The Valašské Meziříčí Yizkor Book
Dr. Ladislav Baletka, The Valašské Meziříčí Yizkor Book,
published on 14th Sept., 2004, the 62nd anniversary of the departure of the transport for Theresienstadt
Translated to English by Michael Honey (Honigwachs)
This publication is the result of more than 15 years heuristic self teaching and preparation. It is based on the records deposited in the Moravian Land Archive in Brno and the State District Archive in Vsetín. However it cannot be said that herein are to be found all pieces of information from all the archive documents nor that all relevant aspects regarding the history of Jews in Valašské Meziříčí are included. The publication was put forward to coincide with the dedication of the memorial for Jewish victims in Valašské Meziříčí which was commemorated in the autumn of the year 2004. The six decades which have passed since the most frightful time of the Second World War confront us with the obligation: “How to ensure that the memory of the murder of the innocent victims should be preserved?” Possibly we will never be able to testify with urgent conviction regarding the horror and pain which were meted out by German Nazism to our fellow citizens. Even this publication does not attempt to fulfill such an exacting task. The aim of this publication is to make accessible to the generations of today the history of the Jewish community in Valašské Meziříčí and to describe the fate of Jewish families and individuals. In the preparation of this publication particular care was taken to describe actual persons, real facts and actual places. It became apparent how difficult it is to fulfil the credo that no one and nothing should be forgotten. As we get more distant in time from this tragic epoch of our history the more we lack living witnesses of the tragedy and brutal violence exercised by the German occupation. It is in the interest of our society to ensure that this subject does not become only a dead historical theme, but on the contrary the subject should constantly worry our consciousness and find resonance in our actions, so that historical experience will lead to tolerance, understanding, compassion with suffering, and to rejection of violence and hatred.
For help and support in preparing this publication I thank especially Mr. Michael Honey, Mrs. Libuše Salomonovičová and Mgr. Zdeňek Pomklov and for help with corrections to the manuscript and for reproducing the photographs to Alena Hejsková, Eva Adámková and Maria Martinková and to my colleague Mgr. Zdeňek Pomklov from the State District Archive in Vsetín. My thanks are due to all who aided me in preserving the memory of the innocent victims.
Dr. Ladislav Baletka
LETTER TO YAD VASHEM
E-mail: mhoney "at" 013.net.il (replace "at" by @ to avoid spam)
P.O. Box 3477
22nd Mar., 2005
Enclosed I am sending you a copy of a book about Valašské Meziříčí. This is a town in eastern Moravia in the Czech Republic, it is in Czech. I was there on the 13th Sept., 2004. At this time I unveiled a memorial to the Shoah victims of the Jewish Kehila. You may know that I published a listing of the victims some years ago and I enclose this listing also. I worked on this in the archive in Vsetín which is a town just south of Valašské Meziříčí and thus I made friends with the director of the archive, a Dr. Ladislav Baletka. He had been doing research on the history of the Jews of Valašské Meziříčí and thus we had a common interest in the work.
I started work in 1994 two years after a meeting of Nový Jičín Jews, this is the town in the Sudetenland where I was born. The meeting of commemoration was organized by my brother Shraga in 1992. At the time of this meeting I stayed with my friends the Jansas in Valašské Meziříčí. I knew them from before the Shoah. Petr Jansa is the son of a Dr. Jansa, a dentist who, in January 1945, still under the German occupation, hid Erich Schön (Kulka) and his son Oto Dov. The two of them escaped from a death train in January 1945 in Ostrava. Erich Schön changed his name to Kulka you may know his son as prof. Oto Dov Kulka in Jerusalem. Oto Dov is one of the Birkenau Boys. These are some 89 who were selected to be transferred to the Männerlager in Auschwitz - Birkenau just before the Familienlager there was liquidated on 12th July 1944.
I had written an article about my finding the last twelve gravestones of the Valašské Meziříčí Jewish cemetery in Shemot (the Journal of the Genealogical society of G.B.) and this tells the story of how I found the names of two small Heller children whom I met just shortly before our deportation on 14th Sept. 1942. Having found the site of the destroyed Jewish cemetery I then explored in the archive not only the names of all the victims of the Shoah from this community, but also the particulars of the demolishing of the synagogue and the cemetery. All of the post world war II destruction of Jewish memory was done in communist times by the Czechs in the post Slansky trial period in the 1950s, during the more or less official anti-semitism generated by Stalin in his last days.
The objective of my research was to demonstrate by data what occurred in this town under German occupation. By 1998 I had the list of victims ready and through the help of Dr. Baletka I had a meeting with the Mayor of the town. I put in a request that the Town Council should put right the absence of all traces of the Jewish community which was generated by the communist Czechs of the town. And I gave him the list of victims. This list demonstrates by its data the methodology of the murder which the Germans committed on our loved ones and on the Jews. The Mayor took me to the site of the cemetery which by now had been made into a clear field of grass. The twelve gravestones had been moved to near the top of the hill near the mortuary of the Jewish cemetery which by now had been converted to a chapel serving the neighboring Christian cemetery. What however shook me was a field of crosses surmounted by a huge wooden cross at the top of the hill. All this is dominating the green field of the erstwhile Jewish cemetery. The Mayor told me that the town planned to create on this site an international memorial park. This proposed site would have memorials to those killed in World War II, Germans, Russians and Jews. He told me that the communists also liquidated a Turkish cemetery and that it was planned to erect a replacement memorial to Turkish soldiers who died in the hospital of the town during the fighting of World War I in southern Moravia. As I objected to the disturbance of the Jewish graves under this field he said that the dead will not feel the difference by being put together. I said to him that memorials of the dead are for the living not for the dead. And if he thought that this site would attract Jews to visit the town he is sorely mistaken. The site represents the dishonor of a gravesite and as a Jew I would certainly have nothing to do with it.
