Scrapbookpages Blog

March 26, 2011

the fate of the Bialystok ghetto children who were sent to Theresienstadt (updated)

Update, March 2, 2014:

In a news story, which you can read in full here, I learned more about the fate of the Bialystok children. This quote is from the news article:

Begin quote:

On August 16, 1943 the SS deported the Jews of the Bialystok ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. For some unknown reason 1,196 children were torn from the arms of their parents and transferred to the Terezin [Theresienstadt] ghetto in Czechoslovakia. “The story of these children has been the subject of my research for the past 50 years,” wrote researcher and publisher, Hannah Greenfield. However, the subject of Hannah Greenfield’s research included many other aspects of the Holocaust – a heartbreaking tapestry of events, people and pain.

Hannah Greenfield, nee Hannah Lustigova, was an integral part, the very soul, of the subject she was investigating. Unlike other survivors, many of whom refuse to cope with the painful task of remembering, Hannah courageously probed the most agonizing recesses of memory, and proceeded to record them for future generations. Hannah believed that one must learn about the evils of the past so that they aren’t repeated. She was an educator par excellence who was involved in many different aspects of education, not only writing.

Hannah Greenfield was a member of the board of the Terezin Ghetto Museum, where a program she set up to teach Czech children tolerance, and educate them about the Holocaust, has served thousands of youth annually. As the founder of the Hana Greenfield Fund, her productivity extended into numerous fields of research. Her publications appeared in many languages including: Hebrew, Polish, French, Yiddish, English, German and Czech.

[Hannah’s] original research paper on the fate of Bialystock’s children was first published in England at the 1988 Oxford University conference under the titles: “Murder on Yom Kippur,” “Documents,” and “Exchange and Robbery.” They were all eventually published in her memoir, Fragments of Memory from Kolin to Jerusalem (Gefen Jerusalem 1998; revised edition, 2006).

[Hannah] and her husband Murray Greenfield were co-founders of Gefen Publishing House. Born in Kolin, Czechoslovakia, Hanko Lustigova was young when first exposed to horrific events. When the Nazi ruler of occupied Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, was assassinated in May 1942, there was a wave of brutal reprisals. Many Czechs were rounded up and shot and the entire village of Lidice was wiped off the map. But one war crime committed in the wake of the assassination is less well known.

On the 10th of June 1942, an order was put out to kill 1,000 Jews. However, because the transport was hastily arranged, 1,050 were placed on the train. German efficiency being what it was, 50 people were removed from the train, Hannah, her mother and sister among them. They and the 47 others were marched the three kilometers to Ghetto Terezin; the occupants of the train were never heard from again.

The home for babies at Theresienstadt was in this building, which is now a post office

The home for babies in the Theresienstadt ghetto was in this building, which is now a post office in the town of Terezin

At Terezin, Hannah’s mother worked as a nurse in a home for babies [shown in my photo above]. She loved children and felt a deep need to care for them. And so it happened that on the eve of Yom Kippur, October 7, 1943, she was among the 53 doctors and nurses who accompanied 1,196 children from the Bialystok Ghetto and the Terezin Ghetto to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Six months later, Hannah was transported to Auschwitz, unprepared for the horror that greeted her there. When she asked what happened to the transports that arrived before her, she received the standard answer: “Up the chimney.” The answer spurred her on to devote the rest of her life to search and record the horror of Holocaust history.

Hannah passed away earlier this year on January 27 in Tel Aviv after a long illness. Yehi zichrah baruch.

End quote

Continue reading my original post about the Bialystok ghetto.

In researching the history of the Jews in the Bialystok ghetto, who were transported west to Treblinka to be killed, I came across the story of the Bialystok children who were orphans after their parents were killed during an uprising in the ghetto in 1943.  I had previously learned of the Bialystok children when I visited Theresienstadt, now known as Terezin.

