Reunion after 70 years, 28. 10. 2012, Neve Ilan, Israel
Separated by war. Reunited after 70 years
Article written by Judita Matyasova
Published in Czech newspapers Lidove noviny, 29. 10. 2012
Photo by Jan Jindra
They have not seen each other for seventy years. The memories are rushing like a waterfall. „Do you remember how we first saw the sea for the first time? Can you remember how I was supposed to milk a cow for the first time? And how we ate those strange Danish sandwiches of theirs?“ There is no end to questions. They speak in Czech, Hebrew, English. They all come from the group of 150 Jewish children from Bohemia sent to Denmark. They were supposed to go to Palestine but their destinies evolved otherwise. They lived in Scandinavia until the end of the war and then they ended up all around the world afterwards. Now they have met all those year later, not far from Jerusalem. Based on the article I published in Czech newspapers Lidove noviny in 2010 I managed to find this group of witnesses who have now met in Neve Ilan in Israel.
Anna Marie Steiner (87) has completely brightened up when she saw her friend Judit Shaked (87) at the other end of the room. The embrace, talk, you cannot stop them. They had spent three years in wartime Denmark before their lives parted. Anne Marie got to know her friend in spring 1939. They were preparing for leaving for Palestine in Prague. In the autumn of the same year the group of young people left for Denmark where they should have continued in practical preparations in the country. They needed to learn the daily agricultural jobs, so that they could get a certificate for the journey to Palestine. „When I think of it now, I cannot even imagine we were only fourteen, fifteen and we travelled across the whole of Europe. Completely on our own, with no adults, but we were together with our friends and that gave us strength,“ Anne Marie recalls. She puts ten black and white photographs on the table, each of them one chapter of her life. The childhood in Prague, the Denmark years, wedding in Prague, the departure for Israel and the Canada years, where she still lives today. She came to Neve Ilan in Jerusalem in order to meet the few friends whom she has not seen for seventy odd years. „This is where we had the summer camp, can you remember? And this is our „Houslet“ where we gathered. This is me and overthere Hanuš and Edita,“ she points to the photographs, showing them to her friends who have come to this meeting from all around the world.
Judit Shaked joins the conversation. „I was so sad when I had to leave Denmark for Palestine in 1941, I missed you so much. I did not want to go, but somehow I was chosen for this journey and as the time went by I did not know how to find you. And then some time ago Judita Maytyášová phoned me and I knew that we can meet again and that it is the most important thing.
There is Janet Seckel-Cerrotti (56) sitting next to Judit who flew from Boston where she lives with her whole family. Her mother, Hana Dubová, who died two years ago was Judit's friend. When Janet learned this March about the existence of a few witnesses who knew her mother she has not hesitated for a minute and decided to come to Neve Ilan. „Every story I have heard today is important for me. I can understand more and more what my mother lived through. Perhaps someone could help me translate my mother's letters,“ she says. Judit bows over the photographs, they browse through them with Janet. They look at the photos where young Hana is along with other friends from Bohemia. The story continues thanks to Janet, her grandaughter. The story of a single decision in which parents sent their children to safety thus saving them. The story of a friendship which lasted for decades. The story of the Danish and Swedish families how helped the Czech children. The story which
remains hidden and only starts coming to light.
The story was helped by the readers of Czech newspapers Lidove noviny
The so far unmapped story of 150 Czech children was discovered thanks to a photograph published in LN in 2010. The LN co-worker Judita Matyášová has been searching for the past two years with colleagues from the NGO Czechs Abroad. They managed to discover 32 witnesses all over the world. The result of this search will be a book, a documentary and a publication. So far the search and research has been financed from private sources and the NGO is looking for donations. „The search is continuing all over the world and has been financially quite demanding. Yet despite having sought support in Czech and abroad, it has not been possible to find a sponsor yet. It is not possible to continue in the research without support and the story, not mapped historically may vanish“, says Judita Matyášová, the head of Sophies choice, the Czech way project of Czechs Abroad NGO.
