Robert Bardfeld

12.11.2012 | 00:00
Robert Bardfeld

Are Bad Times a Vulgar Term?

Prof. Robert Bardfeld was born on 10th June 1925 in Dobřichovice near Prague as the only child of a mechanical engineer Simon (Simcha) Bardfeld and Marie, née Halfínová. After some time, the family moved to Prague where the father worked for a transportation company and the mother was a housewife.
Robert went to primary school in Smíchov and fi nished secondary school in Vršovice where his family had moved to. After his father’s successful job interview for the position of a technical school teacher in Most, the family moved again. Robert started attending grammar school in Most but after the annexation of the Sudetenland, following the Munich Agreement, the family returned to Prague. After the technical school relocated from Most to Roudnice, the Bardfelds moved there as well. His father started teaching at the technical school and Robert went to the local grammar school. He enjoyed going to a scout group and thanks to his father, he grew fond of machinery and he dreamt of reading engineering at university. The family did not go on family holidays; they just went to a summer fl at in Černošice a few times.
On Saturday, 20th June 1942, the sixth-former Robert had breakfast, put on his shorts, jacket and wooden soled sandals and left home. Robert used to go to school with his friend Kubík, who lived in the same street. A German, who taught at Roudnice grammar school also lived in the same street and much later they found out that it was this very teacher who had been the cause of their troubles to come. The Saturday lessons went on and on; they were in their chemistry class and were looking forward to their fi nal class of the day – PE. But the bell ringing would not come. That is the reason why professor Trefný sent out a student Moucha to fi nd out why the caretaker had not sounded the bell yet. As soon as Moucha peeped out of the door he came back and reported: “Our school is swarming with SS-uniforms”. Soon after that, a Gestapo member Völkel from Kladno entered the classroom and asked: “Are students Bardfeld, Fabian and Kubík present?” And added, “Do you know why I am asking you that? You don’t? Well, you are going to fi nd out in a minute – in Terezín”. When the German teacher entered the classroom Robert felt uneasy especially when the teacher started eyeing the boys with a frosty look. Soon after, the SS-men drove the whole class downstairs to the school yard. Robert and a few other boys and girls from the seventh form were put on a bus and taken to the Small Fortress in Terezín. It was about one o’clock when they were forced to stand by a wall for hours.
Robert fainted after a few hours while interrogations were in progress. The fi rst thing the interrogator asked Robert was whether he approved of the assassination of Heydrich. Another question followed: “Have you and your mates been planning to kill the German grammar school teacher? “ As he did not approve of the assassination and had not been planning to kill the teacher, the interrogator suggested to him, “If you make a confession, you can go home tomorrow, if not, your father will be brought here and things will get worse”. Robert was still only a boy but he realized it was a trick. He did not confess to anything and the interrogator motioned to the warden standing nearby, who then hit Robert on the head – it might have been with a small stool. Robert fell on the floor and woke up in the so-called dunkel cell no 1 (dark cell) where he stayed until the following day. Later, most of the students were moved to cell no 7 where they stayed for about two weeks and then they were put into mass cell no 26. In turns, they had their hair cut, dressed in old, possibly Belgian uniforms and the inmates started digging a pool for the daughters of the camp commander SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinrich Jöckel (nicknamed “Piňďa”). After some time, they started going to work in Ústí nad Labem and in the chemical factory in Lovosice. This went on until 5th October 1942, when students Bardfel, Broft, Fabián and Tůma were called out of cell no 26 and were isolated in the yard outside the washrooms and were allowed to write a letter home. Afterwards, they were taken to the train station in Bohušovice and along with other prisoners were put into a wagon for prisoners known as “hen”. Their fi rst stop was in Dresden where they were forced onto a diff erent train and in the evening they arrived in Leipzig. They were kept there for two nights and then continued by train to Halle an der Saale where they spent two nights again. The next leg of the journey took them to Weimar where they got in minibuses that took them to the concentration camp Buchenwald.
