Karel Poláček

02.11.2014 | 00:00
Karel Poláček

He died in the place where everything began

We will speak about Karel Poláček, a native of Rychnov nad Kněžnou (born 22nd March 1892), who died on 21st January 1945 not far from the Upper Silesian township Gleiwitz. Just here on 31st August 1939 the German members of SD attacked their own transmitter and they left in the place the bodies of dead prisoners from the Dachau camp, dressed in Polish uniforms. The attack should have justifi ed the subsequent invasion to Poland.

Karel Poláček’s father, Jindřich, was a Jewish grocer and mother Sophie Kohnová brought up seven children: Karel, Arnošt, Kamil, Ludvík and Zdeněk, but also Berta and Milan of his father’s second marriage. Karel started to attend the Upper Secondary School in Rychnov, but he was expulsed and graduated only in Prague (1922). After that here he enrolled at the faculty of law. During World War I he was sent to the Russian front, at the end of the War he surrendered himself to Serbian captivity. After returning home he worked as an offi ce worker and in 1920 he started writing. At first he wrote for satirical magazines, later for Lidové noviny (The People’s Newspaper), Tvorba, České slovo and humorist magazine Dobrý den (Good Day). In 1933 he returned to Lidové noviny from where he was dismissed for his Jewish origin in 1939. During the Nazi occupation he worked as a librarian with the Jewish Community. He succeeded in saving at least his daughter Jiřina against Nazis, who he helped to leave for emigration.
But on 5th July 1943 he alone was deported from Prague, by the “De” transport together with other 602 prisoners, to the Terezín Ghetto. As later the eyewitness Hana Dobešová-Fischerová stated: “Karel had already come to Terezín in a poor form, he was not sports-minded. In Terezín he gave lectures, I attended some of them, he even gave me a small piece of paper twice that I would be allowed to go to the showers. As a writer he was known and popular among the Czechs In Terezín, by the way there were world-famous fi gures and had to do the worst jobs. He left for Auschwitz in the same transport as my father on 16 th October 1944. I could see him a short time before he got on the transport, when leaving he was so miserable, skin and bone, he was a total wreck”. Poláček departed from Terezín to Auschwitz together with other 1500 prisoners in the Es transport on 19th October 1944. Martin Jelinowicz, a grandson of Karel Poláček, was born after World War II and he has never known his grandfather. Nowadays he lives in Ontario, Canada. As he says himself: “Everything, I know about my grandfather, is only from narration of my mother, who was, when she parted from his father in 1939, 17 years old. Since then they have never seen one another. Everything, that she remembered about him, she wrote out in a tiny brochure “My Father Karel Poláček”. Another source is a couple of letters from the Protectorate, which were written by my grandfather to his partner, Ms. Dora Vaňáková. The letters were published with the Škvorecký’s Sixty-Eight Publishers in Toronto in June 1984 under the title “The Last Letters to Dora”. Martin provided a short preface for this brochure, written on the basis of memories of his father and Ms. Fialová, who worked in Terezín as a typist. Although she never met Karel Poláček in Terezín, she bore a general witness to the living reality in the ghetto. For long years it was believed that Karel Poláček died in Auschwitz. Only recently the eyewitness, a Slovak woman Klára Baumöhlová, testifi ed that Karel Poláček had survived the march from Auschwitz to branch camps, and both to Hindenburg and Gleiwitz. However he did not pass a selection and on 21st January 1945 he was executed and buried into a mass grave jointly with hundreds of other prisoners. Although the Nazis took from Poláček everything including his life, his work is immortal. Let us remember at least some fi lm screenplays such as Men in Off side, Conversion of Ferdys Pistora, Inn “At the Stone Table”, There Were Five of Us, In Our Town of Kocourkov (a topic) or Edudant and Francimor (a TV bedtime story).
Karel Poláček was awarded in memoriam The Tomas Masaryk Order Second Class in 1995.

Karel Poláček’s postscript
Time plays strange games with human fates. The evidence of this is a gift to the Jewish Museum in Prague of an unknown collection of photographs of Karel Poláček, as well as documents and correspondence, including documents from the period when he was in the Terezín Ghetto. The collection of documents comes from the estate of Anna Vlková, who lived in Karel Poláček’s neighbourhood in Prague’s Vršovice during the occupation.
The collection includes three dozen so far unknown documents; postcards from the Terezín ghetto, portrait photographs of Karel Poláček and his close friend Dora Vaňáková. There are also many snapshots taken on the roof terrace of the house at the beginning of summer 1943. Just a few days before Karel and Dora went on the transport, which left on July 5, 1943 to the ghetto in Terezín. Before his departure, Karel gave, for safekeeping, his passport, the death notice of his father Jindřich Poláček, and his brother Arnošt’s photo-postcards from battlefi elds of the First World War to the Vlk family. Later on, photographs, a letter and eight postcards from Karel Poláček from the Terezín ghetto, which had a common addressee Oskar Weisz in Prague-Michle (brother of Dora) were added. The tenth autumn transport in October 1944 to Auschwitz-Březinka was fatal for Dora and Karel Poláček.
Another unique document from the time before the departure of Karel Poláček to Terezín is his diary, With the Yellow Star (published by Krajský dům osvěty in Hradec Králové, 1959). It introduces the author’s opinions, insights, ideas, thoughts and aphorisms that he wrote in his diary in 1943, while every day expecting his summons to Terezín.
May 10: “I’m lazy to take the pen in my hand: a person is probably the laziest when it comes to writing. Because of this characteristic, people break up – people do not want to write a letter. They prefer to go to the dentist. I have stayed in Prague for the time being; I’m in a book warehouse. There is a Spanish ceremony here; who is leaving must undergo ballot…” (secret ballot, originally with black and white balls)
June 20: “Until this time, I haven’t written a line. Meanwhile, the committee was in Kladno, now in Kolín; and I did not go anywhere. On the balcony, the watercress and the broad bean have blossomed; and two turtles bask in the sun…” (last entry in the diary).

Source: Martin Jelinowicz
Photo © Terezín Memorial and Josef Krám
For the Terezín Memorial by Luděk Sládek


Karel Poláček Karel Poláček Karel Poláček, fi rst row, second from the left Karel Poláček, in front of his father’s shop The birth house of Karel Poláček Postcard from from Terezín to O. Weisz, November 26, 1943 Postcard from from Terezín to O. Weisz, January 23, 1944 Postcard from from Terezín to O. Weisz, February 11, 1944 Karel writes a letter addressed to Anna Vlková on behalf of the
dachshund dog Bibina Obrázek č.10 Hradecké medailonky (Essays), Karel Poláček – With the Yellow Star Dora, Karel and Mydlinka, terrace of the house in Ruská Street 1024,
Vršovice, summer 1943 Obrázek č.13 Obrázek č.14 Transmitter in Gliwice Obrázek č.16 Characters of famous book There Were Five of Us (Rychnov nad
Kněžnou) Memorial of K. Poláček in Rychnov nad Kněžnou Martin Jelinowicz in Rychnov nad Kněžnou Guided tour of the city Rychnov nad Kněžnou
„In the footsteps of Karel Poláček Grandson of Karel Poláček, Martin Jelinowicz Memorial plaque
of Karel Poláček
in Rychnov nad

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