Luděk Eliáš

* 1923  †︎ 2018

  • “So I was fired again; I found my third job in Prague again, in Café Daliborka in Hradčany. It was a little coffee shop practically opposite the present-day Embassy of the State of Israel. And I was there for several months, until one day my boss - he wasn’t the owner but some kind of manager of the place - put this piece of paper in my hand, with the words in two languages: ‘Juden nicht zugänglich’ - ‘No Jews allowed’. He told me to hang it up outside the entrance, which I did, and when I came to work the next day, he asked me what I was doing there.”

  • “As a helping hand, I scraped this three-hundred-litre tank that had been used to cook some sauce or soup. You had to lean into it around the rim. Well, so there I was scraping, and suddenly a hand appeared next to me and started scraping too. It was a neat hand, and when I looked, the rest was neat too. When I wanted to open some kind of closer contact, she found out what kind of class I was from, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with me, because I was one of those golden youth, whereas she was a Komsomoller. But one time I took her to a performance of Brundibál [The Bumble Bee - trans.], because I had some connections - it was always a terrible fight for tickets. I already had some standing with the so-called Freizeitgestaltung, which was a group that was in charge of culture. And she found out that I was quite acceptable, and so we started going out together, which lasted a number of months, wonderful months. That was probably one of the reasons - the other was theatre - why I am still unable to talk of Terezín in such tragic tones.”

  • “It was an enormous factory covering hundreds and hundreds of square metres. With chimneys, buildings, gas tanks, and so on... The Allies bombed it, of course, and the Germans fought against that by smoking up the whole area. So the Allies started using so-called carpet bombing runs. Dozens of planes would fly over the smoked-up area of the factory at the same time and drop their loads like they were laying a carpet. We weren’t allowed to hide in the bunkers or anywhere else. We were allowed to build them but not use them. So the best you could do was to lie huddled to a wall.”

  • “As I said, when the war ended I was twenty-two, I didn’t know anything and I had no profession. I only perceived one thing, something which I had suspected already before, and which became stronger in Terezín, and that was that I wanted to become a theatre actor. Of course, I was absolutely not ready for it and I had to earn my living somehow, because my Mom and Dad were no longer alive and if I were attending school, there would be nobody to feed me. Therefore it became necessary for me to find some work and combine it with education. I accomplished this and then – I don’t know whether to call it luck or misfortune –several months after my return, in September 1945, I was drafted to the army. The military service was compulsory at that time. Meanwhile I have managed to gain weight and to get back to my normal weight from the forty-eight kilos I had had when I returned, and therefore I was deemed fit to join without any problems. I was enlisted for a two-year military service. But fortunately there was the Army Artistic Ensemble, which had a theatre group as well, and I was admitted there. So I was lucky again and I could gain practical and theoretical experience there, and thus in 1947, when my military service ended, and when I was looking for some job, I managed to get a job in the theatre in Písek, which was opened at that time, and later in the South Bohemian Theatre. That was already a big, multi-ensemble theatre, in which I stayed for about seven years. While there, I learnt most of the things I needed and in 1956 I could thus accept the offer from the Theatre of Petr Bezruč in Ostrava, which was looking for an actor of my type. Although I had thought of Ostrava as a dirty and dusty city, and I had thought that I wouldn’t stay there for more than a year, I have been living here till this day, and fifty-five years have passed meanwhile.”

  • “While on the death march, we nearly didn’t eat anything, because there was nothing to eat, only perhaps once or twice we got some potatoes boiled in their skins. After some two weeks we reached Varnsdorf, which was still a part of the German territory at that time, obviously, and after a short break, which I think lasted two days, we were loaded onto open railway cars, which are normally used to transport coal. On the corner of each car there was a seat for an SS man with a submachine gun, and we were carried somewhere for two days and two nights. It was raining and many of the guys who weren’t able to stand any longer and who lay down on the wet floor covered with excrements didn’t survive. When we arrived to Česká Lípa, we had to throw many of them out of the train, because we didn’t want to step on them. On the night between 7th and 8th May we arrived to Litoměřice, there they made us get off the train, and they assembled us into a group and we crossed the Ohře River, which formed the Protectorate border, and then we suddenly realized that we were walking unaccompanied - without the SS men. After some time a car marked with the Red Cross sign came to meet us. We learnt that there was an uprising in Prague, that the war was coming to an end, and that the Red Cross was in Terezín, where we were now heading again, and that they knew about us and they would receive us. When we came to Terezín, we had to stay in the peripheral casemates, because we had lice and we were sick, but each of us got a mess tin full of sweet tea and a huge piece of bread. We were now free!”

