was heaven. A few weeks later I went back to Terezin to pick up my belongings. Only a few friends came back. It’s a puzzle to this day how the survivors somehow met. Our apartment became a “salvation army place” with people staying overnight, or should I say “nights” in our apartment. We had plenty of room in our bedroom. I don’t know how big the family was who lived there before the war, but there were two sets of bedroom furniture. Somehow our little grocer who lived there before the war was still there. For a few dishcloths, bed sheets, aprons or something else, we had plenty of potatoes. This was the best diet for Ernest. I must say that in about 3 months he was almost recuperated. Ernest started to work with his very dear friend, I mentioned him before. His wife sent me some goodies for the pantry and we started our new life. Every day we wished that someone would come back. Nobody did. Ernest’s brother and his wife didn’t survive, and I found out later that Edith, Ernest’s brother’s wife, died after the liberation in Germany. She also got typhoid.
We started to get in touch with my sister Nelly, who I believed to still be in Shanghai. It was impossible to contact her since China was still at war with Japan. I searched with the help of my cousin Kurt (Kent), a refugee in New York from Vienna, and my uncle Arthur, my mother’s brother, who left Europe in 1937 to live in Argentina. All the ways to contact Nelly were closed. Even The Red Cross could not help, in my case at least.
One day, to my surprise, I got a cable from Argentina, and a few days later a letter from Kent. He had enclosed a picture of his little daughter, and with our nerves so shattered, we cried at everything. Kurt offered in his first letter to help us get out of Europe. For us, this was out of the question. We were broke, recently released from the camp, and in my case, desperate to know where my sister and her family are. I believe it was the end of August of beginning of September 1945 when we got a cable from Shanghai. The exact address was written there and the words, “Let us know immediately who is living.” After that there was a long line about our relatives and Hugo’s relatives. The answer was, nobody except Uci, Hugo’s sisters, and their little daughter, Marika.
I was crying for days that my dear sister and her family were alive. Her daughter, Eva, was born in Shanghai and was 5 years old at the time. The mystery was how she found us and how she knew the exact long address of our apartment, but that mystery was answered about 5 weeks later with an explanatory letter.
Listen, like in a movie: Uci, Hugo’s sister, lived with her daughter Marika in a little town in Slovakia. Through the war I was always in touch with Uci. One day she wrote me asking for the radio station in Prague. She wanted to get in touch with the D.P. camp in Germany and find out the whereabouts of her sister. Because there was no radio station in the place where she lived, I had to provide my address so somebody could contact me in case they found the answer. Hugo and some friends, who were still in Shanghai, were listening to the radio, which was strictly prohibited. Every night they would hide in a bunker to listen to the news from Europe. One night they were listening to my message about looking for Hugo’s sister. My address was also broadcasted on the radio, and Hugo and his friends had a pad and pencil on hand to mark every detail of our address. Isn’t that something! All the way from Czechoslovakia to China! We found out later that Hugo’s sister, the one I was looking for, had died some place in Germany after the liberation. Very sad.
Now at least I knew my sister and family were alive. We began to correspond very often. The letters were quite cheerful. Nelly and Hugo planned to leave China as soon as possible, and after a while got papers to enter The United States of America. During the process of getting the necessary papers to go to USA, they found out that Hugo’s sister, Uci, and I were still alive. Their plans changed, and in September 1946 the BIG DAY came for us. Nelly, Hugo and Eva arrived in Prague after a long trip from China. Evicka was not shy towards us at all. Since her birth, our names, and of course the rest of the family members were mentioned constantly. She spoke flawless Czech and was beautiful and cute as a button. The family moved in with us. We had plenty of room and were an extremely happy family. I was 6 months pregnant with Hana and was more than happy to have Nelly with me. Hugo was working in the same place that he worked before the war and had a wonderful position. Nelly was happy with us but she didn’t like the politics in Europe. Maybe after living so many years overseas, she smelled something suspicious.
In the spring of 1948 it was getting very RED in Czechoslovakia. Hugo and his family left for Cuba via England. We were very sad about parting again, but understood their position. Ernest and I, having been in the concentration camp didn’t have any more courage to leave everything and start again. My cousin in New York, Kent, and my uncle in Argentina encouraged us to start working on emigration papers and offered their help with the process. After sleepless nights and many debates, we started the procedure. After a while Nelly was able to send us some papers to come join them in Havana, at least temporarily. By the end of June 1948, after spending long hours in all kinds of offices, because the bureaucracy in Europe was still unbelievable, we got our necessary papers to leave Prague. We would go to Paris, pick up our visas, and then travel to Havana to see our family again. But it was not so easy. On the contrary, it was very difficult. Before we left, Hana got very sick with whooping cough. The doctor was very much against traveling, but we had no choice. We would have lost all our papers to immigrate because everything was strictly dated. We took the chance. A change in climate is always very good for whooping cough, as far as I knew.
