Michal Kraus

27.05.2015 | 12:14
Michal Kraus

The Diary of a Young Boy
Our stories from the Terezín Ghetto also inherently include the memories of Michal Kraus, who lost his parents in the Nazi concentration camps. It is only by incredible luck that he survived his stay in Terezín, Auschwitz, and Mauthausen, as well as two three-day death marches. He wrote down the details of these in the years immediately after the war into his Diary, which he never planned to publish.

Michal was born in Náchod, to the Jewish family of the physician Karel Kraus (May 8, 1891 – July 11, 1944), the son of the merchant Josef Kraus and his second wife Wilhelmina, born Franková. His dad studied at the German Benedictine Grammar School in Broumov (1901–1908) and in 1910, he graduated with a medical degree at the University of Vienna. In the interwar period, he was a GP and specialist in skin diseases. Here he also met Michal‘s mum Lotte Goldschmidová (March 26, 1898 – January 8, 1945), the daughter of the merchant Max Michael Goldschmid from Náchod and Matilda, born Neumannová. Rabbi Dr. Gustav Sicher performed their wedding ceremony on March 14, 1928. Michal, the only child of the Kraus family, was born on June 28, 1930 in Trutnov and he attended Year 1 of the Primary Boys’ School of T. G. Masaryk in Náchod in September 1936. At the time of the signing of the Munich Agreement, Michal was a thirdgrade student, and in 1939, his school report marks were all ones. But by then, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was established, and the so-called Nuremberg Laws and other regulations came into force that were gradually restricting the movement of Jews, prohibiting pursuing professions, taking property and dignity, and forbidding Michal, the fourth grade student, to go to school. His father could treat only Jewish patients. On June 5, 1941, a list of Jews was created in Náchod and other municipalities, which became the basis for their deportation to ghettos and other concentration camps. In December 1941, Arnold Kraus, the brother of Michal’s father, his wife Bianka, and the family of the former caretaker moved to their villa. However, in May 1942, the Kraus family had to leave their house and move to one room accommodation without water in the Jewish street in Náchod. The mass deportation of the Jewish population from Náchod began on December 14, 1942, when, in Hradec Králové, they were included in transports Ch. On December 17, 1942, the Kraus family was deported to the Terezín ghetto too.
Diary – Transport
It is Friday, November 29, 1942, it is raining outside and I fi nd out that I‘m going to Terezín on December 14th. My mother is angry, but my father is calming her down; “It has to be our turn one day”. We pack and prepare everything for departure. On the fourteenth, in the morning, we arrive at the railway station in Náchod, about 250 people. The fi rst stop is in Hradec Králové, where gold, silver, valuable items and money are taken away. Everyone gets a number they have to hang around their neck. My number was Ch 320. After two days, we left Hradec Králové and went through Prague to Terezín. The welcome was not pleasant and we weren’t treated with kid gloves. After an hour‘s walk from Bohušovice railway station, the ghetto gate closed behind us.
Míša fi rst lived with his mother in house L-425, then in the Hannover barracks at the boys‘ home, which later moved to Q-609. And it was here where on October 29, 1943 the fi rst issue of the magazine Kamarád (Friend) was published, whose main editor was Ivan Polák from Náchod. On the pages of this magazine, the beginning of the serialized novel “Ralph Langdon‘s treasure” by Míša Kraus was printed. Míša took an active part in the preparation of the magazine, until December 15th, when the Kraus family was deported by transport Dr from the Terezín ghetto to the family camp in Auschwitz II Birkenau.
Diary – And yet we fell into it
It is the morning of December 13, 1943. There is a strange activity in the ghetto. The plague is in the houses and barracks. The Register is distributing transports. And really. I suspected right. Our home Q 609 received 15 tickets. On one, there is my name. I expected that. I immediately started packing. Then I rushed to my mother and helped her to pack the food. Early the next morning we set out for the train. Long rows of men, women, children and elders were slowly moving towards the train with heavy luggage. Painful goodbyes to relatives, friends, and mates in front of the Sudeten barracks. Then we went to Jégrovka, the Police barracks. On one side the cattle cars, on the other large piles of luggage and in front of us the record desk; several SS, Chief of Police Janeček and Commandant Burger. A colourful company of German murderers. We walked between them, one after another. Everybody got a number and we said our goodbyes to Terezín. Civilian Service helped us into the high cars – dark, without a single window. There was a bucket and a demijohn with water in the corner. That was all. All they gave us for a two-day journey. When there were fi fty of us inside, they slammed the door, the seal clicked and the darkness surrounded us. On December 17, 1943, at about half eleven at night the train suddenly slowed down and stopped. Through the slit in the door, sharp rays of light fell into the dark space of the wagon. I looked out. I was horrifi ed at the sight I saw through this small narrow slit. I saw so much that I went pale and a chill ran down my back. I saw so little and yet so much. Wires, prisoners in striped suits, and SS personnel with sticks, that must be the concentration camp. But before I could speculate about anything, the door of the wagon opened with a racket, the sharp light of a spotlight shattered the darkness, a shot sounded, and several voices were shouting in German – all out, run, fast, hurry up, out! Leave your luggage and get out! SS personnel and men in striped suits everywhere around us. And around them, only wire fence. And more wire fence. Flames fl ickering out of four chimneys on the left. The sky was red and an odd odour in the air. A strange atmosphere. As if charged with tension of some sort. Heavy tension.
