At the Terezin ghetto, children were housed separately from adults, and boys separately from girls. Each home had an adult supervisor who held illegal classes so that the children would not be behind in their education once they were free from imprisonment. One home, which housed boys aged 13 to 15, set up their own government and also secretly created a magazine that included poems, articles, columns, dialogues, artwork, and whatever the boys and their teacher wanted to record. They gathered every Friday night from 1942 to 1944 to read aloud the week’s issue. Most of the boys perished in the death camps. Of the few who survived, one managed to save the magazine. The book We Are Children Just the Same is a compilation of selections from the magazine, with additional excerpts from the diaries of the children, letters to their families, and artwork not only from the magazine but from other children of Terezin as well. The following selections are reprinted from We Are Children Just the Same, with permission by the Jewish Publication Society.
The Thaw, By Orce
Silently, lightly, slowly it drifts down
Onto the black and bleeding earth,
From somewhere up high, steadily descending
Whirling in the air on a tender breeze.
Covering all and glittering strangely,
As if to envelop this aged rot
And as in a dream, suddenly everything
Becomes once again what it once used to be.
Hidden is the filth that blankets the world
Hidden the darkness that blinds us all
Hidden the hunger that makes us retch,
Hidden the paid that breaks our backs.
Just for a while we breathe again freely
Drugged by the glitter, by the world all in white
I look out the window, the steady snow falling
And suddenly everything’s water again.
Orce is the pseudonym used by Zdenek Ornest (1929-1990), one of the few survivors among the many contributors to Vedem. One of the three editors of We Are Children Just the Same, Ornest died before the book’s publication. This poem is one of many which he wrote while imprisoned in Terezin.
Collage by Milan Eisler (survived)
One of the Everyday Aspects of Life in the Terezin Ghetto, By Don Herberto
It is cold. The streets of Terezin are completely snowed under and the snow is already beginning to freeze in the bitter cold. I amble slowly along the sidewalk, watching life in the street. Suddenly I catch sight of an old man of about eighty, with white hair and a white beard. Were I to judge him by the way he walks I wouldn’t put him at more than 40. He walks briskly, carrying his mess kit. Perhaps he is going to fetch his lunch. Suddenly he stumbles and falls on the frozen, unsanded sidewalk. He hits his head on the pavement and lies there without moving. Passersby rush up to help the old man and one of them, a doctor, judging by the badge of Aesculapius he is wearing, examines the old man, but all he can do is confirm death.
A few days after this occurrence I visited one of the blocks. As I entered one of the many rooms, a terrible stench hit me. Along the dusty walls there were two rows of wooden bunks. When I went further into the room I saw that the bunks were occupied by many old men and women with sunken cheeks. Some were groaning weakly. I approached a man in a white coat who was on duty with two nurses. I asked what the matter with these people was, and where in fact I was.
“My boy,” said the man in the white coat, “this is the hospital for the aged. Most of them are suffering from pneumonia. Don’t forget, we’re in Terezin. They get cold in the unheated rooms and crawl into bed for warmth. Then they get pneumonia and in a few days they’re gone.” And the doctor hurried off.
I am not particularly sensitive but later, when I thought about these two occurrences, which are surely quite common in the ghetto, I felt like crying. Never before had the horror of Terezin struck me so compellingly as then. And once again, I was richer by another experience.