  • “On the second night we stopped somewhere. The door flew open, and a group of strange looking people in striped rags with canes jumped inside, aiming especially at the old people who were unable to get out quickly. They were shouting: ´Raus, raus! Everybody get out!´ And when we got out, or when we were forced to get out, we found out that we were standing on a long railway ramp. There were two rows of SS men, some had dogs, and all of them were armed, naturally. The place was lit with strange arched lamps and there was barb wire all around, and roads which were also encircled by barb wire fences. We were assembled and led into some department. Later we found out that it was Auschwitz 2, Abteilung B, that is Auschwitz 2, department 2, B. When we got there we were separated, women went to one side and men to the other. My brother and I got into one of these barracks. Somebody holding a stick forced us to climb onto one of the three bunks. We were told that we were in Auschwitz, and when we asked where those who had come in the preceding transports were, they either replied to us with a gesture, or they said: ´They went up the chimney.´”

  • “It was an evening soon after the beginning of the terror following Heydrich’s assassination and the extermination of the village of Lidice. The martial law was enforced, and people were being executed in the shooting range in Kobylisy, and there were daily reports on the radio reporting names of the people who were executed for approving of the assassination. Our little country was basically controlled by fear, horror and terror, because this could actually happen to anyone if someone turned him in. And at that time, a young art school graduate Gustav Schorsch recited Halas’s poem “For Prague” there. Now, imagine that in this prison, in this concentration camp, the following words were recited. I remember this excerpt and I will never forget it: ´The sound of heavy hooves / is heard behind the gates of our rivers / behind the gates of our rivers / the ground / is battered by hooves / and the terrible riders of Revelation / wave their flag / The laurel wreathes are light / and the snow of the dead is heavy / I know I know / But just not fear / Above all, no fear / Not even Sebastian Bach could play such a fugue / as we will play / when the time comes when the time comes / Wenceslas’s bronze horse / was shaking yesterday night / and the count heaved his spear / Think of the chorale / you people of little faith / think of the chorale.´ That was a poem which was raising our heads and straightening our backs in that environment, when terror ruled behind the walls of the ghetto, of the camp.”

  • “The day began with the morning roll call. This meant that all had to go out or they were carried out to the area between the individual barrack blocks, which was called Apelplatz. We were counted there. And the headcount had to match. If it didn’t match for some reason, for instance when somebody died, or simply for any reason, then we had to keep standing there until the headcount was correct. Regardless of freezing cold, rain, and so on: they didn’t care about it, but the headcount had to match. If the headcount was correct, we went back to the barracks and there was breakfast, which was actually a dark liquid which was brought in barrels. You never knew if it was something like a coffee substitute, or herbal tea, but it was a bitter tasting liquid, and there was nothing to go with it. Then we went to work. The work was invented there. Apart from the work necessary for the running of the camp, like making or repairing roads, emptying and cleaning the latrines, and repairing the barracks, work was also invented. For instance, they would bring a truck full of rocks on the Lagerstrasse, the central street in the camp. The rocks were quite heavy and we were ordered to carry them from one heap to another and then back again. The purpose of work was not in creating something new. There was only one purpose of work there: to destroy the people who were doing it. To meet this aim even better, they also used absolutely inadequate food rations. At noon there was a noon break, and each of us would get a bowl or a mess tin with some soup, usually there was some turnip or groats in it, or something similar. Sometime the soup was thicker, sometime it was watery – and that was all. Then we worked till the afternoon or evening, and in the evening each of us would get twenty or twenty-five decagrams of bread, which was a quarter or a fifth of the loaf, and a spoonful of marmalade or a bit of margarine to go with it, and that was our food for the whole day. About eight hundred calories. The Germans had it thoroughly calculated. Their aim was to turn the prisoner into a miserable wretch of a skeleton covered with skin within a few months, usually three or four months. They had a special name for it, these people were called Muselmann. These people were then mostly dying of exhaustion or of diseases within days or weeks, because they lost all their immunity.”

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    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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On the second or third day in Auschwitz we began to realize that Terezín had been nothing compared to this

Luděk Eliáš in 1946
Luděk Eliáš in 1946
photo: archív pamětníka

Luděk Eliáš was born July 29, 1923 in Slaný, where he attended the elementary school and grammar school. However, after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, he was forced to leave this school because of his Jewish origin. He then worked as a labourer on construction sites. In 1942 he was deported to Terezín. In 1944 he willingly followed his girlfriend to Auschwitz. Later he got to the concentration camp Schwarzheide near Dresden, where he worked clearing the debris after the allied air raids. In the last days of the war he was forced to join a death march, from which he was released near Litoměřice and he received medical treatment from the Red Cross in Terezín. Following the end of the war he completed his military service and then found employment in theatre as an author, working at first in southern Bohemia, and then from 1956 onwards in the theatre in Ostrava. In the 1960s he served as the director of this theatre. After 1968 he was dismissed from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and from all managerial positions. He has worked for the theatre, radio, television, and the film industry. Luděk Eliáš passed away on July, the 10th, 2018.