Asaf Auerbach

* 1928  

  • “Most strongly I remember that they took us into a restaurant. They had never taken us to a restaurant before and never after. It was a very posh restaurant, waiters in tails, white shirts, with ribbons, white tablecloths and silverware. This is what I remember most. The rest has grown vague in memory. The departure was calm. My mother fought back her tears. If she hadn’t and cried like some of the other mums, no one would have persuaded me to go. I would have refused to board the train if she had cried. I would not have born it. I was much dependent on her. I was lucky that she managed. But then when we left and the train approached the tunnel of the Main Station, in which it disappeared, I am certain that she cried. She must have. She could have finally give release to her feelings. But I am certain they didn’t think that we would never see one another again.”

  • “A tiny, thin old woman came to answer the door. I told her, ‘Hello, I’m looking for Mrs Dvořáková.’ And she replied, ‘Mrs. Dvořáková is not at home, she went for a shopping. But come in, you can wait for her here.’ But then a spark ignited. Whenever I tell this I start crying. Well, I recognized my grandmother and she recognized me. This was how my return home began. I said a single sentence and the spark ignited. I knew she survived but I had in my head that I was to find my aunt and not a tiny old woman.”

  • “They started with the land bought for them by some people of that organisation. I think they gave them some tools for the beginning too. First they built some tents and then they continued. Some were more successful, others less. It was a rather tough life which may have been the reason why they returned. Hot weather, the climate and the hard work. I still have a photo at home of my mum — but this was still at the training facility in Germany or in Czechoslovakia — walking behind a plough. Women and men worked together there.”

  • “My grandmother survived in Theresienstadt, she even contracted typhus but survived. One of the aunts was in Theresienstadt, then was in Auschwitz, from where she was sent to Hamburg to clean the debris after bomb-raids and then she was sent to Bergen-Belsen, the most terrible camp at the end of the war. But still she survived. The other aunt was married to a non-Jew and this saved her for a long time, only in January or February 1945 they went to Theresienstadt and they survived the four or five months there. If you didn’t contract typhus you had a good chance to survive there. They arrived, there was a hearty welcome and much hugging. And the younger aunt asked where my suitcase was. I had it in Žitná street so we went to collect it. It came quite naturally that I stayed with them for about two years until I graduated of the secondary school. My aunts were great, they did their best to replace my mum, but it can’t be done. Mum is mum.”

  • “And suddenly one day, in early July, on Sunday, a doorbell rang and my mother went to answer it. It was during breakfast and it was Sunday because we all sat at the table together, which is something we did only on Sundays. And my mother went to answer the door and brought a telegram, which said that we were leaving as early as July 18. This made me sad. Until then I took it lightly. Now we had a concrete date and there was not much time for preparation, our parents had to hurry up. — “And how did they explain to you that you would go to England?” — “We were informed about the nature of nazism. I don’t know really. I did not protest to go, neither did my brother. We probably knew the reasons why they were sending us there. Not that people talked about holocaust already, not in the least, but we knew what was happening in Germany and it was not to be expected that in Czechoslovakia it would be better.”

  • “What happened to them… It was written that on October 28 they boarded the transport to Auschwitz and that since then nothing was known about them. End. It was in 1944, the last transport to leave Theresienstadt for Auschwitz. The last one because an order was issued to destroy the crematoria. The transports stopped then. They wanted to pull down the furnaces to erase the evidence. But they didn’t erase it. I learned that they died on the very same day they arrived, that was on October 30. They were put in the line which went directly to the gas chamber. I still didn’t want to believe that this was the case. After some time I had to accept it. Even today I still cannot imagine that they undressed, went to an overcrowded chamber and suffocated there. It is better not to think about it.”

  • “We went – allegedly, I even don't know about it – in locked carriages, we couldn't get out. I have no idea why, who would get the idea to get off the train at a station in Germany, who would want to. I vaguely remember that we set off at midnight. Of course it took a while till we calmed down and fell asleep. Just after we had fallen asleep we were on the border. So the border guards on the border between the Protectorate and Germany woke us up immediately and they inspected us. Then we went through the boring German countryside all day long till the evening. We crossed the border to Holland towards the evening. I remember from there most how stunned I was to see so many people with their bikes standing at each grade crossing because the railway gates were closed.”

  • “We all were probably pushing it away from ourselves. I was absolutely sure till the end of the war that I come home again, ring the door bell and my parents would be there. It simply never crossed my mind that I would never see them again. If I suspected that at least when we were at the train station... People asked me many times: 'And you never thought that you saw your parents for the last time?' It's simply nonsense, my parents just couldn't tell me: 'You may not see us again.' And even if I myself had got that idea, I'm convinced, that I would have laid down on the platform and on the ground and they would never get me away from there, they would never thrust me on that train. I'm deeply convinced that they would never force me to get on. As I say, we pushed it away from ourselves, we rejected the possibility, at least I firmly believed that they would survive. It never crossed my mind that 'ausgerechnet' (just) my parents should die. As I say, we knew what was going on but it referred to the others.”