We arrived in Paris, and at the train station was a very good friend. George Beran was his name. He had brought with him a banana for Hana, she was exactly one and a half years old. That was something that she had never eaten before. It was very exciting for us to be in Paris. George Beran brought us to the hotel where his family lived together with his brother’s family. George and his wife had a 10 day-old baby girl and George’s older brother had a baby girl of 6 weeks of age. There were babies everywhere! The details about how we managed in the hotel room could be another story of 10 more pages. It was difficult because we were to only stay 10 days before we left for Cuba. The following day Ernest and I went to the Cuban consulate to pick up these valuable papers. To our astonishment we were told that our visas to Cuba had been cancelled due to a change in government. Ernest and I were absolutely desperate. We had only a few French Francs, and we had no idea how we would survive. We couldn’t go elsewhere in Europe and we couldn’t stay in France. Our daughter was only 18 months, we were penniless, we didn’t know the language and our time there was tough. The following day Ernest went to the Joint, or maybe it was another Jewish organization, to ask what could be done in our situation. We were absolutely lucky! Ernest came out from this wonderful office and his face was shining. After so many days he had a smile again! We not only had “technical help” but also “financial help.” Let me explain. When we left Czechoslovakia, we had to pay for our trip to Paris and from there, of course, our passage to Havana, Cuba. Besides the money we were using for our transportation, we had a bank account with everything left over. Since we were only allowed to take a certain amount of French currency, we left our money with the Jewish Agency, or the Joint. Everybody who left Czechoslovakia got a letter from this agency, which they had to present at the sister-agency upon their arrival in their new country. With this lucky paper, we were able to get monthly support in Paris. It was meager, but we didn’t have to starve. Of course we still had no idea what was to happen to us.
We sent a cable to my sister about what had happened, and of course Hugo and Nelly were very upset. There were many months ahead of us to get in touch with family or friends who could help us. First of course we had to get out of the hotel and find some “little place” where we could begin our temporary home. The home we found was an old, but nice rooming house in a beautiful section of Paris- Bois de Boulogne. It was a one room, no bathroom apartment. We had only a toilet and a little corner where I could do some cooking. But with my excellent experience from the concentration camp, I managed. I was allowed to bring Hana’s crib and a small bathtub with us. We put the crib together, took out a few important dishes from the trunk and started to ‘play house.’
I was writing to my cousin, Kent, in New York, to my uncle in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and to my other cousin in Montreal, Canada. It was a long way for all my letters to go! In this rooming house we had a chance to bring in some of our friends and relatives. We invited Hugo’s sister’s husband, Barna, and their daughter, Marika. It was terrific to enjoy the company and conversations of friends again. After a long correspondence back and forth to my cousin, Arnold, he was able to send us papers to enter Canada. If you think that we were just able to pack up and go, then you are very mistaken.
First there was a terrible mix up at the Canadian embassy in Ottawa, Canada. It is unbelievable, but another couple from Czechoslovakia with the last name of Suk lived in the same boarding house. This couple, who we never met, also applied for entry to Canada. The same name, the same address and the same place of origin led to a big mix up. These people had a political background that the Canadians didn’t like, and were therefore refused entry to Canada. The applications were mixed up. We were very upset about this, and our family in Canada had to prove our innocence. It was a further delay.
Finally, I believe it was in February 1949 that we got a message from the embassy saying our papers were approved and after passing all necessary “red tape” we would be allowed to enter this “promised land.” To make sure that there would be no delay in our departure, we went to the Rothchild Hospital in Paris to have our chests x-rayed. Even our two-year old daughter had to have a Wasserman test done. Two days after were in the hospital Hana got a slight cold. I believe I mentioned this before, but our friend, the famous professor Dr. Kral and his wife, also a doctor, lived in the same place. We asked him to come upstairs to look at Hana. Dr. Kral came in no time and Hana was full of beans. Except her cold, there were no complaints, not even a temperature. During his examination, Dr. Kral spotted 2 or 3 little red spots on Hana’s legs. He said that he would like a pediatrician to look at Hana. I could not understand why, but he was firm about this.
