<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> NOTEBOOK A <p> * * * <p> February 17, 1942—Private Diary <p> <i>About Moods to Keep in Memory—Public</i> <p> <p> What the doctor says: It makes no sense to give in to moods that oppress the mind. A cheerful disposition is as valuable as good health and good health is what's most important. We must preserve our nerves, avoid anything that might weaken the organism. For we have only <i>one</i> goal before us: to outlast the crisis and to live. We must live and see the moment when we can say: It was all worthwhile, having endured all the hardship and suffering.... We wanted to be witnesses of a new era and that's what we are. If it weren't for this moment, then everything that happened (misery, humiliation, hunger, cold, sickness) would have been in vain. The purpose of our life, of which they wanted to rob us, is: to live this moment. Everything else pales next to it, is meaningless, ephemeral. This moment even makes up for the death of hundreds of thousands, who died before being redeemed. In place of all those things that we cannot give you, patients, you must replace with fortitude of mind, endurance of suffering, daily pride, and the consciousness of being blameless. Somehow, sometime, liberation will come. This is attested by our history and the eternal maxim that has reigned in the world up to now: Justice triumphs over iniquity. It is therefore wise to remain silent, to bite the teeth together, to suffer, and to be ready for the moment.... Mood: a bleak, gray sky behind yellow, dirty-blue huts and barracks, completely covered with snow, the paltry trees stretching their paltry branches, covered with snow crystals, upward.... Question of detail: Which groups or individuals are against the Eldest? How do they plan to seize power? What are these people doing? Are there political groups? Will we have food to eat during the interregnum (part Prague)? <p> Like all cruel, perfidious, and base surprises that the Prague Jewish community stages, the invitations for the collective transport were passed out at night. The Jewish couriers were handed the addresses of those who had been selected and rushed through the darkened streets to their houses, up the dark staircases with their flashlights in order to wake the sleeping unawares, and to hand each individual personally the marching order. Since the registration of all Jews shortly before had been whispered about as preparation for the confiscation of property, meaning something harmless, even something legitimate, the call-up was all the more a surprise. Each candidate received a transport number that was to accompany him from the place of departure to the place of destination. Each one had to fill out a detailed form listing his entire possessions, from house to shirt button; it was prohibited to tell anybody, not even one's own brother, anything about the content of this list. The Gestapo was so bashful that they wanted to keep the total robbery of the Jews a secret for as long as possible. Or did they have other reasons for the prohibition?—The city was in a state of excitement. There was much talk, whispering, speculating, and paralyzing fear. Suddenly people remembered the so-called Viennese-Polish action in March 1941 in the course of which hundreds of Jews in Vienna (the fearful question in the night: Will it be my turn or not?) were caught and kept in a camp for a few days before being transported to a forsaken, starving place (Opole) and left to their fate. People recalled letters from these deported Jews to their relatives, stating that they were on the verge of starvation if somebody didn't send bread; they also asked for warm clothing and other articles for their daily needs. That was it. A similar fate seemed to be planned for these newly registered. Nothing positive was known. The Jewish community either didn't dare tell the truth or else didn't know what the truth was. The fifty-seven thousand Jews who were living in Prague in the fall of 1941 had to be prepared for the worst, the unexpected, that which the human mind was unable to grasp. In the taverns that were open to us Jews, stories were told of the Lódz ghetto and its council of elders, which had offered to take in the Jews transported there and to take care of them to the best of their ability. It was even said that the Jews who were fit for work would be assigned work in Lódz, according to their skills and training, against pay. A gentle ray of light in the darkness of the deportations. ... Outside the Jewish center, Beth Ha'am, groups of Jews mingled who claimed to have heard that five transports of one thousand Jews each would leave Prague either for the Pyrenees near the Spanish border or the camps where refugees from Spain were once housed. Hopes were attached to both areas—one held the possibility of a better climate and the French nearby, the other receiving food packages and money, and possibly the Russians nearby. All these considerations couldn't prevent the Jewish families from being seized by panic, especially since it was impossible to determine which place of destination it would be. The mood among the Prague Jews was worsened by rumors making the rounds that the present decrees for the Jews would be stiffened. The fear was justified, for the lives of Jews had already been constricted by about fifty decrees, and there was still room for ostracizing them some more. For instance, Reich Protector Neurath established in a decree