The Road to TerezineBy LOTTIE BOGGAN,
We each march to the sound of a different drummer; it may be an age thing, but for unknown reasons, I seem to be drawn more and more to the beat of the past. The rhythm goes on, but it’s slower. On a Danube River cruise my Jackson friends and I had disembarked from our ship, the Viking Jarl, and were now in Prague.
My roommate Edrie Royals, Ann Barksdale and I had signed up for the Terezin Concentration Camp tour. I was pleased we had chosen this as our day’s trip. Not for its pleasures, sights and scenes, but for vague memories of the past. Now, all these years later, maybe there is a self-saving, self-serving tendency for us to draw back from the horrors of so many moments of those merciless times. Nazism was a poison—those days are being forgotten; maybe some parts of that brutal interval should be remembered.
My friends and I boarded a bus, left the city, and began our ride through a peaceful countryside. I sat across from an elderly Jewish couple and when we began talking found out they were on a personal mission. The man’s older sister, whom he never knew had died during the Nazi occupation, they were going to seek some closure and hopefully find a measure of solace.
The brief history the man’s wife gave made me feel in a very real way the horrors of the German invasion; a six-year old sister her husband had never known had fallen ill. She was not given life-saving medication because the Nazis who had taken over their small town in Czechoslovakia wouldn’t let doctors treat Jews.
Some months later, with the help of neighbors, her husband’s parents had fled to Canada.
The bus came to a stop and our tour began. The couple went off on their own, and we lost sight of each other.
It was a balmy, peaceful April day but as our guide led us through Terezin, a star-shaped, thick-walled fortress that had long served as a prison, our hearts were stabbed with sorrow. The young man led us from room to room, and even though he had made this walk no telling how many times, he could not keep the raw emotion from his voice; he made the tour very personal. Anger blended with grief, and as we went through and sensed those terrible crimes, there was none of the usual visiting, none of the familiar back and forth chit-chat.
We walked through rooms that betrayed the stark interior of the barracks where so many had lived and died. Many of the elderly who were brought here were immediately sent to the gas chambers, while the younger inmates who could still work were temporarily spared.
A lot of the children and young people who passed through Terezin were sent on to other execution camps. Out of the 15,000 children under the age of 15 who passed through these walls, fewer than 100 survived. They had drawn pictures and written poems; one of the highlights of our tour was the exhibits of their artwork and writing. Many of these mementos were displayed in glass cases or were pasted on the walls of the Ghetto Museum, giving ear to the terror these little beings had been through. Perhaps the best known of the poems was written by Pavel Freidman, a young person who was deported, and died in Auschwitz.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone. . . .
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto.
Those innocent and honest art depictions and writings allowed us to see through the eyes of children what their brief lives were like. They were haunting reminders of what no person, especially a child, should ever have to see or live through.
Leaving the Ghetto Museum and passing through the cemetery of Jewish people who had been tortured and murdered, I saw names I recognized: Schwartz. Bernstein.
A call to board the bus was met with sweet relief.
On the ride back to Prague the man and his wife I had talked to earlier were in their own quiet world. The man looked out the window as if he were searching for something or someone he would never see. From time to time his wife patted his knee.
“This was a long day for him,” she said. “It was hard.”
Did the man’s journey end, I wondered. Or had this been a road leading to nowhere, that he would continue walking down?
Tired and emotionally drained, I leaned back and closed my eyes. Although the prance and evil swagger of Nazism has been swept into a dustbin and tossed into a furnace of indecent history, let us never forget those who suffered here. Oh, even down until this very hour, we should all weep, wail and pound our chests.
In just a moment I detected a faint rhythmic noise. Was it the beat of our bus churning the pavement as we drove toward Prague?
The distant dirge of drums?
Or the soft flutter of butterfly wings?