“It was there that I got the order to join the transport. I met my mom and my brother later in the local Boy-Scout gym or somewhere, I can’t really remember where it was as it’s such a long time ago. But I know that we marched in wide columns to that Boy-Scout gym where we were concentrated before they put us on the cattle cars that took us to Theressienstadt. In the memoirs I wrote that curious crowds stood beside the road but nobody laughed or humiliated us.”
“The secret police officers came to me and told me plainly what they wanted from me. They said: ‘look, we know that you have a history, we know that you were a member of the KAN, we don’t forget things like that. But we could forget about it if you helped us. We’d like you to cooperate with us’. Having been told this I said: ‘Well, I see that you remember those things about a Czech Jew. I’m aware of that, but forget it right away. I’m not the kind of person you’re looking for, this is not my style. I’m not gonna report somebody just because he said that someone else is an idiot so you can put him in jail’. They replied: ‘No, that’s not what we wanted you to do. We were thinking of something else. We were picturing you as our contact in the Czechoslovak Jewish community. You could be going abroad and gathering information for us. You’re such a trustworthy person’. I said no way. ‘Every other member of the community works for the StB (the secret state police), you don’t need me. I wouldn’t do it in Ecuador against Chile, neither in Mexico against Argentina. I’m not the right person for this job. I’m not gonna do this’. So that was it. Then they took away my passport and tried to blackmail me through my daughter. They said they wouldn’t let her study.”
“My parents were no intellectuals; they would go to a café to play bridge or to a football stadium to cheer on the soccer team. They lived a happy life before 1939. In that year I got kicked out of school for being a Jew and my dad got arrested as a political hostage. He wasn’t the only one arrested, many Czech patriots, Boy-Scout leaders, politicians, Jews, non-Jews and all kinds of Czech people got arrested during this so-called ‘Gitter’ crackdown by the Nazis. My mom told me that my dad was in touch with some French anti-Nazi organization, I think it was called ‘Société’ or something like that. I know nothing in particular but my dad was arrested and we lost our apartment in the Nádražní Street in Pilsen. We had to move out and most of our belongings were confiscated or simply stolen.”
“So we got to Theressienstadt and here’s what I remember from that place: I had two severe nervous breakdowns there that as a psychiatrist I would call total panic and a psychotic disorder. We should have gone on the transport to Auschwitz several times, that was a public secret, but my mom injected petrol underneath our skin which made us feverish. That prevented us from going on the transport as the Germans probably prided themselves on sending healthy people for work in the camps. The argument was that they didn’t want people with fever to go to a concentration camp. So I probably went through encephalitis or meningoencephalitis and brain inflammation several times as a result of these fevers.”
“In Theressienstadt, my mom once got to the point of total desperation. With two little boys in her arms, she walked up to an SS man whom she scolded. She angrily asked him if they really needed to murder children, if it wasn’t enough for the killing of adults. She also told him that her husband had been murdered in Buchenwald or Dachau. That was how I found out about the death of my father, it was from my mom. Previously I was always told that he went to Zlín to learn how to make shoes and that therefore he could not be in Pilsen. So it was in Theressienstadt where I learned about the death of my father for the first time. I then suffered a nervous breakdown. It was hysteria, even worse than that.”
Curious crowds stood beside the road but nobody laughed or humiliated us
MUDr. Petr Riesel, CSc., was born in Pilsen in 1933 in an atheist Jewish bourgeois family. He was the first one of two sons. His father owned a store and his mother originated in Broumov. The family used Czech as the language of communication. His father was arrested in 1939 during the ‘Gitter’ crackdown and held as a political hostage. He later died in the Dachau concentration camp. His mother and the two sons were deported to the Theressienstadt ghetto in January 1942. Petr Riesel spent the next three years in Theressienstadt either with his mother or with his brother in the child camp. In the ghetto, Petr Riesel suffered a nervous breakdown and trauma. He suffered from posttraumatic syndromes for several years after the liberation of the camp. After the war, he studied a grammar school in Pilsen and later the medical faculty in Pilsen. He then worked in Chomutov as a doctor and specialized on the treatment of alcoholism. In Chomutov, he joined the “Club of engaged nonpartisans” (Klub angažovaných nestraníků - KAN). In the seventies he faced pressure on behalf of the secret state police. He lived alternately in Vlašim or Prague and had his doctor offices in Kutná Hora and Mělník. He was further in charge of a therapy group in Dolní Beřkovice. He specialized on the treatment of addictions and psychotherapy. Due to his own traumatic experiences, he specialized on childhood psychic trauma. He was the student of Professor Jaroslav Skála. In 2009, he won the Jaroslav Skála Award for the work in the field of addictology for his study “Thoughts about suicide”. He took an active stand against Neo-Nazism and was calling attention to the danger of its rise. Petr Riesel died on August 7, 2022.