It then took the Town Council two years to decide that they would erect the proposed memorial on the site of the demolished synagogue in the middle of the town. This proposal I accepted and it took a further two years until 2002 for the Town Council to initiate the project. I was then invited to open the ceremonies and to take part in the judging of proposed designs for the memorial.
The dishonor to the Jewish cemetery occurred as a result of an agreement between the communist GDR and the then communist Czechoslovakia. Some 250 Germans, particularly the SS had been killed in battle for the town in January 1945. The Russian Red Army had a simple way of dealing with the men of the enemy who fell in battle. Each was buried at the place he fell and a map and list was made of the fallen German soldiers. That meant that all over the town there were graves of the fallen Germans. By the late 80s, some 35 years later the list was available but the map was lost. The GDR thus agreed with the town that the fallen dead would be buried in a common grave but that each would have a cross with the name of the fallen soldier put on. In this shameful deal the town of Valašské Meziříčí obtained 1250 East German Dm for each of the German fallen who were reburied at the erstwhile Jewish cemetery. It was, and is, a shameful act that this was done on the land of what used to be the Jewish cemetery. By now the deed is done and cannot be undone.
The Shoah Memorial inscribes the list of victims in marble and has become the central feature of the town, but the enclosed book closes the circle, at least for the Jews of Valašské Meziříčí. The situation, as it was, up to 1990 was; that all the Jews disappeared, apparently without trace. The Czechs then removed all vestiges of any Jewish life in the town. My list brought them into focus. Remarkably Dr. Baletka took the list further. He searched passport applications filed by the people on the list through the years from 1938 to 1940. Most of the victims filed such applications, but in the run up to World War II countries of the world were, for the most part, unwilling to accept Jewish refugees. he found and reproduces in the book, the photographs of these unfortunate individuals. It is a historical fact that, before the outbreak of World War II we Jews had passports, but we had nowhere to go as most borders were closed to us.
In this sorry tale the town of Valašské Meziříčí now did the right thing, they spent a million crowns (about US $40,000) to erect a monument to the Shoah Jewish dead. In 2002 I unveiled the project and last year I unveiled the monument as the only surviving Jew of the town and as the initiator of this project and idea. In 2002 I spoke to the assembled senior pupils of the gymnasium of the town and both ceremonies were shown on Moravian television. This year the ceremony was in the presence of the Israel Ambassador, Arthur Avnon, a representative of the German Embassy Thomas Berlach, a representative of Association of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, Tomáš Kraus and several Jewish guests from Ostrava and Brno. I have a video of the ceremony.
This letter is of necessity delayed because as I boarded the train in Prague to go to Valašské Meziříčí some men started to help me with luggage. In the confusion created by them they helped themselves to the attaché case containing my laptop computer. I am now writing on the replacement.
The book is no less than a Yizkor Book of Valašské Meziříčí, but the difference is that it is written by a non Jew. Dr. Baletka wrote it for a Czech audience. I append also a few copies of pictures and news cutouts with this letter regarding the ceremony of dedicating the Memorial. I believe that the Shoah Memorial in Valašské Meziříčí and the book are an exception because it was done by Czechs for the Czechs. As I already said in 1990 there was nothing left of the Jewish community. It seemed as if we were never there. Now the list shows how the Germans operated the Holocaust and the book reinstates the neighbors of this town by showing the pictures of the victims. The historical review in the book is also of some interest. On page 12 the book describes how in about 1790 one Izak Hirschel came to live, it appears illegally to Valašské Meziříčí. It describes how the local gentry could bypass the Familiantengesätz by establishing Izak Hirschel on the land of their estate. Dr. Baletka quotes a manuscript in which Izak Hirschel proposes manufacture of Potash in the town. It appears that Potash was an important commodity in America and England at the same time, when trees were burned to clear fields. The use of Potash in glass manufacture and treatment of wool were important uses in 1790 and Izak Hirschel brought this technology to Valašské Meziříčí.
At the last pages of the book appear signatures of the Jews, who during the years 1938-1940 applied to the Czech authorities for passport, in the desparate hope to escape their fate.
Michael Honey adds:
In 1990 when I first revisited Valašské Meziříčí after 45 years there was no trace that we ever lived there... It is quite eerie now so many years later for me to see not only many of their pictures but also their signatures...
The Memorial in Valašské Meziříčí
IMAGES FROM THE ABYSS
This chapter with photographs of the victims will be added soon, courtesy of Dr. Ladislav Baletka, whom we deeply thank for his cooperation and dedication.
October 3rd, 2005 AH
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Last updated October 10th, 2005