concerning the registration of citizens of Bohemia and Moravia this order: Germans, Czechs, Gypsies, Jews. <p> On September 18, the Jews' star was added. This was a decree from Berlin, effective for Germany and the Czechoslovak Republic. Early Friday morning, September 18, all Jews appeared in the street with the yellow Jews' star on the left side of the chest. The star was inscribed with the word <i>Jude</i> in German lettering that was to imitate Hebrew script, which made this mark appear even more ghostly, crass, anti-semitic, and provocative. However, the Czech people did not react in the expected manner. On the contrary. They all averted their eyes, and their expression of contempt could clearly be seen in gestures and signs of goodwill. With the Jews' star pinned to their chest, the Jews were unable to merge with the crowd. The presence in Prague of thousands of Jews from the provinces created the impression that Prague was overrun with Jews so that the Czechs too would welcome a massive sweep of "dejudification." The Jews wandered through the streets of Prague like vestiges from the Middle Ages, who owed their existence solely to the apathy of the local population but who were rife for disappearance. People looked at each other without sympathy, they all had been cut down to the same level; even more, they burdened each other, seeing themselves in the other: each holding the other responsible for the specter <i>Jude</i>. Now the distinction between Jew and non-Jew became clearly visible on the outside as well. This was the situation at the time when the call to come to the collection point Messepalast went out. Nobody was spared. Bedridden patients were taken from the hospitals, the old, the infirm, the lame, the blind, the dying, arrived from the nursing homes; before the rise of day, still in the dark, Jews (men, women, children) with suitcases and backpacks crowded the streetcars. The use of taxis had long been prohibited. Apartments, filled with household goods, were abandoned. The beds were still warm, the table set, china and books remained in boxes, in the foyers and rooms were clothes, blankets ... rugs, pictures—and the hyenas, the strangers and the locals who had been notified of the departure of the Jews, were already lying in wait for the possessions. Four transports went rolling. Still nothing definite was known about the destination of the evacuees. Direct news had still not been received. When, at the beginning of November, the fifth and last transport was called up, nobody knew for sure what country was the final destination. This time the participants arrived at the Messepalast in the daytime. It was no longer necessary to keep the deportation of the Jews, nor the methods and techniques employed, a secret. Prague had already become reconciled to these measures. The sight of Jews with backpacks, suitcases, sacks, bundles, bedding, crowding the streetcar stops for the last, mostly overcrowded car—occupation of the other cars by Jews was prohibited—was no longer anything out of the ordinary. Among them were people who had emigrated already three times—from Berlin to Vienna, from Vienna to the Sudeten area, from the Sudeten area to Prague—every time starting a new life, quietly hoping to finally find peace and be satisfied with the most modest nook. <p> But this nook was granted them for only a short time. There was no mercy. The war against the Jews knew no peaceful conclusion. The machine that had been put in charge of taking care of the Jews worked relentlessly, for any pause would have been dangerous, would have demonstrated the superfluousness of this machine. The Jews had been expelled from every profession, their houses were being administered by a trust, their money in the banks was frozen, any dealings with non- Jews had reached its nadir, they were not allowed to be seen in any park or garden or theater or movie house or bath or railway station or even any tavern ... now it had been decreed that even their physical presence was to disappear from the scenery of towns and cities. The protectors promised the Czechs that the country would be made <i>judenrein</i> and then went about that task in a systematic, thorough, circumscribed, but legal—it's called legal—way. The deportations began. Families were destroyed, marriages smashed, friends torn apart, bonds that had been formed during a lifetime were broken, products of the mind were wiped out in a moment's time, everything that had been gathered and carefully guarded in the course of centuries with diligence and love and devotion was shattered by a kick of the foot. Countless [human] values, created with knowledge and reverence, were irreparably lost. The condemnation of a spiritual heritage, literary and artistic, was given free rein by those in power. The authorities now made good on their promises to their followers and sympathizers—the risk-free destruction of all hitherto relished Jewish cultural treasures. Collections were demolished, libraries were collapsed, scientific instruments were scattered, solid homes were left in shambles. With tears in their eyes and a broken heart, the Jews marked for deportation took leave of all they had to leave behind. Dogs, cats, and other pets were gently being stroked ... often under the derisive gaze of the officials who oversaw the departure. (This laying waste will be reported separately in a special section.) <p> So it was goodbye. Goodbye forever? Or perhaps only a brief