"Somehow, we knew we were in Auschwitz. It was just a name to us. As we arrived, I could see flames blazing from the chimneys. I thought those were factories we were about to work in. Two or three days later, someone told us what they were in reality. That they were crematoriums used to burn people who were previously sent to gas chambers. We couldn't believe it. My best friend Egon Löbner panicked so much he hid under some plank bed, which of course was no good. It was just a response. So then, we knew and there was nothing we could do. Once when we were locked up in our building, they were leading a group of kids past us. Small kids who were in for some time and knew what was happening. They were taking them to gas chambers and they knew it. They had some stuff with them and were throwing their spoons away because they knew they would no longer need them. They wanted us to find them and use them. That really was a terrible experience, seeing them like this, ten or twelve-year-old children..."
"On one hand, it was terrible. Especially for elderly people. Some 33 000 people died there. The elderly had lived in appalling conditions. They didn't have enough to eat and were dying en masse on various diseases. Every day, we could see them being dragged away in burial carts. People were pulling and pushing these. There were no horses or oxen there, and of course, no motor vehicles. Every day, we could see the carts loaded with corpses. Often, there were the transports to Auschwitz - we didn't know where it was. We were all hungry. I used to stay by the kitchen after food was handed out, to wait for any leftovers. On the other hand, young people were much better off. I lived with eleven other boys in the room, and we remade it. We managed to steal some wood and had it pretty nice there. We had two three-floor pallets there, then a plank-bed where two other boys were sleeping. Me and Egon Löbner would lie on couches. We made ourselves a table and a bench. We organized lectures. My friend Arnošt Reiser would come and lecture on analytical geometry. These may have been the best lectures I've had in my life. Gustav Schorsch used to come and present poems, philosophy and literature. I used to go with Eva to public lectures on 19th century art. Culture-wise, it was an intense life. Something was happening all the time and there were many options."
"Obviously, it was really bad in there. As we got out of that shower, we were given some rags and couldn't even dry ourselves. We got out and it was a nasty end of September. We were standning outside for a long time, trying to do something still. One of the older people who were taking care of the youth - Jirka Wachtl - began lecturing some pieces of Czech history. Then they moved us to such... I think these were military stables, huge buildings. They herded about a thousand people inside. There was no space there. The only way for us to sleep at night was to spread our legs, sit in between the legs of the person behind us and lean on them. One row behind the other. Sitting, half lying, we were leaning on the one behind us. Being twenty, we were still able to fall asleep in various positions but it was still pretty horrible."
"When the ship landed, people were getting out on one side while we ran towards the other side. Eva said: 'I can't jump, you have to push me.' She climbed up the railing with our son Martin, I pushed her and they fell in the water. Then I took our other son Tomáš and jumped into the water. Eva was smart, and so she only swam around the ship. It was Sunday afternoon and plenty of people were standing there and watching us. She asked one man in English: 'Are you Danish?' He said he was and she asked rather comically: 'Are you sure?' Then she passed him the boy and he helped her get out. In the meanwhile, I was swimming and could see some steps leading from the water. I swam on my back across the port. I was holding Tomáš in one hand and used my other hand and my legs to swim. I lost my glasses there."
All people are capable of atrocities and everyone has to be judged individually
Jan Roček was born as Jan Robitschek on 24 March 1924 in Prague into a Jewish assimilated family. Following the 1939 German occuption, the family was subject to anti-Jewish regulations. Jan was expelled from a grammar school. He worked at a locksmith’s workshop and later joined a course organized by the Jewish community to become a chemical technician. This was the turning point in his life as he fell for chemistry. In 1942, the whole family was transported to the Terezín ghetto. Jan Roček worked in agriculture and later managed to find a job in a chemical laboratory. In the fall of 1944, he was transported to Auschwitz where he survived for about a month. He signed up as a metal-worker and managed to get transferred to the Mauselwitz camp where he worked with the lathe. Due to a nearing war front, the prisoners were evacuated to Kraslice. Jan then took part in a death march, which only ended on 8 May 1945. Wretched, he was taken to the hospital in Žatec. There, he found out about the death of his parents and sister. Starting in 1946, he studied at the Faculty of Chemistry at Czech Technical University in Prague. He underwent post-graduate studies under the mentoring of Otto Wichterle. Ever since 1953, he worked in the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. At the end of 1957, he was able to do a traineeship in Great Britain. As a consequence, he decided to emigrate at any cost. In 1960, he left with his wife and two sons the Eastern Block by jumping from a East-German ship into Danish territorial waters in the port of Gedser. In 1966, the family acquired American citizenship. Jan Roček has had a successful career as a researcher and academic at universities in the USA.