For more pictures from reunion follow this link, photos by Eliska Blazkova:
That is Helena after all, she discovered after 70 years!
written by Judita Matyášová
published on 13 th January 2011
Title page of Czech daily Lidové noviny
An eighteen-year-old Jewish girl named Helena Böhmová boarded a transport in 1942. Just before her departure, she had her picture taken at the renowned photographic studio, Vilem Frendl in Zdar nad Sazavou. It was never collected; she died in a gas chamber. The forgotten picture came into the hands of primary school children in Velká Beranová two years ago and they decided to unearth Helena's story. After passing the story to the Czech daily, Lidove noviny, Helena’s cousin Zuzana Ledererová, the only surviving member of the family, recognized Helena from the printed photograph. "Weve been subscribers to Lidove Noviny forever. When my husband read the front- page article, I suddenly knew that it was my cousin," says eighty-six-year-old Zuzana Lederer. "We both grew up in Jihlava. Before the war, my parents sent me to Prague and then I went to Denmark. Helena's family moved to Zdar nad Sazavou. The atmosphere in Jihlava was already very tense. I knew nothing of Helena’s fate for a long time. " "After the war I returned to Prague and I searched for any information about the family. Every day, my husband and I went to the Red Cross and other agencies. Finally, we found lists of the transports with just names and numbers. We stopped searching beyond that. It was too painful. Living in Denmark, we heard about the transports, but it didn’t occur to us that so many people would have remained there." Ledererová recalls. The 1942 photo of Helena had been taken by the renowned photographer Vilem Frendl, in his studio in Zdar nad Sazavou. Helena had paid for the photograph, but she never picked it up. She left for Terezin and her life ended somewhere in Poland, in a gas chamber. When, in 2005, ninety-four-year-old Frendl was sorting through his archives, he found the photo of a Jewish girl, whose name he had since forgotten. He sent it to the local newspaper. The article was discovered in 2009 by Beranova primary school teacher Jaroslava Zadražilová and her students. "My grandfather would have been very happy that Helena’s family received the photograph. He was an extremely honest man; he insisted on the image being given to the right hands. After all it was a proper business trasaction," says the photographer’s grandson.
Rescued by Zionist courses
continuation of title story, page Nr. 3 of Czech daily Lidové noviny
Three sisters and only one survived. Her parents were preparing her to travel to Palestine; yet she ended up in Sweden. "Before the war, we lived with my parents in Jihlava. They had a thriving business, we had holidays abroad, we lived a good life. The atmosphere began to deteriorate and, as a Jew, I was suddenly allowed nothing. Not even to go to the park or to the cinema. Everyone knew about me and when they would see me, they’d rather cross the road and walk on the other side," says eighty-six-year-old Zuzana Ledererová. When she was fifteen, her mother told her about Zionist courses in Prague, preparing young people to travel to Palestine. Upon completion, the children were driven to Denmark and eventually taken to Palestine. "Why didn’t my mother send my two younger sisters, too? Perhaps she wouldn’t have been able to cope with all of us gone. It was hard for her to send me into the unknown, but I was looking forward to it. I thought it was an adventure," explains Zuzana. Should her parents have not enrolled her in the course, her fate would have been different. All the relatives who stayed behind ended up on transports. Nobody survived. The courses in which Zuzana was enrolled were also attended by German children from the Sudetenland. Children were taught basic skills and left in 1939 for Denmark, where they lived with Danish families. "I was looking forward to a kibbutz in Palestine. It was tempting to live somewhere in the community," explains Zuzana. The first two groups of children managed to travel to Palestine before the roads were closed. Zuzana’s group, the third one, could not leave. Even in Denmark the pressure against Jews increased. Helped by a nice young man, Arnost, whom she met at school and grew to love, she decided to leave for Sweden. Along the way Arnost and Zuzana decided to marry. After the war, the couple returned to Czechoslovakia, but their homeland seemed foreign. Family and friends had disappeared and they felt that they had nothing to build upon. The couple thought of returning to Denmark, where they had found their second home. Formalities prior to departure took too long to sort out, and with the arrival of the year 1948, their hopes were dashed. Documents and belongings prepared for travel were unpacked as their plans disintegrated. Zuzana Ledererová became a translator and an interpreter from Danish. Her husband graduated to become a lawyer, but was able to work only as an economist at a saw mill.
Examples from Czech, Danish and Swedish Press: