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 of the Nazi crimes committed in the wake of the assassination is less well known.
Less than two weeks after Heydrich's death a thousand Czech Jews were sent in a so-called penalty transport to the gas chambers of the east. Hana Greenfield from the town of Kolin near Prague was then still a child and was to have been on that transport. By a twist of fate she survived, and was sent instead to the ghetto in Terezin. She has often returned to her wartime experiences, in the course of an active and interesting life in Israel, and her book "Fragments of Memory" is a moving account of her own experiences in the war. In recent years she has also tried to make the tragic story of the thousand murdered Jews in the forgotten transport better known. She recently joined me in Radio Prague's studio, to talk about this tragic and neglected episode in the Second World War.
"Sixty years ago, on the 10th June 1942, there was a transport put together hastily with a thousand Czech citizens - Jews - in the aftermath of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich as a penalty transport. This transport was the only one that did not go into the ghetto Terezin, but remained standing outside in Bohusovice. There was a train already waiting and they filled it up, and then they were counting. They were counting over and over many times, because the order was to kill one thousand Jews. Since there were one thousand and fifty in that train, they took out fifty people, among them my mother, my sister and me, and with our luggage we were marched the three kilometers into Terezin, while the train left with one thousand people. They were never heard of again. This is the only transport whose destination is not known, and it so happened that a couple of days ago my attention was brought to an article in The Jewish Chronicle in London, that a list of a transport was found in Belarus among some archives, that arrived exactly on the 13th June 1942. So it is very possible that this is the lost transport, as we call it. What is interesting is that, in the aftermath of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Lidice was eliminated. Lidice, a small village in the Czech Republic, became well known for the atrocity that the Germans committed. That also one thousand Jews were killed as a reprisal for the same reason has never been made public."
Do you think that's deliberate, or is it an unfortunate chance that it's been forgotten?
"I don't want to judge anybody, but certainly there was no effort made to make this period well known, especially under the communists."
So it really is something new that you're telling people about.
"Well, ever since the Velvet Revolution it has been possible to talk about it, to write about it, to publicise it, and I have tried the best I could, since many of my family members were part of that transport. I was amazed, since this story became public, how many people were interested in it and wanted to know - mainly the newspapers and the television, and I hope that will get to the public, because Jewish history is also Czech history. After the evacuation of the Jews and the deportation, the synagogues were robbed of all the ceremonial objects that were there, and all the Torah scrolls. There were around 1,560 of them. Since the Germans didn't read Hebrew and that had now value. It was neither gold nor silver, they were thrown into a cellar and they were rotting there for many years until somebody from England heard about it, offered the Communist regime 35,000 sterling and bought the fifteen hundred scrolls and brought them to England, where they were taken care of, cleaned up and leant to new Jewish communities in the western world. So the communities live on by the learning from where these Torahs came from and about the town and so forth."
And these Jewish communities are in the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel...
You grew up in Kolin. Does anything today survive of that Jewish world that you knew in the town before the war?
"The three hundred year old synagogue survives, and the town hall and I believe also the government put in quite a bit of money to restore it, and they are using it today as a concert hall. They did not return it to the Jewish community as far as I know. Another thing that remains is an old cemetery with stones from 1418, that just prove how long the Jews lived there. As far as I could find from my research the Jews lived there for six hundred years."
Kolin was one of the biggest Jewish communities in what's now the Czech Republic. Are there any Jewish people still living there?
"Since I don't live there today, I believe there may be one or two, but really there is nobody left from the community, because, as I said, a thousand people were killed. Those that remained alive because they left at different times with different transports, maybe seventeen or twenty came back, most of them Jews from mixed marriages, who were protected until the beginning of 1945 and went to Terezin only then, and as time passes there are less and less of us."
Can you or do you still feel at home in this country?
"I have very fond memories of my childhood. I was very fortunate to have been born in the most democratic country in Europe - in freedom. Coming back today I am an Israeli citizen. I have lived in Israel for fifty years. Coming back to the Czech Republic brings back all these nice memories, mixed with the sad fate of my family, of my town, of my fellow Jews. So it's a mixed feeling."
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