Wartime Czech tragedy still a mystery


PRAGUE, June 13 (JTA) — When the Nazis destroyed the Czech village of Lidice in June 1942, the atrocity made headlines around the world.

The Nazis shot more than 170 men, and they dispatched dozens of women and children to concentration camps in reprisal for the assassination of Hitler’s chief SS official in Prague, Reinhard Heydrich.

But few people are aware of an even greater tragedy that befell the town of Kolin.

On June 13, 1942 — about a week after the death of Heydrich, who was a key architect of the “Final Solution” — 1,000 Jews from areas surrounding Kolin were sent on a journey from which they never returned.

Some call it the “Lost Train of Kolin.”

The transport was last known to have reached Poland, but no one survived to tell the story. Historians are still trying to learn the train’s final destination.

Remarkably, some of that story lives on, thanks to a handful of Jews who were released from the train shortly before it left and somehow managed to make it through the war.

One of the lucky few was 75-year-old Hana Greenfield, an Israel-based Holocaust lecturer and author who ascribes her survival to the Nazis’ obsession with detail.

“The Nazis told us that 1,000 Jews were to be sent on a penalty train to camps for the death of Heydrich,” said Greenfield, who was born in Kolin. “There were 1,050 on the train, so I was one of 50 people who were told to get off and make our way to Terezin.”

Greenfield not only survived Terezin — the transit camp also known by its German name, Theresienstadt — but also endured Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, as well as a period of slave labor in Hamburg, Germany, toward the end of the war.

Her older sister, Irene Ravel, was also told to leave the doomed transport.

At the age of 77, Ravel still provides guided tours of Terezin.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy today for the sisters is that, unlike Lidice, Kolin’s City Hall does not remember the Lost Train.

While hundreds turned out Sunday in the rebuilt Lidice to mark the anniversary of the Nazi destruction and to remember the dead, Kolin’s only moment of remembrance was a lecture in the town’s Jewish synagogue by Greenfield.

“People here don’t want to remember,” said Greenfield. “You can see it in their faces that they are embarrassed that nothing more was done to help the Jews.”

Meanwhile, the hunt goes on for the missing train.

Vojtech Blodig of the Terezin Museum said efforts were hampered by the fact that no official documents have been found to establish the final destination of the transport.

“Nobody survived this transport, and we can only guess what happened,” he told JTA.

Blodig said it is not even certain that the train was a punishment transport for the assassination of Heydrich, given that three transports left Kolin for various destinations within a matter of weeks.

Greenfield has a different opinion.

“I know what happened because I was there,” she said. “We were held for three days in Kolin, and during this time the Nazis told us that this was a penalty train for the death of Heydrich.

“None of us knew where this transport was going and what would happen,” she said. “For me, it was a sort of adventure because we had been held for so long without being able to go anywhere or do anything.”

Kolin City Hall has no plans to officially commemorate the lost train.

But as long as the sisters live, they, at least, will never forget.

“People say it is a question of God, luck or fate, whatever, that we survived,” said Ravel. “Who knows why we are still around today.”

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