Dec 2 1941: most every Jew from Brno Czechoslovakia including Franta Bass and family were deported to the Terrizen ghetto; called by the Germans Theresienstad. The Jews shouldered as much of their material life as they could carry, packed it in sacks, luggage, pockets; most of their life left behind for the blue-eyed vultures to pick over.
The Franta Bass family had no idea what was in store for them; they were forced to live in a German Nazi sponsored ghetto. The concept of a ghetto is historically understood by Jews: “What could be that bad, it’s only a ghetto.”
That same day, December 2, 1941, on the transport arrival to Theresienstadt along with the Bass family and other Jews was Jacob Edelstein, appointed by Otto Adolf Eichmann, SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel), to chairperson the Council of Jewish Elders, responsible for the “self-administration” of the Theresienstadt ghetto-camp. Edelstein along with fellow appointees dealt with municipal services, housing, water, sanitation and policing. They also saw to educational activities, cultural events and religious celebrations. This all feels and looks like a Ghetto. “What could be so awful?”
This: Council of Elders had to ration a meager food supply to those who could work, leaving the elderly and disabled more vulnerable to disease and starvation. (The Nazis had to build an unplanned for crematorium on the grounds of Theresienstadt to dispose of those who died from starvation and disease, 200 a day.)
“What could be so awful?” This: the Council Members had to choose who would be deported to the gas chambers or labor camps and who would remain — who might live and who might die. Not a great job, not easy to live with, a no win situation. None of the council survived. If they did, in the days to come, living with oneself could be a chore.
The Council of Elders allotted several large houses to accommodate children. Attention was given to the welfare and education of the children. The idea was to keep the children separate from the adults to reduce their vulnerability to depression and despair. Overall the children were housed and fed better than the adults.
The children learn from some of the most sophisticated teachers in German-speaking Central Europe, who were among the prominent Jews to arrive in Theresienstadt. That was one of the defining features of the Theresienstad ghetto-camp; the best artist, musicians, composers, authors, thinkers were in the mix.
All that special attention given the children. And look what Theresienstad ends up with. Out of 15,000 children who spent time at Theresienstad 100 survived. Still, in no way in vain; see and hear what the children gave to themselves and what they left to us: “Children’s Exhibit” at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. Collection of the children’s art and poetry from Terezin in the book titled “I never saw another butterfly.”
Franta Bass under the guidance of teacher found an outlet for coping with the awful, frightful, depressing conditions he lived with day-to-day by writing poetry. His poetry gave him the courage to face his imminent death. It gives me, us, us Jews the will, strength, determination, focus to string-up evil by its throat, strangle it, look it in the eye and say, “Never, never again, in the name of Franta Bass and his poetry, never again.”
As Franta wrote in his poem, “I am a Jew.” … “I will always come back to life.”