Survivors remember first transport to Terezín in winter of 1941

Terezin

It's exactly seventy years since the first transport of Czechoslovak Jews left Prague, bound for the garrison town of Terezín, transformed by the Nazis into a ghetto and concentration camp. Some 140,000 Jewish men, women and children were sent to Terezín, known as Theresienstadt in German; most of them were later killed at Auschwitz. A number of events were held this week bringing together Terezín survivors, one of them on Thursday evening at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes.

A recording of Professor Pavel Oliva, now a respected academic and historian, recalling the song he and other teenagers sang as their train headed north out of Prague in the winter of 1941, headed for the fortress town of Terezín.

The very first transport of Czechoslovak Jews left Prague on November 24th, 1941. They were sent there to prepare the town for the arrival of thousands of others - Jews from all over occupied Europe - who were crammed into the squalid barracks, and when the 18th century fortress could take no more, into the surrounding houses.

Two of the 342 people who were on that very first transport were present at a meeting at the Institute of the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in Žižkov on Thursday - 70 years to the day since the first transport left Prague.

Miloš Dobrý
“My name is Miloš Dobrý. My original name was Gut – G-U-T - and because I survived the Holocaust, and I had a German name, and I hated all the Germans, so I changed the name to Dobrý – it’s a translation. I’m now 88, and when Hitler came and occupied Czechoslovakia, it was 1939 and I was 16. Well, you know what happened with Jewish people – I have no need to tell you. When I survived the Holocaust – Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Schwarzheide - I came back. My parents perished in Auschwitz. Only my brother, who was a year younger than me, survived.”

Miloš, at 18 the youngest member of that first transport, says he survived thanksto a passion for sport and physical fitness.

"I was a sportsman, I played all kinds of sport; basketball, volleyball, football, handball, swimming, so I was fit enough, first, and I took it as a...not as a match, as a challenge, against the SS. And so I behaved as a player who was put in the middle of the game."

And in the end you won the game, right? You survived.

“I can’t say that I won. But I avoided all the dangerous things which were done in Auschwitz and so on. I think that 80% of it was luck, and 20% was my personal initiative as a player.”

A total of 35,000 Jews died at Terezín of starvation, maltreatment and disease; those who survived were herded onto cattle trucks bound for the east. After the war Miloš Dobrý finished secondary school, married a fellow Terezín survivor, and later enjoyed a successful sporting career, playing for his country as a rugby international and founding a rugby club in Olomouc which still exists today. But the game of his life, he says, was played behind barbed wire, with wit, cunning and determination.

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