During the elimination of the Dm and Dl transports from September 1943, close relatives of Míša Kraus (Bianca Krausová, Rudolf Kraus with his wife Eliška and their son Bedřich, Alice Schwabacherová and Mariana Steinerová) died in Auschwitz II gas chamber on March 8, 1944. At the beginning of July of that year, Míša‘s mother Lotte was sent from Auschwitz II to the forced-labour concentration camp Stutthof near Gdansk, where she died on January 8, 1945. But Míša did not know this yet.
Diary – Child‘s Diary
In the BIIb family camp, as the name indicates, families were together. This means in the camp, but not in the same block. In the BIIb camp there was an old transport that came from Terezín in September 1943 and our new one from December of that year. With the old transport from Terezín came Fredy Hirsch, a man who lived for the young, for whom he later died. Already in Terezín he obtained many things for the children. He made sports and other things possible. And also in Birkenau. At fi rst, he was a kapo and later he resigned from this high position and moved to his fi eld of study – he became a youth leader. He arranged that children under the age of sixteen did not have to stand in the long line-up in the winter, but they stood in a block reserved for them, where Fredy Hirsch had tables and benches delivered for children and youths. It was a great advantage and saved so many children‘s lives, which unfortunately, most of them still lost. Also our new December transport could, after quarantine in January, move around the camp a little. The transport was assigned work, and the children moved to the eighteenth block with the other children. Since February, they attended the day-care centre and returned in the evening. I was among them too. I was thirteen-and-a-half years old then. Until fourteen years of age we got a better soup and a bigger portion of marmalade. The days stretched. Every hour a new inconvenience happened. Winter, hunger, this was a camp life in BIIb. At the beginning of March there were rumours that the old transport would go away. Nobody knew when and where. It was a socalled scaremongering, but still. On March 7th, all the BIIb camp lined up. The numbers of the old transport were read and the prisoners were leaving the camp one-by-one. Many of my relatives were leaving too, so it meant lots of goodbyes. At fi rst, the entire transport was in the BIIb quarantine camp and then – they were gone. They left at night. Where? That was a big question. Later it turned out that they went to a gas chamber. Fredy Hirsch also went with them. He went with his children for whom he worked, lived, and also died. Only a few doctors and twins were saved. And in this way, all the transports that came to Birkenau, from Poland, Italy, Hungary or other states occupied by the Germans ended.
When the so-called family camp in Auschwitz II was closed on June 6, 1944, Míša, together with another 88 boys, was selected for the work of messenger. His dad did not have that luck and was killed in a gas chamber on July 11, 1944. The same fate befell thousands of older or sick prisoners and the majority of children in the Bllb camp. The front-line was approaching, and the Nazis began evacuating Auschwitz concentration camp. Miša was assigned to the death transport on January 18, 1945, when he joined a three-day, 90-km long march to the railway station in Loslau (today Wodzislaw Slaski) and then a four-day train trip in open wagons in the cold, without food and warm clothes to the concentration camp Mauthausen.
Diary – Mauthausen 1945
After a terrible march, I got to the most awful concentration camp, not knowing anything about my mother who left me in July 1944. I again meet a lot of new people and mainly brutal SS personnel and superiors. They gathered us in a large area between the crematorium, the laundry room and the so-called sauna. The sick were brought to the houses where they were laid on frozen ground. They lined us up into fi ve lines and counted several times. The sauna was not big. It was not big enough to accommodate as many people as Auschwitz. It took a long time before it was our turn. We kids, and also the higher ranked – kapos and “blogetestři” put stuff in bags, except for shoes. Then they hurried us under the boiling showers. In fi ve minutes we were out, they threw long johns or a shirt to each of us. A Czech distributed them, so I got both and then straight out, to the freezing weather. We waited about twenty minutes before there was twenty of us, and then we went jogging to a block, I think it was 21. There were many unwell people there. They wrote down various personal data about us, and we got a small metal plate with a number which was attached to the hand by a wire. Many prisoners had already been seriously injured by this as they scratched themselves and got blood poisoning due to dirt. Overnight we slept fi ve on one narrow pallet. The dinner was a disgusting soup that almost could not be eaten. But we’d had nothing in our mouths for a whole week, if not longer. I did not sleep at all, as I had to be careful not to fall. The food was very poor. We also got a piece of stinking clarifi ed butter and we were sick the next day. The third day in Mauthausen we were handed clothing – absolutely terrible – worn