PRAGUE (Mar. 9)
It hasn’t been long since Sen. John Kerry learned that he had relatives who were killed in the Holocaust.
Now Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, is getting documents about the last days of his paternal grandmother’s brother and sister.
During a visit to New York on Sunday, the chairman of Prague’s Jewish community, Tomas Jelinek, presented the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research with copies of the original transport lists for Otto and Jenny Loewe — Kerry’s paternal grandmother’s brother and sister, who were sent to their deaths on Nazi transports.
Jelinek said he decided to track down the records in Prague after learning about Kerry’s Jewish roots from American media reports.
“I presented copies of the records to YIVO as a gift and asked them to pass them on to Sen. Kerry,” Jelinek told JTA. “We know how touching this kind of information is for Jewish communities in Europe and thought it would be of interest to Sen. Kerry’s family.”
The records show that Otto, who was born in Budapest, was transported from Vienna to Terezin transit camp — Theresienstadt — in August 1942. He died at Theresienstadt on June 29, 1943.
His sister, Jenny, was transported later from Vienna to Theresienstadt. On Sept. 26, 1942, she was sent from Theresienstadt to the Maly Trostinec concentration camp in Belarus, where she subsequently was killed.
Jelinek presented the records at the launch of an exhibition of the works of the late Czech artist Alfred Kantor, who depicted scenes of everyday Nazi brutality during the Holocaust.
Kantor, who survived Theresienstadt, produced 127 drawings and sketches from memory after the originals had been lost. Kantor emigrated to the United States after the war and died last year in Maine.
Jelinek also was in New York to launch a fund-raising drive for a new $6 million senior home for Holocaust survivors in Prague, called Project Hagibor. The planned 60-bed facility aims to provide round-the-clock care for some of Prague’s estimated 1,500 Holocaust survivors.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel is behind the project.
“In the history of our country, the biggest killing of Czech citizens in one day happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau on March 8, 60 years ago,” Havel wrote in a letter of support for the project. “Entire families, including children, were killed. The only thing that made them guilty was being Jewish.”
Havel said he is afraid that there remains a lot of indifference in Czech society to the Holocaust.
“I am afraid — something only a very few people admit — that our present indifference towards this and other tragedies of the past and present makes us accomplices,” he wrote.
“I am very happy that you are meeting today to honor the memory of those who are deceased and at the same time to support a project that should help to lessen the life hardships of those who used to be prisoners in the concentration camps and ghettos, at least in their twilight years,” he wrote.