Hana Hnátová

* 1924  

  • “Leave everything in the train, out, out. We could see [with her mother and sister] the writing Arbeit macht frei. Well, we’ll work here. And the chimneys? Well, it is a factory. Meanwhile we got into the camp, saw the prisoners in striped suits and one of them — Věrka was smaller than me and younger — told her, ‘Girl, how old are you?’ — ‘Fourteen’ — ‘But you must not tell them this. You must say that you are sixteen and that you already know some craft. Will you remember this?’ — ‘Yes.’ And thus instructed we went on.”

  • “My mum, brother, cousin and I received an order to join the transport. My dad was fulfilling his working duty. First he cleaned the snow, I know that my mum made them warm black coffee to warm a bit and she gave some to my dad’s co-workers, they were of mixed race and their Christian wives were afraid, but my mum sent coffee even to those about whom she thought they would have nothing to warm themselves up with. Then my father was transferred from the snow department to Smíchov, where they were building a playground for the SS. That is why I named just the four of us, our dad was not summoned. This caused a terrible excitement in the family, as the division of families was always very depressive indeed. We were to join the transport in just three days. My dad went to see us off to the Radiotrh in Holešovice, from where the transports departed, and it was the first time that I saw my father crying. He said, ‘If only I ever see you again.’ There was fear in us all the time. In this Hitler and the SS succeeded, they kept us in fear, in worry about out lives, what the next day would bring.”

  • “The Germans used to order us in fives and, immediately, the SS-men put us into a column. The five-strong row stood in front of the SS-man and we saw [I, my mother and sister] that he always gestures left or right, when, eventually, it was our turn. I had my coat on, Věrka had a jacket from Arnošt, it was padded so she looked fit and the soldier gestured on the good side. My mum’s hair grew white in Terezín, like I am now, she was forty-five and her grew white because of all the worries, and he gestured to the wrong side and my mum quickly thought, ‘The girl went with me voluntarily only because the journey?’ And she dared to say in good German, ‘Please, these are my children.’ He looked at her, my mum was a head taller than me, a robust country woman she was, so he took her by the shoulders and moved her to us. My mum whispered, ‘My God was with me.’”

  • “The Germans needed labour force as workers from the factories were sent to the front and vacancies had to be filled, so the Third Reich looked among the prisoners. In autumn 1944 it was decided that ten transports would be sent to work elsewhere, outside the ghetto. My dad went into the first transport, Arnošt into the second. Arnošt later told me that when he arrived at his destination, he asked: ‘Guys, where would I find my dad? I have a cigarette for him.’ Our dad liked to smoke. – ‘Look at that some there, that is your dad, he didn’t take his glasses off.’ I shouldn’t have said this, I should have only hinted that Arnošt was put on the second transport and we waited what would happen next. Shortly, my mum and cousin were summoned for a transport, and I, perhaps because I assembled those boxes for ammunition, got none. But I thought I might help the two of them and asked to be included in the transport. My request was approved so I joined the transport with my mum and we went on.”

  • “Then we were sent to the selection. What it was, was that one SS man sorted out the people who stood there in rows of five. He chose them for work, left, or right. We didn’t know what left or right meant. They put Mum to the left and me and my cousin to the right. Because I had volunteered, Mum thought to herself: ‘Should my girl have just gone with me by train, only to be completely separated now?’ So she said: ‘Bitte, das sind meine Kinder.’ [‘Please, those are my children.’] He took her and shoved her next to us. Which is a complete miracle because when someone said they were sisters, they split them up on purpose, or mother and daughter - they separated them on purpose. I don’t know what kind of lucky moment that was. Maybe Mum was helped by her God.”

  • “When there were air raids, we had to stay in the factory. The Germans hid in the shelters and left us there, and we just wished that the air raid would finally destroy the factory, for the war to be over, even if it meant our end as well. Then when the Russian army approached from the east and the Allied army from the west, they loaded us into wagon that were to take us to the concentration camp we belonged to - because there was always some central concentration camp, which had lots of so-called auxiliary camps. We were an auxiliary camp, Freiberg in Saxony, and we were under Flossenbürg. They wanted to take us there to gas us. But the railway in northern Bohemia was bombed up, so they couldn’t take us over the Czech border, and we rode along the Czech borders all the way to the south and ended up in Mauthausen.”

  • “We slept on bunks in the Hamburg Barracks. I was on the top bunk, which was the most comfortable. Mum was down below - they were three-storied, the bunk beds. When the Red Cross inspection was to come, the bunks, which were visible through the windows from the street where they led the International Red Cross inspectors, they shortened them all, the bunk beds, to just two stories each, and put curtains into the windows. The pavements were scrubbed, and the Red Cross workers were not in the least interested in taking an in-depth look at anything; they believed everything the Germans fed them.”