through. We who had put ours in bags got ours. I didn’t fi nd mine until the fourth day, but not everything. The fi rst line-up was on that day too. Me and Míša Grunwald got bread and a pocket knife, these were precious things, from a Czech man, I think his name was Franta. There were lots of Czechs in Mauthausen. I do not remember how many days we spent there. One day they lined us up, they called out all children and many adults. Almost all the transport that came from Auschwitz. They scared us all that we would go to do some hard work. Before the “šrenštuba”, they lined us up into 5 lines, we were fi ve Czech boys next to each other. After almost two months, from February to April, Míša was sent from Camp 2 to a camp at Melk. At the end of April, however, he returned to Mauthausen, to Camp 3, from which he was later transferred to a so-called tent camp.
Diary – Disappointment
It‘s still raining. We are soaked to the bone. We drag ourselves through puddles and mud on the road in a dense forest. Here and there a primitive cabin is built where tanks and troops stand. And here is hidden an aircraft. The forest is getting a little thinner. Through the trees we come to log cabins that are surrounded by patrols. What, is that a camp? Terrible! They brought us into barracks with an earthen floor, without air, there are only small windows, no blankets, in soaked rags, and we have to cook on the fl oor. Is that the camp? Impossible? We sit crammed on the bare ground. Soon we fall asleep. Without food, soaked, very disappointed. Yes, this is the camp of the dead. Forgotten among dense forest trees without air and sun. Around the cabins there are only huge puddles, behind a primitive latrine, that’s all. Hungarians everywhere, fi ghting and arguing. A terrible rabble. Our hopes for a better camp fall to pieces. We get woken up by screaming. We go to the morning line-up between the trees. Our teeth are chattering. I stand there with Míša Grunwald under one torn blanket. Both ill. We have both lost the hope of surviving. We almost did it. I have to hold on, the memory of my mother was telling me to hold on. She will surely survive and without me she would not be happy. I have to hang on! These were terrible, hopeless moments, in the woods, in puddles where the sun had not been and where it was cold even in summer. Ten days it was – a terrible ten days.
On April 28, 1945, Míša was in his second, also three-day, and this time 60-kilometer death march, from Mauthausen to the Gunskirchen camp, where he was liberated by the US Army on May 5, 1945.
Gunfire was growing stronger and getting closer by the day. That was noticeable, but how long will it take for them to reach us? It‘s probably the US Army. But when, when? Those terrible Hungarians will beat us, destroy us, and kill us here. I will hate them until my death as well as the terrible Polish or Sub-Carpathian Jews. They are all the same. One evening they reported that the Germans had gone. After the “cantágr” experience, we did not believe it anymore. And it was not true either. But we lived to experience it. The next day in the evening, it was certain. The SS left in a car with a white fl ag. It was May 6, 1945. They were really critical moments of my life. How many of us survived? Us, young Czechs, maybe ten, maybe more, who knows? Terribly few.
Míša got typhus and was being treated at a military hospital in Hörsching near Linz. But as early as June 1945, he started his dream journey home. Through Linz, Melk, Wiener Neustadt and from here about 100 km on foot to Bratislava. On the day of his 15th birthday on June 28, 1945 he travelled to Prague, where he spent his fi rst night under the table at Masaryk Station. The next day he learned that his mother died. As an orphan with no means, relatives and no possibility of returning home, he was taken the next day to the sanatorium in Kamenice near Prague by Přemysl Pitter, and later to Štiřín. In August, he found a shelter in Česká Skalice in Věra Lövenbachová’s home, where he started to prepare for studies. From September 1945 to spring 1948 he lived in Náchod with Rudolf and Vilma Beckovi, who, like him, survived the concentration camp and in January 1947, he moved in with his relatives – the Goldschmid family. Thanks to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, he immigrated to Canada in the summer of 1948, where he graduated from high school and from September 1949 he started studying architecture at McGill University in Montreal. In September 1951, he moved into the house of his cousin František Kraus in American New Jersey, and continued his studies at Columbia University in New York. After graduating in 1955, he worked as an architect. From September 1957 to June 1958 he took a study trip across Europe. From October 1959 to April 1964 he worked as an architect in London and then in Geneva, where he met a medical student Ilanoa Eppenstein, whom he married in Tel Aviv in May 1963. They went on honeymoon to Prague and Náchod. In 1964, they moved to New York where their daughter, Dana, was born. After 1967, they lived fi rst in Brookline (Massachusetts) and their second daughter, Tamara, was born there. Today, Míša has four grandchildren, he works as an architect and he and his wife like to travel. He decided to share his experiences of the Nazi occupation, recorded with the emotions of a boy, in his 81st year. And why did he record them? He did not want to forget!



For Památník Terezín Luděk Sládek

zdroj: Michal Kraus: Deník 1942–1945 / Lenka Šteflová, 2012

Karel and Lola Kraus, Michal’s parents Karel and Lola Kraus, Michal’s parents Diary
1942–1945 Obrázek č.4 Michal in 1945 Diary 1942–1945, Michal Kraus

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