PRAGUE, Oct. 29 (JTA) — A group of Czech Holocaust survivors has traveled to Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the first Czech transports to Lodz.
The focus of the trip was a ceremony held in the Jewish Cemetery in Lodz, where a memorial plaque dedicated to Czechs sent to the former ghetto was unveiled by the Czech ambassador to Poland, Jan Misiarz, and representatives of the Prague Jewish Community.
Fewer than 300 of the 5,000 Jews transported from the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia survived the war.
The plaque, in Czech and English, reads simply: “To the memory of those who perished in the Lodz ghetto from Czech transports.”
A letter from President Vaclav Havel was read aloud at the ceremony.
“In this exact location, where we are confronted with the apocalypse of the Holocaust, we are more sensitive to warnings of what violence, hatred and intolerance lead to,” Havel wrote.
“I feel there is a need to remember past history, despite the shock and horror. We should not forget the names of the victims and I hope that this place will become a memorial and an unforgettable challenge to future generations.”
Former teacher Vera Schlezingerova, one of seven Czech Holocaust survivors to make the trip, came up with the idea of a memorial after receiving cash donations from fellow survivors living in the United States and elsewhere.
She admitted that it was hard for her to return to the scene of so many bad memories.
“I always told myself that I would never return to Lodz,” she told JTA, “but I was persuaded by a friend. It was very difficult for me to come, but I am glad I did because I feel it was my duty to do so.”
Schlezingerova was 17 when she arrived in Lodz along with her mother and father, neither of whom survived the war.
She recalled how people had so little food that many picked nettles and thistles and made them into pancakes.
“They were very bad times,” she said.
Many Czech Jews deported to Lodz died in the concentration camp in the town of Chelmno, about 50 miles from Lodz. A large number died in trucks that had been converted into mobile gas chambers.
The chairman of the Prague Jewish Community, Tomas Jelinek, who attended the ceremony, said his great-grandparents had almost certainly died in that fashion.
“For me, this was the first chance to see the place where my great- grandparents were forced to stay,” he said. “One lady with us was looking for the grave of her mother who died exactly 59 years ago to the day. It was a very moving occasion.”