Karel Ellinger

* 1928  

  • “Starting on 1 January 1944, I was a shoemaker’s apprentice. The dad of a friend of mine worked there. In one of the houses, there was a huge workshop where eight of us apprentices worked. Our boss was Mr. Sainer from Pardubice. Every day, we had to produce small sandal shoes for the Germans. I learned it soon and was very skillful. The very first day, after I got to the children’s home, I met a boy who brought in shoemaking equipment, which he had given me as a gift. They had killed 88 000 people in Terezín and all the attics were full of old shoes. I unpicked them and used the leather for repairing other people’s shoes.”

  • “Our acquaintances promised to give us bunnies. Our house had a garden with garden beds and when they promised us the bunnies, we had built ourselves a beautiful hutch with two cubicles. They promised us we could come on Saturday for the bunnies. We brought the hutch down to the garden where it was about to be placed. Suddenly, our mummy called us back up from the third floor. We ran home where we found out we were summoned for a transport. There was no more need for the hutch as we were leaving in two days. Back then, they made a transport of children from mixed marriages. They loaded us up at the Brno station, brought us to Prague where we slept over in the Fair Trade Palace. In the morning, we walked on Veletržní street towards the place where now there is a memorial. Mothers walked on the sidewalk, their children in the middle of the street. Most of them had seen their children for the last time. We then boarded the train and rode to Terezín.”

  • “We got there, went to the showers and were lucky to have water coming out of them, and not Cyclone B. They shaved all of our bodies, we got out, and they gave us the striped rags. We couldn’t even recognize each other: shaved, hairless and dressed in rags. They put us in a house, not even tattooing us, because Mengele still came over and did another selection. This was a transport where all of us were male and we had to claim that we were two years older than we actually were. He made another selection on the spot. We stood there on the roll call in columns of five, naked, with rags in one hand and shoes in the other. He just pointed left and right. Both me and my brother had passed again, standing naked in front of him. He had selected out some three hundred people whom he sent to the other side. We had passed but the others, when they realized this meant gas, all of the three hundred ran back towards us. Another, third selection had taken place then.”

  • “We had arrived to Auschwitz early in the morning. We got out of the train when it was still dark and we couldn’t see the chimneys. What we could see, though, were six-meter-tall flames because the crematoriums operated day and night, burning bodies. As we looked above, we could see six six-meter flames burning above Auschwitz. Then we found out… Then they shaved our hair, put us in prison clothes and sent us to a shower. Luckily, there was water in them.”

  • “We boarded the train where there was an SS-man. We arrived to Bohušovice because back then, the tracks weren’t laid all the way to Terezín. So, we had to drag our suitcases all the way from Bohušovice to Terezín. Then there was the “Schleusekammer” during which they went through our belongings and confiscated some of them. It was already dark when we got to the barrack attic. Other kids at least got in with their parents. Us, we were 14- and 15-year-old boys for the first time without our parents. We climbed up the bunk beds. There were some incidents there, which I won’t mention. It was dark because of a “Lichtsperre”; two boys escaped from Terezín and as a result, light had to be off in the evening for a week. They then caught them and executed them in the Small Fortress but the whole of Terezín was prohibited from switching the light on. At night, we came to the vast attic full of bunk beds. This felt strange. But we had no time to think it over; the next day we were sent to work. They placed us in a work squad, we received a spade, a pickax and a shovel and we went behind the ghetto to work. From the very first day.”

  • “There were 500 of us in Landshut, it was an insane camp. We were set to digging, there was a railway there, everything frozen, the water didn’t work. The SS was there, and when they didn’t like someone... We only had trousers, pants made out of prayer shawls from Auschwitz, some kind of sweater, a coat, and a cloak of sorts. If they didn’t like the look of one of the workers, they took his cloak. When we were returning from our work, they stood [those people] between two barbed wires. They waited there until the evening. When it was roll call, they had the people without coats brought up, and the prisoners had to bring wooden horses to the gathering place. The ones who were in the wires had to take off their trousers and lie down across the horses, and they beat them to death in front of everyone. In eight weeks they killed a hundred and twenty out of the five hundred in that way. One day an SS man took off my coat, and I ended up in the wires. My master cobbler from Pardubice saw me there, he fixed the SS men’s boots. There were no beatings that day, and he brought me a pot of soup there.”

  • “They told us that we would get paid for the work in Terezín, that we would get the ghetto-money changed into 2,000 crowns. I wrote a telegram to Brno to the old address, that I’m in Braník and that I’ll be back in two days. The message was delivered, but in the meantime Honza Stein and I went to Terezín. It was summer, the cherries were ripe, everyone set off to the Czech gardens around Litoměřice. [The train] was full, but they gave us a seat. We got out in Bohušovice, and then we had to walk. Seeing as the Bohušovice Gate was closed, we had to go by the Litoměřice one, on the opposite side of the ghetto. We came to the head office, where the wages were paid out from the bank, we came there at four p.m. and five minutes, because we were hobbling along, him and me both without toes... They told us they were closed. So we turned back, out the Litoměřice Gate, two cripples. We rode back to Prague, where I found a message waiting for me from my mother, because the house here was burnt down, and as soon as she had received my message, she set off to Prague, but I wasn’t there, so she returned to Prague [sic].”

  • “The journey to Auschwitz took forty-eight hours. I had with me in my briefcase to Auschwitz a book by Erich Maria Remarque: Three Comrades. But I had the cheap edition, the paperback one. I sat on the briefcase by the window, and I read Three Comrades on my way to Auschwitz, and the pages that I read I threw out of the window. I didn’t finish it, not until after the war.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Brno, 12.06.2014

    (audio)
    duration: 02:58:33
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Brno, 03.11.2017

    (audio)
    duration: 01:12:16
  • 3

    Brno, 04.11.2017

    (audio)
    duration: 01:11:41
  • 4

    Brno, 04.11.2017

    (audio)
    duration: 01:32:29
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Flames burned high up in the dark sky

Karel Ellinger
Karel Ellinger
photo: archiv pamětníka

Ing. Karel Ellinger was born in Brno on 27 July 1928, into a mixed Czech-Jewish family. His mother was Christian and his father was from an important Jewish family, who settled in Pohořelice. Karel grew up in Pohořelice, but the family fled to Brno after the annexation of the Sudetes in the autumn of 1938. His father died in the spring of 1939. In April 1943 Karel and his elder brother Jan were taken by transport from Brno to the Terezín ghetto. There he worked in a shoemaker’s shop. Both the brothers were transported to Auschwitz in September 1944. After a week, Karel was moved away from the vicinity of the gas chambers, to the concentration camp in Landsberg in Germany. He was later moved to camp Landshut, where he fell seriously ill; his brother Jan died in Landsberg in February 1945. The Germans closed down Camp Landshut in spring 1945, and they evacuated the prisoners to Dachau. Karel Ellinger was liberated on 29 April 1945 in the hospital of concentration camp Dachau. After recovering he returned to Czechoslovakia in June 1945. After graduating from secondary school in 1950, he studied at the Czech Technical University in Prague and then worked at the Research Institute of Construction Works in Brno. Karel Ellinger lives in Brno.