Mordechaj Livni

* 1926

  • “I was promised that I would be with these children for about half a year and then I would go with a group of children to Palestine. Actually, throughout the whole time when I was in the Zionist youth movement, from my fourteenth year onwards, throughout the time of the Nazi regime and the concentration camps, this journey to Palestine and joining a kibbutz there or building a new kibbutz has become a kind of a dream for me. This was the light at the end of a tunnel: just to survive the war and survive the Nazis and finally get out of this violent Europe and build a new life in Palestine where my brother was already living, as I told you, and after the war it became apparent that he was actually my only relative, a close relative, who has remained alive in the whole world.”

  • “I asked him [Wolfgang Sinaj Adler]: ‘Where is your father?’ Meaning rabbi Adler. He was younger than me, he was probably sixteen, I think. He motioned with his thumb to one of the chimneys with the flames and he said: ‘He is there.’ I asked: ‘And mom?’ ‘Mom too.’ I argued: ‘Your parents had never done any manual work in their life, so how come that they now work in that steel factory or in the mine, they cannot do any work there.’ He, this sixteen-year-old boy, looks at me and says: ‘What, you think that this is a factory or a mine? Don’t you know where you are?’ I told him: ‘This is Silesia, and there are steelworks and coal mines here, it could be that.’ And he told us what it could be. These buildings were crematoriums. ‘The place where you are now is Auschwitz. When I showed you that my father and mother were there, I wanted to say that they killed them immediately when we arrived here, in gas chambers, and they cremated them. The smoke which stinks here and the flames that you see are your friends, those who went to the left side just a few hours ago.’ At this moment, it all snapped into place for me, including the card from Rudla Rosen, Gastod, and suddenly it was clear that he had written from Auschwitz and that he was expecting that they would kill them.”

  • “Various youth movements were active in Terezín as well. The way it began was that at the beginning of the German occupation, while we were still in Prague, the leaders of all Zionist Jewish organizations got together and they decided that they would cooperate during the war and that all activities of all the movements would be coordinated and take place at the same time. This is what was happening in Terezín as well. There was a so-called united youth movement, in which members of various movements, including the Boy Scout movement, were doing the same things. The activity of the youth movement in Terezín was limited to three areas: first, we were all learning Hebrew with the aim of going to Palestine once the war would be over. We all hoped in this and at least we made use of the time that we were there to already learn Hebrew. Second, there were some sports and games, to the extent that the circumstances allowed. This was divided by age groups, and sometimes there were other possibilities: there was even a sports day held on a bastion up there, where some contests, running race, jumping and so on, were organized. Then, and this is what I remember most, there was the main activity of the youth movement: there was an organization which was called Yad Tomechet in Hebrew, which means Helping Hand, but it was an organization without any organizational documents or offices. Yad Tomechet took it upon itself to visit people who needed help, to do something along the lines of the ‘Do a Good Deed Every Day’ slogan. They were mostly elderly and sick people, and we strove to do for them whatever was possible.”

  • “There is a specific case of a boy whose name was Rudi or Rudla Rosen, and he went with his parents to the east as the Germans told us. Several weeks after his departure a postcard came from him, written in German in capital letters and very legibly, as they were apparently ordered to write. The things he wrote were more or less general, he wrote: ‘Dear friends, I am here, with this and this man, we work hard but we hope that the situation will get better soon, and give my greetings to this or that person and to my girlfriend.’ He signed his name as Rudla Namut. Instead of his surname Rosen he wrote the Hebrew word Namut, in Roman alphabet, and if translated from Hebrew to Czech, Namut means ‘we will die.’ I remember the scene when there were fifteen or twenty of us boys and girls of the same age, sitting in some attic in Terezín which served as a kind of clubroom for us, and the postcard was being passed from hand to hand and each of us tried to make something out of it, because this was not the password on which we had agreed before. He wrote Namut there, ‘we will die,’ and what did he want to suggest by it? What did he want us to know?”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 20.05.2012

    (audio)
    duration: 02:37:09
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Izrael, 22.05.2014

    (audio)
    duration: 01:48:46
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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When you have the will, to a large extent you are able to help yourself on your own

Max Lieben after his return from the concentration camp in 1945
Max Lieben after his return from the concentration camp in 1945
photo: Archiv pamětníka, dodala Jitka Radkovičová

Mordechaj Livni was born as Max Lieben on February 15, 1926 in Prague in a Jewish Orthodox family as the youngest one of three sons. Their father Evžen Lieben, a graduate in classical philology, worked as a teacher and their mother was a housewife. The family spoke mostly German at home and Max attended Czech as well as German schools. His eldest brother Artur (Avraham) went to Palestine in 1939. Max was attending meetings of the Jewish Zionist youth organization Maccabi Hatzair together with his older brother Rudolf. The parents and both their sons were deported to the Terezín ghetto on July 8, 1943. Even while there, Max became involved in the activities of the Zionist movement. On September 28, 1944 Max and his brother Rudolf were transported to Auschwitz. After about ten days they both joined a group which was selected for work and they were deported to the camp Kaufering IV. Max’s brother Rudolf died there in December 1944. After the evacuation of the camp when the war front was approaching in April 1945 Max got to the camp Allach with a death march and he eventually witnessed the liberation there. Only about six people from the numerous family of Liebens have survived the war. After his return to Prague Max tried to join the Zionist movement again and emigrate to Palestine. From January 1946 he worked in Bratislava in an orphanage which was administered by the movement Maccabi Hatzair. He met his future wife Eva Fürstová (Chava Livni) there. In May 1949 they went to Israel together and they lived in kibbutz Kfar HaMaccabi for two years and then they moved to the town Kiryat Tivon. They had three children, but their youngest son died when he was a little child. Mordechaj Livni worked as a technician and his wife taught classes of ceramics. Mordechaj and Chava Livni are among the founding members of the Beit Terezín archive and memorial and they live in Kiryat Tivon.