  • “As far as the other inhabitants of Theresienstadt were concerned, I must say I would have never encountered so many educated, talented and intelligent people otherwise. I had the chance to get to know in person Karel Poláček, Karel Ančerl… There were those who could hold secret lectures to entertain others, from six to eight. When it was announced that the International Red Cross would come, these cultural events were allowed and could be organised. There was this famous opera Brundibár, performed in the orphanage. It was so invigorating. The venues where the performances took place were rather small, so that not many people could get in, ale I do remember Brundibár’s melody. It ends by — I will not tell the content, it is well known, as the natural school rehearsed it and it has been performed many times. When they sing, ‘Brundibár has been defeated, we have won’, it meant for us ‘Hitler has been defeated, we have won!’ Culture can help a lot and it helps indeed when you are young and sensitive and want to hear it.”

  • “We kept going, in the morning an SS-man came, opened the door, asked who had died, one of us was allowed to take out the bucket and then he slammed the door on use again. It was dreadfully crowded and in order to get into a single wagon, we had to sit with legs open and in between my legs there was another prisoner sitting on the floor. We were not given anything to eat or drink. They thought, probably, that we would be in Flossenbürg soon, so they had some snacks for themselves but nothing for us. We were passing through this little town called Horní Bříza, and we stopped there for a long time. Even the door was open and many people thought about fleeing. But the landscape was open and they had guns. If you thought rationally, you had no chance to flee from the train.”

  • “He escaped from the transport and was here in Prague and met with one girl who - at the Czech borders, at the tip of the country - she’d jumped out of the wagon, one Eva Ronková, and she told me: ‘Come with me.’ I said: ‘No, I won’t leave my mum here.’ And I carried on. This girl told Arnošt that we were alive and that we have gone somewhere to Austria because she knew that we had crossed the borders. They came to the conclusion we’d be in Mauthausen, so when the broadcast announced when various transports were coming back, they went to the train station and went from wagon to wagon and asked: ‘Are the Lustig women here?’ Until it worked out and he found us.”

  • “On May 19 there was the first bus ready and those prisoners who had been there for about three years, women who managed to get onto the bus, could leave for České Budějovice and there take the train home. But we didn’t want to go home in our underwear — the Germans fled and the Americans had on them a white curtain. They expected the Germans would defend the camp and they would have to fight, but the Germans fled and were not there, there were just warehouses where they had some bedsheets, a kind of chequered linen. My mum used this to make a dress for herself and Věra, I made a skirt from a blanket which was there, and I got a man’s shirt. Thus dressed, we went into the world.”

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    Praha, 01.02.2010

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    Praha, 15.07.2017

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    Praha, 15.06.2018

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    Praha, 15.06.2018

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    Praha, 29.05.2019

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I never shook off the fear of the unexpected bell ring

Hana as a young lady
Hana as a young lady
photo: archiv pamětnice

Hana Hnátová, née Lustigová, was born on 20 June 1924 into a Jewish family in Prague. She grew up in Libeň together with her two-years-younger brother Arnošt (1926-2011), the famous Czech writer. Their father ran a clothes shop and their mother, a seamstress by trade, stayed at home and helped in the shop. The witness attended primary school and later grammar school in Libeň, which she was expelled from in the first senior year for racial reasons. She worked briefly at the Treuhandstelle warehouse in the Spanish Synagogue. On 20 November 1942 she, her brother, mother, and cousin Věra, who lived with the Lustigs, were deported to the ghetto in Terezín. Her father was detained for public labour and sent after them several months later. Hana was assigned to the Hundertschaft work group in Terezín and later worked in a joinery and in a sewing manufactory. In September 1944 her father and her brother Arnošt were deported to Auschwitz where her father died. Her brother was later transferred to the Buchenwald labour camp. On 4 October 1944 Hana Lustigová volunteered to a transport to Auschwitz with her mother and her cousin Věra. After a brief stay in Auschwitz they were chosen for work in the Freiberg labour camp, an auxiliary camp of Flossenbürg, where they worked in an aircraft factory. In April 1944 the camp was evacuated and they were taken by train - one of the so-called transports of death - to Mauthausen, where they were liberated by the American army in early May 1945. The witness and her mother returned to Czechoslovakia where they were reunited with Arnošt Lustig. After the war Hana finished her grammar school studies and worked as a financial clerk. She started a family and raised a son and daughter. Hana Hnátová lives in Prague and in recent years has given talks on the Holocaust.