  • “One of the families living in the kibbutz called Strasser got out at the beginning of 1939. They were very good acquaintances of my parents. Because they were together in the kibbutz we were very close to each other. This 'lady amazing' came to England and instead of looking after herself in the first place, as common immigrants do, she came up with the idea of starting a committee. She probably knew about Winton's act so she set her mind on getting the children of her closest friends through Winton to England. She organized a special committee of the English who founded a fund, a committee to raise money. Then the municipal government gave them a free house in an orphanage. They had probably few orphans. One house out of twenty was empty. So she organized it all like this. So those who saved my life stood on one side. Those were my parents and Hana Strasserová and nobody else stood on the other side. We had no idea about him, about Winton. It was actually he who enabled and mediated that. He was the motivation that followed it and enforced it in the end.”

  • “My return to Prague was an enormous disappointment. All six years I was actually waiting for it to come to an end, till I came back, when I ran up to the fourth floor and rang the bell. You get fixated on it for all the years and you survived better, because you would say to yourself all the time: 'The war must come to an end, we will come back home and everything will be all right.' Well, I came home and it was just different. But I was in a better situation than some others who came and found just no one. Imagine a child who came back, for example, from Auschwitz and ended up in an orphanage here because he or she had no relatives here any more. Or the children who came back from England as well and found nobody here and also ended up in orphanages.”

  • “We always came, it was after our classes, we came and prayed. Of course there was nobody wearing kippah so he (the teacher) told us: 'Just put your hand on your head.' So we put our hands on our heads, we said Shema Yisroel and so on. I can't remember more than just those few words. Then he walked among us, we read in our primers and he narrated us Bible stories. I remember him approaching me, he stroke my little head and asked: 'Well, what did you have for lunch, roast pork, dumplings and sour kraut?' I didn't see that so terrible so when we had anything like that I replied: 'Yes.' He stroke my little head again and said nothing. So he was a tolerant man.”

  • “First, my parents were very well-informed about what was going on in Germany. My father was very left-oriented; he worked in an organization called Rote Hilfe, which meant Red Help, and they helped mainly refugees. And because it was Red, they helped mainly the leftist refugees. We had many books at home. We had for example even a brochure about the trial with Dimitrov including photographs. I even had a photo of Ernst Thälmann on my table, he was the leader of the Communist Party of Germany. However then, when the Germans came or just shortly before that we had to remove the photo of course and I had a photo of president Masaryk there instead. He was much closer to me because he was basically a real God for school children. I even took that picture with me to England, I could still squeeze it in my suitcase. So we knew a lot about that period of time. Crystal Night, we knew it all. Every now and then some refugees came for dinner or just to have a bath.”

  • Full recordings
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    Praha, 09.09.2010

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    Praha, 17.08.2017

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    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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    Praha, 12.06.2018

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    duration: 01:27:01
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
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Like for many other Winton’s children, for me, war began only when it was over

Asaf Auerbach v 11 letech, fotografie do pasu v roce 1939 před odjezdem do Anglie
Asaf Auerbach v 11 letech, fotografie do pasu v roce 1939 před odjezdem do Anglie
photo: Asaf Auerbach

Ing. Asaf Auerbach was born in kibbutz Bet Alfa in today’s Israel in May 1928. His parents came from Czechoslovakia and moved to Israel in 1922. They were influenced by the Zionist movement and its ideals about the settlement of Palestine at that time by the Jewish immigrants especially from Europe. His parents decided in 1930, probably because of health reasons, to come back to Prague. His father worked in an auditorial company, his mother was a housewife and looked after their two sons Ruben and Asaf. His father was left-oriented, he was a member of the organization Rote Hilfe that looked after political refugees. After March 1939 Mr and Mrs Auerbach learned about the possibility to send both their sons to England. A family acquaintance from the kibbutz Hana Strasserová moved out there. In England she founded a committee that was willing to accept a group of children from Czechoslovakia. Asaf Auerbach with his brother Ruben left Czechoslovakia on July 18th, 1939. They were on one of the trains whose departure was organized by Nicholas Winton. They lived in a house ran by the above mentioned committee in the town Stoke on Trent. Asaf Auerbach attended a boarding school founded by the Czechoslovak exile government in 1943-1945. He returned to Prague in the summer of 1945. He met his grandma and his mother’s sisters there. His parents were slaughtered in the extermination camp Auschwitz. He finished his Statistics studies after the war and started a family. Asaf Auerbach lives in Prague.