In a few hours a pediatrician came to our house to examine the child. In these few hours, Hana had developed a fever, and quite a high one at that. The doctor looked at her, and called me aside to tell me what he was suspicious of. These spots on Hana’s legs, if they were found positive, were signs that the child had tuberculosis. He gave her a shot in both arms, and told me to watch her for the next 10 to 20 hours. If it was to swell up then it meant she tested positive for tuberculosis, and if not, then we are out of danger. He only told me all this information because Ernest was upset enough. After 10 or 20 hours I was supposed to call the doctor and let him know. I was watching this child every minute, and in front of my eyes her little arms were red and swollen and her temperature was high. I was very upset, but I didn’t want to tell Ernest this. I called Dr. Kral. He was very concerned, got in-touch with the doctor and told us that the man wanted to see us immediately. Inspite of Hana’s fever, we bundled her up, called a taxi and drove to this man’s office. Dr. Kral accompanied us because he spoke French. There were more x-rays taken, and in a few minutes the doctor told us the bad news. Hana had tuberculosis. Ernest and I were heartbroken.
The x-rays done a few days before in the Rothchild Hospital were absolutely clear. When was she exposed to TB? It was a puzzle to us and to the doctors. Dr. Kral explained to us later that Hana must have been exposed to TB in the last 24 hours. The origin was unknown, but he assured us that the child would be better in about 6 weeks. All her life she would be TB positive, but she would never catch a TB-bacillus again. Hana had to be in bed for 4 weeks, total bed-rest with us watching her. Of course we were extremely concerned about what would happen with our entry to Canada–our dream the past few months. TB was the worst sickness to catch before emigrating, because it made it near impossible to get out of the country. We were first of all upset to have Hana sick, and secondly we were stuck in France and had to start the immigration papers all over again.
In six weeks, after several x-rays, Hana was given a green light- she was totally cured. About the same time we finally got an invitation to come to the Canadian Consulate to start with procedure for entry again. Luckily I had the papers from the Rothchild Hospital with the clear picture of Hana’s lungs. Hana still had little traces on her forearms from the shot she had been given in the beginning, and I was petrified that the examining doctor was going to see it. I was holding onto her, and we were all completely naked. Ernest was separate from us. Thank G-d that we all passed. In about 2 weeks, Ernest was called again to the consulate because his x-rays were not clear enough. They wanted to get another x-ray to be safe. Again he got a green light, and we had to start working on our departure plans.
We had already paid for our passage to Havana in Prague. We had to get in touch with Cunard Lines to make arrangements for the passage to Canada. It was not so easy. Because the trip to Havana was much higher, and the shipping company was insistent that we travel first-class, they were not willing to refund our money. So, us poor refugees with not a penny in our pocket had first-class tickets on the old liner named “Aquitania 45,000 tons.”
Our plans were always to go to via London to see our friend’s uncle, Meisl. Because of Hana’s sickness, we changed our plans and stayed in Trouville on the French Riviera. For the same money that we paid for the boarding house in Paris, we stayed in Trouville. We knew that after Hana’s sickness, the child needed good, fresh ocean air. It was heaven. Hana was blooming in no time. From Trouville we traveled to Le Havre and from there to Southampton where we would board our big voyage from the Old Country to the New World.
In Southampton we had the nicest surprise and the biggest Koved. Our friend’s uncle, Meisl, was awaiting us. He had come all the way from London to spend the day with us. As long as I will live I won’t forget this special visit. This man was the general director in the company I worked in for 10 years. He was the most honored man in Prague. At that time he was about 63-64 years old, and he came to bid us farewell! Unbelievable! For Ernest and me it was heartbreaking. I believe it was around June 20, 1949 when we boarded the liner. There were about 3000 people on board- a “little” village.
We were assigned to our first class cabin. I could not believe how big it was. They had even given us a crib for Hana. Later on, of course, I found out the shipping company knows who is coming so that they can prepare ahead of time. First class passengers had a different dining room and so on. The service was superb with gorgeous china, crystal and silver. We had waiters and a high chair for Hana. The first day Ernest was okay, but after that he was so sea sick that he could not go out of our cabin. The meals wer served to him there. I felt badly for him because the atmosphere, food and service were absolutely marvelous. I went with Hana to the dining room where, being a beautiful child, she was the centre of attention. She was very active, so all day I was busy taking care of her. One day she started crying, “I want to go home.” How can you explain to a 2 1/2 year old child where home is? In the middle of the high sea? I was quite upset. I didn’t even know the answer myself.
