Pavel Oliva

* 1923  †︎ 2021

  • “The plan was to set turn in a third of what we received in these packages. If we then hadn’t received another package for the upcoming month we would have been in the same situation as the others who received none at all. And from what we and the others turned in we would get a certain ration. So we shared our food which was good. The nourishment there was completely inadequate, many people were dying. After some three months there was a call for those who were unable to work. Some two hundred people, perhaps more, turned themselves in and were then transported away. Obviously, they had been liquidated.”

  • “In the Auschwitz area, the soil was very clayey. When it rained, there was awfully lot of mud, and therefore they put some primitive paving there, they placed stones on the ground. Obviously, the stones could have been brought on some truck, but it would be too easy, and therefore prisoners were carrying these stones, and the SS men were watching them. When an SS man thought that the stone was not big enough, he gave the prisoner a beating and he had to take a bigger rock. When this was done, we were divided into so-called commandos. I was somewhat lucky; I was assigned to a commando which was called Kanalreiniger – sewer cleaners.”

  • “The camp was right by that factory. When an air raid alarm was sounded, the Germans would smoke-screen the area in order to make the identification more difficult for the bomber planes. They fogged not only the factory, but our camp as well. Before we came there, and during our stay as well, several times it happened that bombs were dropped on the camp and several prisoners got killed. We were not allowed to hide in a shelter at all; towards the end they were taking us to some kind of a tunnel, but this was only twice I think. The other times, we would just lie on the floor and put our metal canteens over our heads, these were our helmets. This is what Kantor perfectly depicted in his book.” (Svědectví, Alfred Kantor, published by TeMi CZ in 2007, ed.´s note.)

  • “To my surprise, for the first time I realized that the train was passing through the Stromovka Park, I have never taken this route to northern Bohemia before. I remember we were all singing the song: ´Prague is beautiful, when the day is dawning.´ We were in good humour, we did not feel depressed in any way. We were mostly young people. We somehow thought that we were going to work and that it would not be so bad. There were a thousand of us, and as I later found in the Terezín Book, out of this one thousand, only three hundred of us survived.” – “Would you be so kind and try to sing this song?” – “I am no singer, but… (singing): Prague is beautiful, when the day is dawning; in the night, when sun is setting over the Vltava, she is still beautiful, in nights full of shadows, hidden in jasmines, and in bluish darkness. And when spring comes, and winter flies away….We thought we would be probably back by spring.”

  • “Many of the people obviously died on the way, because when they were not able to march, the SS men shot them and loaded them on a cart and they were then buried at the next place where we stopped.”

  • “It looked almost like the end of the earth. They put us in those barracks, they were actually used as horse stables before, and on the wooden lining on the walls there were still iron rings, to which horses had been attached before. Now, there were three-deck bunks instead, more primitive and basic ones than those in Terezín. Here, these bunk beds could sleep up to five people, one pressed to the other. But it never got so bad that there would have to be five of us sleeping on one bed, the number of prisoners never reached the maximum capacity, and mostly there were three or four of us sleeping there. I remember that when it was really cold we even put two blankets over us, and two of us lay close together, in order to warm up a little but.”

  • “I was travelling abroad as a delegate of the Academy, and after I had completed my report after my return, the department’s secretary would always remind me: ´Professor, you still got that narker report to write!´ This meant that I had to state whom I met, I mean not every name, but those that could be important. I always used to write that I met some of my colleagues from Hungary, Poland, and naturally also from Belgium, France, Great Britain, and I would even include their names. This was called a narker report. But naturally I did not write there that while abroad I met for example František Graus (emigrant, historian, ed.´s note) or that I talked with Antonín Šnejdárek (emigrant, historian, nephew of the First-Republic general Šnejdárek. – ed.´s note), whom I met in Paris or Brussels.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 18.09.2009

    duration: 03:45:48
    media recorded in project Portraits of Prague citizens
  • 2

    Praha, Hroznová ul., 04.02.2015

    duration: 02:06:53
  • 3

    Praha, 10.11.2016

    duration: 02:01:45
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Historia magistra vitae - history is the teacher of life! A beautiful saying, but it doesn´t work

Pavel Oliva in 1946
Pavel Oliva in 1946
photo: archiv pamětníka, sbírka Post Bellum

Pavel Oliva was born on November 23rd, 1923 in Prague-Karlín to a Jewish family, his native name was Ohrenstein. He changed his name to Oliva after the war (olive is a tree that grows in Greece, known for its beneficial oil, oil also symbolizes victory). When he was eighteen he was ordered by the occupation authorities to report for transport; in December 1941 he took part in the so-called AK (Aufbaukommando) II, which was one of the first Jewish groups who were preparing the ghetto in Terezín for the arrival of thousands of Jews. He remembers that while, on the train, the young people were singing; they thought they were simply going for a working holiday and that they would be back by spring. In Terezín, he was assigned to mess-hall services (Menagedienst); he was in charge of distribution of meals. In December 1943, he, along with some other 2500 Jews, were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and assigned to the Kanalreiniger commando - cleaners of sewers. The sewer piping was very narrow in order to prevent escapes of prisoners, and it was often clogged. In the autumn of 1944, he passed a selection of prisoners to be sent to labour camps in the Reich, and was sent to a camp built at the site of a bombed-out factory in Schwarzheide, which had been used for the production of synthetic petrol made from wood. He also endured the death march to Vansdorf and Litoměřice; he walked all the way to Terezín, where the Red Cross then took care of him. While imprisoned, he and his friend began believing in the communist ideology as a possibility for the new world order. After the war he joined the Communist Party; he studied classical philology and specialized in the history of ancient Greece. He eventually became a university professor and an author in ancient Greek history, which was respected all over the world. With horror, he watched the political trials of the 1950s, and then parted with the communist ideology in 1956, after the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but he kept his party ID card. In 1983, his son Ivan Oliva immigrated to West Germany. In spite of that, Pavel Oliva was still permitted to travel abroad, owing this to his expertise in ancient history and also thanks to his colleague from the Institute of History, who had an “influential” brother and who became Oliva’s guarantor.