Here, Robert was made part of a “Kommando” (a basic unit of slave labourers) that went to work in a nearby stone quarry. They also discovered that if you had any infl uential mates in the camp you could be given a better job. He tried to solve his situation by pretending to be ill and so he ended up in the infi rmary. Here, he was helped by the head doctor Matoušek, who was a Czech prisoner and a former senior consultant and who kept Robert there fi rst as a patient and about a month later, when it would have been suspicious, he tasked him with tidying the laboratory up. As this job did not take up the whole day, Robert started helping the doctor, who was a German anti-fascist. Soon after, Robert “began to study his fi rst term of medicine”, there in Buchenwald, and because of that he survived and saw the liberation of the camp on 11th April 1945 by the Americans. He stayed in the camp until 18th May, when partisans from the region of Kladno arrived in a few cars. Then Robert could start his journey back home. After three days, he arrived in Kladno, where he was picked up by his father and the two of them then returned home.
During the next three months Robert managed to prepare himself for his grammar school final examination which he passed at Roudnice grammar school on 17th September 1945. Then he wanted to enrol at university to study his dream engineering but he had not taken an exam in descriptive geometry so he decided (luckily for many of us) to enrol on a medical course and graduated on 20th May 1950. A fortnight before his military service enlistment (1st Feb 1951), he got married to his schoolmate Jana from the grammar school in Roudnice. At the time of his arrest, she was in the second form and while Robert was in Buchenwald she moved to the sixth form when girls are at their most graceful. Robert was seriously worried that because of the dire lack of doctors the army would keep him longer than two years. Fortunately, he was released from the military service as scheduled. He fi nished his service on Saturday and on Sunday he and his father returned his uniform to the army by post. On Monday he started working for the hospital in Písek.
However the army knew very well that it lacked doctors. Despite the fact that Robert managed to avoid being recalled to the army for a year, he still had to fi nd a legal security. Hope came for him in the form of a job interview at children’s clinic in Vinohradská Hospital in Prague.
This hope depended on the condition that the Regional Council would issue a permit to him. The council did not issue this permit so he went for a job interview at the Science Medical Centre at the hospital in Podolí where he succeeded and the Regional Council approved of his new position. Unfortunately, another female doctor from Pilsen was chosen over him. Robert was lucky to get a recommendation from a professor to go to the Institute of Rheumatology Na Slupi. He went for an interview with Professor František Lenoch and was off ered a job. He started working with a scientist of worldwide acclaim who spoke 15 languages. The professor spoke amongst others Amharic which he had learned when he had been invited by the emperor Haile Selassie to establish baths in Ethiopia.
Robert Bardfeld and his family moved to Prague. He got rid of the army once and for all and was employed in the Institute of Rheumatology until 2011. He went on secondments to Germany, Italy, and Switzerland and was invited to rheumatology congresses worldwide. Arguably, he is the most signifi cant follower of Professor Lenoch in the fi eld of rheumatology (thanks to Robert, in Prague there is a street bearing the name Františka Lenocha). He considers his biggest achievements the Czechoslovak War Cross 1939 which he was awarded in 1946 and the Czechoslovak Military Medal of Merit Second Class. His professional achievements were recognized at the World Rheumatology Congress in Prague (1969). Robert and Jana Bardfeld have two daughters who are doctors, Helena (1951) and Eva (1955), grandchildren Veronika, Daniel, Lukáš, Martin and Jana, and also two great-grandchildren – five-year-old Vojtíšek and three-year-old Vítek.

For Památník Terezín, Luděk Sládek

Postcard to his parents before arrival from Terezín Postcard from Buchenwald Robert's portrait from Buchewaldu from Italian
Francesco, secretly sent to the parents
to the Protectorate (November 1944) Postcard to his parents before arrival from Terezín Postcard from Buchenwald Welcome letter from his classmate Zdeněk (June 1945) After the return from Buchenwald camp (1945) Family photo from the 1950s Letter from Buchewald, February 15, 1943 Letter from Buchewald, February 15, 1943 Wedding day of Robert and Zdenka January 4, 1951 Post-war meeting of students from Roudnice in Terezín Robert was awarded by Military Medal of Merit Second Class in 1946

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