“I went through the selection and I passed. Whenever I say this (and it really was like this), my friends or people my age say: ‘Oh come one, no one made any mistake with me, no one wrote the wrong thing, and I went through selection all the same.’ Except those were usually girls whose mothers were a bit younger, or who even though they weren’t younger, they had simply decided to try it and go - mothers and daughters [although they were not in the age limit - ed.]. Except that my mum didn’t want to go, she didn’t want to leave her husband and younger daughter. I’m sure she would have passed through selection, but she didn’t want to. I had to go, but otherwise I wouldn’t have. If it hadn’t been for that mistake, I would’ve stayed with them.”
“Gradually, we learnt it from those who were there longer. We had an aunt there, the widow from my mum’s brother, with her little boy, eight years old - they were there since September. Then there was Dad’s brother from Beroun with his wife and two sons - we met up with them there. There was constant talk about there being crematoria and gas chambers there. When you talk about it, it’s hard to believe it’s possible. Even though we saw the chimneys, the crematorium was not far away. The chimneys were pretty big and they smoked, sometime they had flames coming from them, and the air was heavy. So we gradually found out that people were supposedly being killed there, but we didn’t want to believe, and some people didn’t want to believe it even after the September transport was gone.”
“The September transport took away Mum’s brother with his wife and little boy, and Dad’s brother with his wife and two sons, already grown adults. The first uncle died before we arrived (Mum found that out the very first night), whereas the second family stayed there the whole time. I’ve already said it sometime before: once, I was walking along the Lagerstrasse and I saw my two cousins coming up from the other direction; I’d known them since forever, we used to visit them. They used to be handsome, pretty boys (they were much older than me). I saw them carrying a stretcher with a dead person, and they looked so awful that I turned off to the side a bit to avoid meeting them, so that I wouldn’t have to greet them. It seemed somehow horrible for me to meet them in the condition they were in, they way they looked.”
“Then, when the block leader came (another woman, the evil one ended up in a gas chamber), she read my number. I came to her and told her this was not possible, for I was not sixteen yet. She looked at the paper and said: ´It says here you were born 1925, which means you are nineteen. So you have to go.´ Somebody made a mistake, wrote a wrong number. So I had to go for the selection, and naturally my parents were desperate, because we did not know whether it was actually good to be capable of working or not. My father even went to see the schreiber (this was the position of a scribe) and wanted to explain it to him, but he kicked him out, saying there were so many people bothering him and pleading. He did not speak to my father at all. So I had to go for the selection and I passed. And I got out of there. But were it not for the mistake, which somebody had made, I would not be sitting here today.”
“Somehow they have managed (apart from educating us - education was also prohibited in Terezín, but we did learn and we learnt a lot of things) to prepare us for life, if we survived, that is. And I think that all of us who have survived have managed to find their place in life. At least out of the people I know.”
“We eventually arrived to Celle, and from there we went to Bergen-Belsen. It is a camp near Hannover, in that region. They were bringing prisoners from camps in that part of Germany there. It was terrible there – when we came, there was nothing. In the barracks we came to there were no straw-mattresses, no straw, nothing, just bare ground. Not even a place to sit or lie down. We could only sit one next to each other. There was no water and we were not receiving any food. Once I think we got some soup, once some bread, there were pieces of glass in it. But in the camp there was nothing, only heaps of corpses between the barracks, and nobody would clear them away.”
“Then there were people, German Jews, who were promised that if they left all their property in Germany, and signed off the documents that they were leaving it behind, they would be taken care of in the Terezín spa for life. And they arrived there, prepared as if they were going to a spa resort, and at first they accommodated them in these terrible barracks – my father was working in an infirmary there at that time. It was a building in the ramparts, the rooms there were dark and damp. And instead to a Kurort (spa) they arrived there. So it was very difficult for them.”
“In the block we came to, I was really struck by it. The block leader was a bit older than me. I knew her from some place, probably from the garden, I don’t even remember. I knew her as a normal woman. And there, suddenly, once she got this position, she was brutal and cruel. She was running over the place and forcing people to the roll call. I could not understand how someone could change so much over three months.” – “She was a Jew?” – “Of course. She was one of us. I knew her from Terezín. They were all Jews there. Actually, the lagerälteste was not a Jew, and the capo and schreiber neither. But in the blocks, it was always one of the prisoners. And she changed this way. I don’t know if it was caused by the fear. But at that time I could not understand it.”
“Those who were in charge of us in Terezín managed not only to educate us, but also to make us ready for life, if we survived.”
Dagmar Lieblová was born in Kutná Hora, where her father Julius Fantl, a Jewish doctor and Czech patriot, moved after WWI. He bought a house there where he opened his practice. Although the Jewish heritage was present in the family identity, it no longer had its religious significance for the Fantl family. Julius with his wife Irena and their daughters Dagmar and Rita had to bid good-bye to Kutná Hora on June 5th, 1942. At that time, the entire Jewish community of Kutná Hora, which was still quite new, was leaving in several transports. As a response to Heydrich’s assassination, within a few days, the Jewish communities from nearby towns of Čáslav and Kolín disappeared as well. Two trains of this mass transport went without stopping, all the way to the extermination camps in the east. Out of all the Jews from Kutná Hora, who did not make the stop in the ghetto, not a single person returned home.
The Fantl family stayed in the crowded ghetto with insufficient food until December 1943, when a second large eastbound transport from Terezín was dispatched. This transport arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau ten days before Christmas. The people were victims of deception like the German Jews who had been transported to Terezín by the Nazis: “They told these Jews that in exchange for their property they would grant them a stay in the Terezín spa for life. So they arrived there, prepared as if they were going to a spa resort, and they accommodated them in these terrible damp and dark barracks.”
In Auschwitz, her father, mother and sister Rita all died. Due to their age, they were not able to pass the selection, which was intended for people who were potentially capable of doing hard labor. Dagmar, who by a mere administrative mistake was made four years older, left Auschwitz in summer 1944. She and her friend Dáša were then sent for strenuous clearing work in Hamburg. From then on everything was measured against the conditions in Birkenau, “It’s true that in Hamburg, food was equally scarce as in Auschwitz, but to be away from there meant that there was a small hope that we might be able to survive after all.”
In winter and spring 1945, thousands of prisoners from concentration camps all over Germany were marching to regions which were not yet conquered by the Allies. Dagmar Lieblová and her friend of the same age were able to leave Hamburg, which became a bombed-out city, to Bergen-Belsen, where prisoners were left nearly without food and water among heaps of corpses. The camp was liberated by the British Army on April 15th, 1945.
Dagmar Lieblová returned to Czechoslovakia as late as July 1945. In Kutná Hora an old family friend, Dr. František Malý, along with a former maid of the family Františka Holická, took care of her. Dagmar returned from the concentration camp with tuberculosis and a negative prognosis for recovery. After two and a half years of treatment, she was able to return home. With the help of her guardian, she was able to pass grammar school graduation exams at the age of 20 and apply to a university. She graduated from the German and Czech language Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in Prague. She married in 1955 and had three children.
Starting 1989, she was involved in the founding of the Terezín Initiative, which preserves the memory of Czech Jews. Dagmar Lieblová passed away on Marh, the 22nd, 2018.