Hana Sternlicht

* 1930  

  • “When we came to Terezín in December 1942, there were some ten thousand people crammed in. It was designed for three or four thousand people. And it went all the way up to fifty thousand. What we hadn’t known was that the ghetto was a camp where not only people arrived to, but which people were also leaving from. All of us feared being deported further. Nobody knew where this would lead us but everyone realized it would not be any better. Though things were tough enough in Terezín – hundreds of people died every day. Especially the elderly and the ill who were not fit for work. Those who were able to work could still exchange a tomato that they’d steal from the garden, for a piece of bread from someone. I think we began to work when thirteen or fourteen years old. I recall I was once sent out from the ghetto to collect linden flowers for the Germans. I wasn’t best at climbing but made my way up there. The German guard stood watch just under my tree. I wasn’t even able to pick the flowers, fearing I’d fall on him. So I sat there and waited for him to move. Eventually he did and left, so I was also able to climb down that tree.”

  • “They told us: ‘You have two options. Either you live in a tent or there is a former Arab village near the kibbutz, which the Arabs had left. But things are broken there. If you wanted to live there, you’d have to put the things together.’ My husband did the windows and doors, which were missing. There was no water source either, and so we brought it in from the djara in kibbutz, which preserved it cold. We also had a car, which was no good for the road but it drove us to work in the morning. Initially, I worked in the kitchen as the girls who worked there before happily left it and instead went to work with children. We were assigned to the kitchen. My husband immediately began working in a joiner’s shop. And we organized our wedding. It wasn’t a big one like they are today. I actually felt quite sad about it because my parents were not there, I was in a new country and didn’t know what lied ahead.”

  • “That was the most terrible journey of all that we had done by train. Those were not even cattle cars – these were coal cars, without a ceiling. Each of us had one blanket, which obviously got soaked with snow and rain. And we also saw bombs falling on us. Or rather, they were falling around and we prayed that they wouldn’t fall on us. Sixteen days, practically without food. I think in Budějovice, they cooked us a soup. At some point, we stopped under a bridge from which a man threw us a loaf of bread. I just squeezed in the corner because a battle for the bread broke out.”

  • “So we came into one of the houses. Twelve to a bunk. When one of us wanted to turn, all twelve had to turn because we were crammed together like sardines. The old hands told us we were to eat whatever we could and try not to drink much. And it was just my bad luck, I don’t know why, I didn’t eat anything at all, I couldn’t swallow. They didn’t spoil us in Terezín, but the soup we got here was gritty with sand. You couldn’t eat that, and no drink either. But the piece of bread we got, the first night, I decided to leave until breakfast, and I put it under my head. That wasn’t good because the bread was missing by morning. My luck was that I didn’t stay there long.”

  • “I got out of the train in Holice and looked: nothing had changed. Everything was there as if there had been no war at all. I wanted to shout: ‘Hey folks, I’m back!’ But I couldn’t recognise anyone. I dragged myself all the way our home and knocked on the door. It was opened by a young lady, and it wasn’t till I had explained who I was that she let me inside. They were very kind to me, they were a young couple. The Germans had split up our house. I didn’t even look around, I don’t know why, no one was there, I don’t know. Either way, I didn’t know what to do; they let me have a bath. Then I asked if they could call one friend of my parents, whom I called auntie, Mrs Jíšová. She used to own a newsagent’s and she had four adult children who lived in Prague, and she came and took me in. So I slowly recovered. Luckily I wasn’t ill, and the diet helped me get back to health.”

  • “That was before the visit of the Swiss Red Cross. We had to scrub the pavements, redecorate the houses that were there, but just from the front, on the route the visitors were to take. The little children were allowed out of the ghetto, they got a piece of bread with jam, and they were even allowed to eat it. They put all kinds of goods into the shop windows, like mustard. The Swiss hadn’t even left yet and they already started pulling it all from the windows. They even started a bank and printed money that you couldn’t buy anything for.”

  • “We were shut up in the wagons for a long time, and when they opened them, it was already dark outside, just the floodlights on. We were forced out with shouting and the terrible barking of dogs and yells of ‘Los!’ and ‘Raus!’. I thought I would get a breath of fresh air because the wagon was insufferably crammed full. But there was no fresh air there, it was something sickly sweet, strange, terrifying. We had to line up in rows of five, stand, and slowly start to walk. Of course, our luggage stayed in the wagon, and we moved forward, where Doctor Mengele stood with his right hand held out, sending each of us either right, or left. When we came closer, I saw that one woman went right and the other went left. I naively thought that if I didn’t stand next to Mum but swapped my place with the lady on the other side, then Mum would go to one side, the lady would go to the other, and I would stay with Mum. It didn’t work, of course.”

  • “The train stopped in Mauthausen. The road led uphill to the camp, and that was the first time I told myself that was the end, that I couldn’t do it. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with those thoughts. We wanted to stop by a well - there was a well there, we wanted to have a drink, but the Austrians threw stones at us because we were a horrifying sight. We somehow managed to reach the camp. The first thing I saw inside the camp was a pile of dead bodies, which had been brought out of the houses by the muselmanns. Then they took us to be deloused or disinfected; we stood naked in the yard. Then they gave us some louse-ridden men’s pants. There was typhus there.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Kirjat Gat. Izrael, 13.03.2017

    (audio)
    duration: 02:13:13
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, 24.05.2018

    (audio)
    duration: 01:57:38
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

I couldn’t smile for a long time

Foto_0441.JPG (historic)
Hana Sternlicht
photo: Archiv pamětnice, Jitka Radkovičová

Hana Sternlicht, née Neumannová, was born on 10 February 1930 into an assimilated Jewish family in Prague. She grew up in Holice where her parents had a stationer’s shop. In 1940 Hana was expelled from school for being a Jew - she was home-schooled the following year. On 9 December 1942 she and her parents were deported to the ghetto in Terezín. She lived in the girls’ house L410. In September 1944 her father was transported to Auschwitz; Hana and her mother followed on 4 October 1944. After about ten days in Auschwitz, Hana was selected for work and sent to the Freiberg labour camp in Saxony where she worked in a factory producing aircraft components. In April 1945 the camp was evacuated and the female prisoners were taken to Mauthausen. Hana was liberated there by the American army on 5 May 1945. Both her parents and a large part of her wider family were murdered by the Nazis during the war. Hana returned to Holice but then moved to Prague a few months later; she and a friend were taken in by some family friends. She attended a business academy in Prague for two years. She was active in the Zionist movement Dror and decided to emigrate to Israel. She spent a year doing a preparatory Hachshara course in Liberec, in March 1949 she departed for Israel with her future husband, Hanuš Sternlicht. After her arrival she lived briefly in the kibbutz of Ha’Hotrim and the moshav of Arbel. In 1962 she moved to Kiryat Gat. She and her husband raised two children; Hana worked as a teacher at a school for disabled children.