After about 10 days we arrived in the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. In Halifax there was a receiving centre where we could have coffee and doughnuts. We all got a loaf of bread; it was very strange to us. The white bread was not sliced and it was so soft that it seemed like a piece of cotton to us. But it tasted delicious! On the train we began our journey to Montreal. I believe it took about 20 tiresome hours. We arrived in Montreal, and at the station Anka and Arnold were waiting. Anka was heavy with a child. This surprised me since she already had a 15 year old son and a 12 year old daughter. The reunion was heartbreaking. Hana was all dressed up like a little doll; she even was wearing white gloves. Anka started to laugh and told me that “this is the last time she will be all dressed up like this.” From now on she will wear slacks, and you won’t be able to go to the park with her dressed up like in Paris. To play outside she will have a rope around her waist that is attached to the balcony; this is how all the kids play. It was not like this! I never, never had her roped, but she also never again wore little white gloves. What a pity because they looked so cute on her!
Anka and Arnold offered to let us stay with them while we were deciding on our “new home.” It was very nice of them to let us stay in their home. After 10 days we found a 2 bed-room apartment on the same street. We were advised to look for a 2 bed-room apartment because it the long run it is cheaper because we can rent out one bedroom. I don’t think that I mentioned this before. When we left Czechoslovakia, a shoemaker mounted $800 in my shoe sole. This was a big amount of money for this time. Now was the time to open the “bank account.” We looked for second hand furniture and left everything up to my imagination. At that time it was beautiful. We even found a boarder for the second bedroom. Our rent was between 90 and 100 dollars, but with the help of this man, it was about half.
After being in Montreal for about 3 weeks and looking round, getting acquainted, and arranging, Ernest was called to a friend’s for a phone call. At this time we didn’t have our own phone, so any phone call for us was received at our friend’s house. He was out for about 3 hours. It was late in the evening when the daughter of our friends came with the message that Ernest had fallen and was in the hospital. He had broken his arm, and I should not be alarmed. That was what we were all waiting for!!! What a shock again! The call that he was going answer was about his job starting the next day. So for the next 6 weeks Ernest was out of circulation with his arm in a cast. He was not able to do anything except to watch Hana. At that time I was babysitting for 20 *??* an hour and crocheting little baby hats for 20 *??* an hour also.
Before getting comfortable in Montreal, we started processing the paperwork in order to bring Nelly and her family from Havana, Cuba. It didn’t really take that long. In the middle of November, 1949, Nelly, Hugo, Eva and the little boy Peter, 18 months, arrived from Havana. What a day for all of us to be together again! Our boarder had moved out in order for our beloved family to move in. “Little” Peter was a giant. He and Hana played very nicely together. Nelly and Hugo of course wanted to have their own place, so we started looking around. We were lucky that our landlord let us out of the lease we had for 2 more years, because we wanted to be close to each other; it was very practical for both families. We were lucky to find apartments right next to each other in a brand new apartment house.
I bought a second hand sewing machine and started to do alterations. Besides this job I was babysitting still. One day one of our friends called me and said she had a job for me. Don’t be shocked, as a cleaning lady. I took it. It was $12.00 per-week. Not enough? You bet, but I took it anyway. With some babysitting we could afford to put Hana in nursery school. The name of her school was Jack and Jill. Hana was picked up every day, and in no time she spoke English. It was very important for her to be around English children. Later on I was recommended as a housekeeper to a family of two men and a little boy. They lived around the corner from us, and I started at 2 p.m. until about 7 p.m. I shopped, cooked, cleaned, served dinner, washed up the dinner dishes and came home exhausted. Hana was mostly asleep. During the afternoons she stayed with Nelly. Ernest came home around 4 p.m. and took over from Nelly. I was watching Peter in the morning when Nelly worked as a seamstress. Now you see why it was practical to live in the same house.
My “career” was very colorful. Apart from my other jobs, I was ironing men’s shirts and being a cook in a prominent Montreal family. In the long run my jobs didn’t hurt me at all. Wherever I went I was always respected. On the other hand Ernest had it very tough. After getting his cast removed, he started to work in a candy plant. This was a very messy and unpleasant job. Don’t you think that for a 44 year old man, who used to do something better, it was very upsetting? But if you have a family to look after, there is no other way. We were also working out of our home making Psyinger and selling them. We always had a boarder in order to be able to live in a good house and a good neighborhood. Sometimes “new comers” came who could not afford to stay in a hotel. For $6.00 a night, we gave them our bedroom and moved into the living room with Hana. We opened a bank account and were able to save. It was fun. We were young, though not too young for this little child. And we were full of hope. Very often we were depressed too. It was not Ernest’s dream to be a dishwasher, nor mine to be a cleaning woman. I also had a short job as a German secretary in downtown Montreal. It was only a few hours a week, but it was nice.