separation, followed by a happy reunion? Who can tell with complete certainty! No matter how the preparations for the departure into the unknown were being made, they all had the mark of being improvised and provisionary. Nobody said a final goodbye, nobody gave up everything without reservation. There wasn't a single Jew who was resigned once and for all to the loss of his life. In the heart of each traveler remained a spark of hope for restitution, a kernel of faith in the return. All kinds of cherished objects, even those without value, were placed with good friends and reliable neighbors, and the many objects that were left behind and given away did not thereby lose their significance.... The possessions were disposed of in no time, and only then, at the moment of parting, did they realize, when faced with saying goodbye, how easily common possessions collected over the years (a household) can dissolve and how attached they were to them. But time was pressing and no tear had enough power to bring alleviation or relief. Too much was lost, hundreds sat in their apartments, unable to comprehend "all this," as they called it. Thousands flung themselves into the turmoil of packing, of cleaning up, choosing objects, attempting to assume a casual attitude, putting on airs toward their surroundings as if everything happened according to the laws of the world order and, therefore, all lamenting and criticizing was a misplaced exercise. More urgent were practical questions. Since the word was out that each person was allowed to carry only 50 kg of belongings, including 5 kg of foodstuff, thousands of Prague Jews were faced with the problem of equipping themselves with lightweight luggage that could easily be carried. Everywhere in town, especially the Jewish quarter, Jews were seen hunting for backpacks, hats, caps, suitcases, tableware, and nonperishable provisions. The city was in turmoil. Something unthought-of, something profoundly disturbing, was felt to be happening. A new epoch in the handling of the Jews, the solution of the Jewish question, had begun. Five thousand Jews, whose forebears had resided in the old "golden" city of Prague, their homeland, left the city on order of the Germans. The Central Authority for Jewish Emigration selected the candidates, but the principles of this selection were not obvious, unless it was all put into effect the way it had been done now, that is, in a haphazard, random way. Among the deportees were poor Jews, supported by the Jewish community, next to the rich, those who, before the occupation of the country, had owned real estate, bank accounts, pensions, apartments, collections, and other valuables, citizens of diverse rank and station in life, young and old, people with foreign visas. There also was a Nobel transport, the "A" group: physicians, lawyers, engineers, scholars, teachers, professors, writers, actors, musicians, and other Jews suspected of concerning themselves with things cultural. This is how the plan worked, by tearing old bonds, atomizing families, emptying countless apartments and homes for newly immigrant families. The dejudaization of Prague was in progress. The selected Jews, many of whom were remote from Judaism, even with a hostile attitude toward it, were ordered to report for the collective transport. The authorities had chosen the Messepalast, a building that was temporarily vacant. Once a year it served as a tradeshow facility and had now been made available for the Jews who were to be transported. Those who entered this building could say a final goodbye to their homeland. Here is where the ghetto began. Only a handful were lucky enough to be sent back home as unfit, and these few, too, were not safe from a later call-up. The number of each individual was checked off by Jewish community officials—he had been thrown out on the dung heap. The Messepalast was a warehouse where, instead of goods and wares, people were exhibited, closely pressed together in bunks, resting on backpacks and mattresses, with bundles, suitcases, packages, stuffed to bursting, and cots that served as sleeping places. Three days and three nights they lingered here, more than a thousand in the drafty, filthy warehouse, slowly consuming their stores of food since the provisions from the Jewish community were inadequate. <p> Connections were made, friendships began here, people who once had renowned names were dozing on rags and coats, happy to be able to stretch out their emaciated limbs somewhere. At times there was singing and laughter to be heard, for many young people were called up as well, and the casual observer could gain the impression that the authorities had decided to favor the Jews too with an excursion of "Strength through Joy" ["Kraft durch Freude," a Nazi holiday program, trans.]. For—and this must be stated here once and for all—the loss of existence, of possessions, of a homeland, of a peaceful life without care for tomorrow, was not able to break the soul of the Jews. Accustomed to suffering and strengthened through suffering, the Jews here remained unshaken in their trust in their eventual liberation, in their redemption, as so often in earlier centuries. No tears were to be seen, no breakdowns. And still nobody knew where the journey would take them. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE GHETTO</b> by <b>OSKAR ROSENFELD</b> Copyright © 1994 by Verlag Neue Kritik. Excerpted by permission of NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.