Erik Polák

29.05.2008 | 18:59
Erik Polák

It was the year 1926, when in a Czech Jewish family in Prague Erik Polák was born. Until German Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia he had been growing up in Libeň – which used to be a Prague suburb – and didn’t realize any diff erences between him and the majority of his equals.

Only a  Jewish school and some “family” visits to a synagogue during big feasts reminded him of his belonging to the Jewish community. But as he writes in his reminiscences later, it didn’t separate him from his non-Jewish friends. Only cruel and from the beginning incredible experience of the Jews persecution unleashed after the occupation by Nazi Germany led to the intensive feeling of his own Jewry.
His childhood, beastly interrupted by the occupation, finished prematurely. Following years severely decimated his family, and he was exposed to the most diffi cult tests. At fi rst it was a total separation from all ways of a normal life, putting Polák’s family into a proverbial “ghetto without walls” which separated Jews from their Mezinárodní vědecká konference s tématem: Úloha časopisů v životě terezínských dětí a mládeže – Terezín 25.–28. 11. 1991 International scientifi c conference with the theme: The role of the magazines in the lives of Terezín’s children and youth – Terezín 25th – 28th November 1991 neighbours. Then a deportation to the Terezín ghetto followed. This should have been another stop on their way to the unknown. Erik Polák was lucky enough, and was placed into the notorious “Number One” room, a children’s home in the building L 417. The home where there were active teachers and educators, among them also professor Valtr Eisinger, had become an informal centre of the children and youth life in the ghetto. Erik Polák was very active there and gained some education in secret lessons. He couldn’t have known that after several decades he would come back to the building to help with its transformation into the Ghetto Museum… From Terezín his journey continued fi rst to the infamous “Death Factory”, as the concentration camp Auschwitz II – Birkenau was nicknamed. He survived the hell there as well as following labour camps, and eventually was seriously ill and deadly exhausted set free.
But he wasn’t safe from other life trials, when during the years of so called “normalization” hadn’t be able to do his profession of the historian for long twenty years and worked as a building worker and later in the office. After November 1989 he became one of the Terezín initiative founders, an organization of former Terezín ghetto prisoners. He concentrated on missing information in the research and presentation of the Terezín ghetto history. Since November 1990 he had been working in the history department of the Terezín Memorial. Building of the Ghetto Museum, research on the life of children and youth in the ghetto and the reconstruction preparation of the former Magdeburg barracks in Terezín and the initiative educational activity of the Terezín Memorial – all these will be forever connected with his name.
PhDr. Erik Polák, PhD died in March 1996 after a serious illness. He contributed to the permanent preservation of the Jewish genocide victims remembrance during WW2. His difficult and often distressful life was only 67 years long, and therefore he managed to fulfi l only a small part of his numerous research and museum intentions.

Vojtěch Blodig
More information about Erik Polák can be found in the book “Tři kapitoly“ (“Three Chapters“).

Terezín Memorial

The Jewish cemetery in Terezín – reading names of Holocaust victims – remembrance day Jom ha´šoa – April 1991 International scientifi c conference with the theme: The role of the magazines in the lives of Terezín’s children and youth – Terezín 25th – 28th
November 1991 Inauguration of the Park of Terezín’s children – Ghetto Museum Terezín – 15th July 1993 Erik Polák (the second from the right) in front of the crematory in the Jewish Cemetary in Terezín in 1991 Behind the chairman table during the seminar for German memorials workers in Terezín in 1993 (Erik Polák, the first on the left). In a debate at the first educational seminar in the Ghetto Museum study in 1993. 1.At the international conference of Terezín Ghetto History in the garrison house in Terezín in 1995. Obrázek č.8

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