Scrapbookpages Blog

July 21, 2013

The three sisters of Franz Kafka perished in the Nazi gas chambers

The title of my blog post comes from a sentence in an article which you can read in full here.  Franz Kafka died in 1924.  He died a very painful death, but at least he was not gassed.

Franz Kafka Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Franz Kafka Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This quote is from the article cited above:

Born in Prague in 1883 into a German-speaking Jewish family, Kafka lived a life of quite exemplary tedium as an insurance clerk, rarely travelling (sic) beyond his home or that of his parents. [Primo] Levi saw similar constrictions in his own life as an assimilated Jew in bourgeois Turin. Moreover, Kafka’s three sisters had all perished in the Nazi gas chambers – victims of the grotesque bureaucracy foretold by their brother two decades earlier in The Trial. Kafka must have had a seer-like sensibility, Levi thought, to have looked so accurately into the future.

House where Franz Kafka lived in Prague

House where Franz Kafka lived in Prague

I have been unable to find any more information about exactly where the sisters of Franz Kafka “perished in the Nazi gas chambers.”  Jews from Prague were initially sent to the nearby Theresienstadt camp (now the town of Terezin) from where they were transferred to Auschwitz and placed in a “family camp.”  I wrote about the Czech Family Camp on my blog here.

I previously blogged about Primo Levi, who was a prisoner in the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz.

Franz Kafka was born in this building in Prague Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Franz Kafka was born in this building in Prague Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Statue of Franz Kafka in Prague

Statue of Franz Kafka in Prague

This quote is from the Wikipedia page on Franz Kafka:

Kafka was born near the Old Town Square in Prague, then located in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His family were middle-class Ashkenazi Jews. His father, Hermann Kafka (1852–1931), was the fourth child of Jakob Kafka,[5][6] a shochet or ritual slaughterer in Osek, a Czech village with a large Jewish population located near Strakonice in southern Bohemia.[7] Hermann brought the Kafka family to Prague.

[…]

Hermann and Julie [Kafka] had six children, of whom Franz was he eldest.  Franz’s two brothers, Georg and Heinrich, died in infancy before Franz was seven; his three sisters were Gabriele (“Ellie”) (1889-1944), Valerie (“Valli”) (1892- 1943) and Ottilie (“Ottila”) 1892 – 1943.  They all died during the Holocaust of World War II. Valli was deported to the Lodz ghetto in Poland in 1942, but that is the last documentation of her.

Note that “Ellie” died in 1944, at the time that the Czech Family Camp Jews were sent to the gas chamber.   Valli was sent to the Lodz ghetto where many of the Jews remained until the last days of World War II.  However, Valli died in 1943, which means she was sent to the Chelmno death camp, according to the statistics on the JewishGen website.

House where Einstein played the violin for Franz Kafka

House where Einstein played the violin for Franz Kafka

In the photo above, the house on the right is called the House of the Stone Ram.  The House of the Stone Ram is where Albert Einstein played his violin for Franz Kafka when Einstein was a professor at Prague German University from 1911 to 1912. On the left, in the photo, is the House at the Stone Madonna, also called the Storch house; it has a painting of St. Wenceslas on horseback.

This quote about Franz Kafka is from Wikipedia:

Kafka grew up in Prague as a German-speaking Jew.[106] He was deeply fascinated by the Jews of Eastern Europe, who (sic) he thought possessed an intensity of spiritual life that was absent from Jews in the West. His diary is full of references to Yiddish writers.[107] Yet he was at times alienated from Judaism and Jewish life: “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe”.[108] In his adolescent years, Kafka had declared himself an atheist.[109]

Hawes suggests that Kafka, though very aware of his own Jewishness, did not incorporate it into his work, which, according to Hawes, lacks Jewish characters, scenes or themes.[110][111][112] In the opinion of literary critic Harold Bloom, although Kafka was uneasy with his Jewish heritage, he was the quintessential Jewish writer.[113]

Franz Kafka attended the Old-New Synagogue in Prague

Franz Kafka attended the Old-New Synagogue in Prague

The photo above shows the Old-New synagogue which Franz Kafka attended when he lived in Prague; His bar mitzvah was held in the Old-New Synagogue.

On the west wall of the main hall in the Synagogue, there is a glass case shaped like the two stone tablets on which Moses chiseled the ten commandants. The case is filled with tiny light bulbs which light up on the anniversary of someone’s death if the relatives have paid for this feature. One of the lights is for Franz Kafka.

This synagogue got its strange name, Altneuschul, which is German for old-new-school because at the time that it was completed in 1275, it was the Neuschul or New Synagogue, but by the 16th century when other new synagogues were built in Prague, it became the Altneuschul or Old-New Synagogue.

Tourists flock to this street in Prague

Tourists flock to Hrbitova street in Prague

On the right in the photo above, tourists are shown crowding around the street vendors’ stalls on Hrbitova Street, looking for souvenirs of their visit. This picture is the view looking east toward the intersection of Maiselova and Hrbitova, taken from the entrance to the Klausen Synagogue which is at the other end of this street, behind the camera. On the left side of the picture, you see tourists looking at the windows of the souvenir shops. In the the center of the photo, a tour group is shown, listening as their guide tells them about the Old Town Hall, the pink building in front of them.