Hilda Arnsteinová, roz. Sommerová
* 1911 †︎ 2010
“Are you interested in the food rations we were getting in the camp? In the morning, they served the so called coffee. Of course it was chicory. The food rations were served in every quarter separately. I had to go there in the morning to get the coffee while it was still warm. Everybody was given 170 grams of bread for three days. I drew marks on the bread to see how much I was allowed eat every day. Then we got 100 grams of sugar for 10 days. I had a sack where I kept the sugar and I would always dump wet bread in the sugar and that was my breakfast. In the afternoon we had plain potatoes, about five to six potatoes. It is not much if you don’t have anything to go with it. It’s merely just water. In the evening we had a potato soup. We were lucky that it was the Jews who cooked. They were able to cook something good out of the little they had. So there was a sauce in the afternoon and a soup in the evening. And once a week we would have dumplings.”
“I lived in one of the big infantry barracks. The Hamburg building was for women, Hannover building was for men, Dresden for elderly and there were other buildings I do not remember. I was placed to the Hamburg building with twelve other women. I had a warm blanket that I took with me. In the summer I slept on it and in winter I slept underneath. They were dying cloth there so I got three of four duvets colored. Then I slept under it so it was at least a bit clean. Otherwise there was a lot of vermin. I was young. I was around 30 so I didn’t really mind so much, I had no troubles sleeping at night.” Q: “And did you have any friends there?” “Yes of course. First they were colleagues from work. First I was placed into the cleaning unit. After a few days I became the head of the unit. But we had to work out in the cold so I immediately caught pneumonia. I was cured and then I caught it again. You know, we had brilliant doctors there. The whole pharmacy from the Old town square was moved there. The owner, Mr. Freund, took all the medicine with him. So we had all the necessary medicine until the end of the war. Concerning that, we were really lucky.”
“In 1940 we were divorced and in 1941 they took my children. My ex-husband sent a message, he didn’t come himself but sent a servant, that I did not have a choice. I knew a lawyer and I asked him for the possibility to see the children and take them at least for a walk. I got the answer that: ‘Due to the fact that the mother of the children is of Jewish origin, she could have a bad influence on the children so she is not allowed to see them.’ Can you imagine how it was? It was worse than anything else.” Q: “How old were the children?” “Two and six years old.” Q: “And up until that time the marriage kind of helped to protect you. If you were to explain to someone now what it was like to be suddenly a divorced Jewish woman?” “I was not protected any more. I was what they called Vogelfrei.” Q: “So that it meant that you were suddenly unprotected?” “I had certain advantages when I was still married. I didn’t have to wear the yellow star, I could go to the cinema and theatre or to a concert. Jews were not allowed to do these things. We could not even go to a park. In the tram, we were allowed to stand only at the back of the wagon without any seats.” Q: “And after the divorce, you were not allowed to do all of those things?” “After the divorce I was not allowed to do anything - the same as all the other Jews. But it was only for the short time after when I was still in Prague. I more or less knew that I was going to be transported to Theresienstadt. And in a way it was better for me in Theresienstadt than it was in Prague. In Prague I was afraid that I would see my children but could not come near them. You can’t imagine what this is like for a mother. I wrote a small book about my life and the chapter about that is the saddest one in the whole book.” Q: “And you were all alone? You could not ask anyone for help?” “I was alone. Everybody was away. My brother in law told me after the war that they could have helped me to escape to England. But at the time they thought that I was protected by the marriage. There was no one to tell them about it.” Q: ”And what about the family of your husband?” “They were great. They were all great people and I married the only crook among them. But I loved him.”
“My father felt bad that my mother and I had a hard time adjusting to Prague. (In Karlovy Vary) we liked the surrounding woods , the nearby mountains and the possibility to make trips to the countryside. Because he felt bad, he didn’t send me to a Czech school. Now I think it was a mistake but I understand that at that time he didn’t want any more dramatic changes.” Q: “So you learnt to speak proper Czech here in Prague?” “I think in 1945 I still didn’t speak proper Czech. Only now do I speak good Czech. Now I speak well, don’t I? But my daughter always called me a hopeless case.” “But the most important thing is that we understand each other.” “I was really trying hard but when I heard that Czech has seven cases I was scared that I would never learn it properly. So I didn’t study, I only repeated what I heard. And I used to hate it later when my German students were doing the same.
Q: “Do you believe in God.” “I do, but I do not need to be a part of any church for that. I do not need a church or a synagogue or prayers and chants. I believe that my life is one big miracle. It was I miracle that I survived Theresienstadt. It was a miracle that my first husband didn’t move with the whole family back to Vienna and stayed in Prague with the children even though he must have known what situation he was in.” Q: ”In that case you would not have gotten your children back or it would have been much more complicated.” “I had already spoken to a lawyer in Theresienstadt that promised to help me find his address in Vienna. I didn’t really expect that I would meet him here with the children. I came back with tuberculosis and I was recovering for three years. My mother helped me to look after the children and I had to take care that nobody in Vienna would find out about my health state. They would have another reason to take the children away again. I had to think about all those things.”
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Hilda Arnsteinová was born on 25 of March 1911 in Karlovy Vary where she spent a happy childhood surrounded by the local nature. In 1923, the family moved to Prague because of her father who worked at the Unionbanka of which he later became the general manager. At the age of 20 she married with a Viennese German named Friedrich Kurss and they had two children. In 1940, her husband divorced her due to her Jewish origin and also prevented her from seeing her children. In 1941, she was transported to Theresienstadt. After the war she managed to get her children back, she married again and worked as a clerk for foreign correspondence and as a German teacher. She died on 25th November 2010 at the age of 99.