Fredy Hirsch

25.03.2015 | 21:34
Fredy Hirsch

Our next story from the Terezín ghetto is dedicated to a man who has often been referred to by those who had known him and who, like him, had experienced the hell of the concentration camps in Terezín and Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is Alfred Hirsch (1916–1944), a Jewish teacher, great sportsman and Zionist but above all, a leading character in education of children in the inhumane conditions in Nazi camps.

Place and time of the plot: Extermination camp for Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau, March 1944. There are nearly four thousand Czech prisoners herded into quarantine section B-II-1. According to the assurances from the SS-men they are supposed to be transferred to another labour camp. However, some of the underground members find out that all those inmates are scheduled to be murdered in the gas chambers in the hours to come. The leaders of the prisoners come together to have a meeting – it is necessary to organize a revolt. Fredy Hirsch is chosen as their leader. When they announce their decision to him, Fredy takes an hour to think it over. When the hour had passed, they found him lying in coma.

Alfred Hirsch, aka „Fredy“, was born in 1916 in Aachen, Germany. He emigrated to Prague in 1933, after the rise of Hitler. Thanks to his charisma and physical fitness he soon worked his way up in the local Jewish community to become a spiritual and sports leader of the Jewish youth. Being a convinced Zionist, he would meet with young people in order to prepare them ideologically as well as physically for their life in Palestine where they were supposed to make up the basis of the new Jewish state. However, all those plans were spoilt by the Nazi occupation in 1939. Hitler’s regime introduced harsh anti-Jewish measures in the Protectorate, which peaked in Autumn 1941 in so called Final Solution of the Jewish Matter, which was a mere cover term for the physical elimination of the Jewish population.

The Nazis immediately started deportation, fi rst to Lodz, in Poland, and later to the Terezín fortress in northern Bohemia, which they turned into a new Jewish ghetto. One of the fi rst “builders” of the ghetto was also Fredy Hirsch. The ghetto was formally run by a Jewish self-governing body of which Fredy became a member. The “Council of Elders” did not have any means of improving the conditions of thousands of the inmates and so they focused their attention on the youth and children in particular, as they hoped these young people and children would become the post-war hope for the Jewish homeland in Palestine. There, Fredy mainly took care of children. Even in Terezín he organized their spiritual and physical education within the limits.

However, in Hitler’s plans the Terezín ghetto was only a temporary stopover for the imprisoned Jews. From time to time, the military headquarters ordered deportation transports bound east - to the death camps. At the beginning of September 1943, Fredy Hirsch was also scheduled to go on one of them. A transport with fi ve thousand prisoners arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau. All the men, women and children were placed in a so-called family camp B-II-b. The experienced prisoners could only guess at what their future fate would be. They learned from the central register that there was a note for all the newcomers saying „Sonderbehandlung nach sechs Monaten Quarantäne“. In Hitler’s secret code this meant death in the gas chamber within six months.

Neither Fredy nor the other prisoners in the family camp had any idea about this death sentence. Therefore not even here did Fredy intend to twiddle his thumbs. He tried to make camp life easier at least for the children. He managed to convince the SS-men to set up a special wing for the children in which they could spend their days in relative warmth and safety. Here, Fredy gathered children up to the age of fourteen and arranged a carer for them and even better food for the youngest ones and he himself assumed the leader’s position. He protected his charges against cold and frost, against the atrocities of the camp, the violence of the SS-men as well as the sadistic wardens, and against the backdrop of the smoking crematorium chimneys.

Fredy would also arrange the daily schedule. The carers played various games with the children. They taught them to sing and recite and gave many of them reading and writing lessons. Fredy and his co-workers put together makeshift drama and reciting shows. One of the most successful ones was Fredy’s adaptation of the popular “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” based on the famous Disney fi lm. As the carers had to see to the daily bathroom routine and cleanliness of the children the “dwarves” sang: „Jeder Zwerg muss sauber sein, ob er gross ist oder klein“ (every dwarf must be clean be it a big one or a small one). Sometimes, even the “Head Doctor” of the camp, the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele found his way to the children’s wing and he knew very well that the time of the inmates would soon be over.

Hitler’s men were precise in keeping their resolution – at the beginning of March 1944, the specific period assigned to the lives of the September transport prisoners elapsed. On the eighth of the month, the SS-men gathered nearly 3800 men, women and children – all those who were still alive after the six months, and transported them to the Auschwitz gas chambers. This was the biggest mass murder of Czech nationals during the Second World War. However, Fredy Hirsch died before that. Maybe, he poisoned himself because he could not cope with the fact that if he had taken that action all his children would have defi nitely died too. It is more likely that lethal poison was administered to him by the prisoners themselves who believed that they would indeed go to work somewhere else and any attempt at revolting would put an end to their smooth departure.

At the unveiling ceremony of Hirsch’s bust in Terezín, one of the survivors, Zuzana Růžičková, said: “Hopefully, after the departure of the last of us who had known him, someone from the new generation will stand here at this spot saying – he must have been a good, beautiful and courageous man”.

text Toman Brod, Luděk Sládek



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