Gate into the Theresienstadt ghetto

Martin Gilbert wrote in his book Holocaust Journey that the Bialystok children arrived in Theresienstadt on August 24, 1943 and on October 5, 1943 they were sent out of the camp, along with 53 volunteer doctors, nurses and attendants. According to Gilbert, the Nazis claimed that these children were going to be exchanged in neutral Switzerland for German POWs held by the Allies, but instead “they were taken to Auschwitz and murdered.”

I did a search on google and found the following description of the arrival of the children in Theresienstadt on this website:

Suddenly, a column of bedraggled children appeared, hundreds of them between the ages of four to twelve years, holding each other’s hands. The older ones helped the small ones, their little bodies moving along in the pouring rain. A column of marching ghosts, with wet rags clinging to their emaciated bodies, accompanied by a large number of SS men.

Were these the enemies of the Third Reich to be so fiercely guarded? The children were led to a building where disinfection and delousing of inmates was performed. Suddenly they started to shout and cry: “Gas! Gas! Gas!” They huddled together, refusing to be washed or have their wet rags changed for dry clothing. Nobody understood the children’s reaction. What kind of children are these? Where did they come from? What are they talking about?

The children, looking like scarecrows, refused to undress. They held on to their dirty clothing, the older stepping in front of the young ones, protecting them with their bodies, clutching their hands and comforting those that were crying. Their clothing permeated with lice, their bodies full of sores, these children refused to wash.

In 1943, we, the inmates of Ghetto Terezin, didn’t know anything about gas chambers. Locked away, isolated from the outside world, we lived in fear and ignorance of what awaited us once we left the Ghetto, advertised by the Germans as “Die Stadt die Hitler den Juden geschenkt hat.” (“The town which Hitler gave to the Jews.”)

Prior to the children’s arrival, there was a great deal of rushed work done outside the walls of the Ghetto, in a place called Kreta. A special group of male inmates, constantly accompanied by 55 guards, was putting up wooden barracks for an unknown purpose.


And then, one day, they all disappeared in the same way they had arrived. In the morning of the 5th of October, 1943, the wooden barracks at Kreta were empty. Again, through the Ghetto grapevine, we, the inmates, learned that all the doctors and nurses, on leaving the Ghetto in an exchange deal, had been ordered to remove the yellow stars Jews wore on every garment and had been forced to sign a pledge of silence as to what they had seen and lived through, and were on their way to Switzerland to be exchanged through the Red Cross for German prisoners of war.

Sadly, this was not the true fate of these children.

From this website, I learned the following:

At the end of August 1943 by order of Adolf Eichmann 1,264 children ages 6-12 and at least 20 adult caretakers were taken by train from the Bialystok Ghetto to Theresenstadt Concentration Camp. They remained there in a special barracks called Crete until October 5th, 1943. During this time complex negotiations took place to save these children through some sort of “exchange”and “transfer”, perhaps to Switzerland, then Palestine. When negotiations failed the children and their adult caretakers were taken aboard Abtransport Dn/a 10/5/43 to Auschwitz where they were gassed and burned on Erev (eve of) Yom Kippur, 1943.

There was another transport of Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto which did make it to Switzerland, arriving on Nov. 7, 1945.  This was mentioned in a book written by Eberhard Kolb, which I purchased at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial site and on several web sites.  Sadly, the plan to send the Bialystok orphans to Switzerland fell through and they were gassed at Auschwitz along with the 53 doctors and nurses accompanying them.

It seems strange to me that the 53 doctors and nurses were also gassed.  Didn’t they need doctors and nurses at Auschwitz-Birkenau?  There were numerous doctors who worked for the Nazis at Auschwitz.  Were all of them doing a good job and there was no need to replace them with a new batch of doctors?

What about Dr. Mengele, who was doing research on twins?  Were there no twins among these 1264 children?  Dr. Mengele was doing research on genetics and he was also looking for Jews with hereditary conditions.  Were there no children with any hereditary deformities in this group?

The whole transport was gassed and burned on the EVE of Yom Kippur.  This means that they were killed at night, so how did the secret get out?