After 3 years of literally struggling in Montreal, and always trying to keep a certain standard for our precious Hana, we got a break, if you can call it that. A very distant cousin of Ernest’s, (if I mentioned this already, please forgive me) who was a graduate M.D. from our native Czechoslovakia, wrote us a letter from Switzerland. He asked us if we would be able to bring him over to Canada. We did everything to help him, his wife and their 1 year-old boy. We had to find a job for him, and with the title “orderly,” he came to Montreal. It was very hard to find a job, and after much red tape, he got a job as a doctor in Sudbury, Ontario, about 420 km from Montreal. In a short time he sent for his wife and their son. We were always in touch, and he knew about our financial situation and how hard it was for Ernest to find a job, a position, or whatever you want to call it. At that time Ernest was a dishwasher in a very high-class restaurant.
We got a letter from this cousin telling us that Ernest should come over, maybe with me, and together we could operate a rooming house or boarding house. Sudbury is a mining town and many single men lived there. The idea was not bad. Ernest went to his “boss” and asked him if he could give him a few days off over the weekend. This “gentleman” opened his mouth and told Ernest very openly where to go. . . and anyway, too many Jewish people came back, Ernest, among them. It almost turned into a fist fight, and Ernest slammed the door and never went back.
On Friday afternoon he took the bus to Sudbury. It was an 11 hour drive before he met his so-called family. He looked around and immediately dropped the idea about starting a boarding house. But as he walked by a department store–I have to mention that at this time Ernest’s knowledge of English was almost nil–he had the courage to to ask for a job. The boss came, listened to his story and told him to come tomorrow. Ernest called me in Montreal, where I was staying with Hana, and told me about this very uncertain opportunity. I really can’t go into all the details.
The next day Ernest went for this very important interview. The big boss hired him to work in the basement selling work clothes and shoes. The weekly salary in 1952 was $35. He took the job, phoned me to send him some clothes and boarded with his cousin in the kitchen for $5. Can you imagine the luxury? It must have been terrible for Ernest, who is so particular about comfort, to sleep in these accommodations. I was sitting in Montreal with Hana, waiting for news from Ernest. Ernest was working there, and his boss had told him not to take special steps to get us there for the time being.
In the middle of June I was notified to come with Hana. The big boss wanted to meet us. We came. We passed the test, and Ernest was told to bring his family over. It was a big decision to make since my sister and her family was all settled in Montreal. And although we didn’t have many friends, in a strange country and in a big, strange city, every friend counts. I had to get rid of our apartment despite still having the lease for another year. The landlord would not cooperate, but I succeeded. In the meantime Ernest was looking for an apartment in Sudbury. There were very few places to rent and many that said, “sorry, no children.” Believe me, it was tough all around. But we finally found a beautiful duplex with wonderful people, who became almost like family to us. The rent, of course, was too high, so after long negotiations, the landlord agreed to us renting only one room. I had to buy an extra bed because we had two boarders. These two boys were miners and had three shifts a day. So constantly there was one sleeping, one was working and so on.
Everyday there was breakfast to make, a lunch pail to prepare and dinner to be served. All together we were lucky. The boys were clean, polite and happy to be with a family. They were also from Czechoslovakia. I was constantly washing dishes, cooking, preparing lunches and cleaning. But it was necessary for our budget and maintaining our standard of living. Sudbury was a nice Jewish community and the people were the most loving people. They accepted us instantly and made our stay there a pleasant one. Hana went to Cheder, and we participated on all occasions. I belonged to Hadassa and the Sisterhood. Ernest was a member of B’nai B’rith. We both were very active in our organizations. For many years I belonged to the Home and School Association and to the YMCA. I took a big part in all these organizations. I enjoyed every minute, and for the first time, I was sure I was accepted in this hemisphere- even if our English was not superb. All these years that I was working, I was always respected in the whole community. Ernest was working extremely hard and for long hours. He was constantly learning the new ways in Canada. It was tough, but we made it.
After 11 years in this lovely surrounding- not a beautiful city, but lovely because of the people and our effort to be a part of the community- we left Sudbury to live in Montreal. Now our most precious “jewel,” our best daughter, Hana, can continue with this odyssey. Everything else is history.
To whom it may concern,