Frank (arrowed) at school in Prague
From Berlin To Auschwitz: Part 2
Chapter Two of Frank Bright's story takes in tjhe Brichta family's arrival in Prague, their transfer to the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt and being put on the train for the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.
"My first impression of Prague in May 1938 was that it was full of refugees. Refugees had started to arrive there probably early 1935, but it certainly became a torrent by 1938 when we got there.
"They'd come from Austria, and from the Czech Sudentenland when that was occupied. My father briefly joined the Czech Army. They had a short mobilisation before the Munich crisis and he seemed to enjoy it because it reminded him of his First World War service with them, but it left my mother and me a bit high and dry.
"I spent my days in the library reading a book a day - in German, because I couldn't speak Czech at all yet. We found a flat in Prague which had just been completed. We were alongside families from the Sudeten and eventually I went to a Jewish school."
Prague skyline today
The Munich Agreement between the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Hitler allowed the Nazis to occupy the rest of Czechoslovakia in return for promising to make it the limit of their territorial ambitions in Europe.
"The Germans invaded on 15th March 1939, which meant we were back to where we were in Berlin. All the restrictions imposed on Jews in Germany applied again:
"It was very difficult, and, of course you had to hand things over such as jewellery, sewing machines, musical instruments, bicycles, a car if you had one. Anything of use to the German Army had to be handed over such as optical instruments and cameras.
"Jewish children were forbidden to attend Czech schools so they all came to us and we had to have shifts, but we didn't learn much because the Germans controlled the syllabus and they didn't want Jews to get educated.
"I tried to read as much as possible at home. The school was eventually closed in 1942 and I started to work as an apprentice gardener at a cemetery."
Jews in Czechoslovakia were aware of the transportation to the concentration camp "We were very much aware of what was going on: people went away, you never heard from them again. It was a pretty bleak atmosphere.
"These transports started in 1941, carried on throughout 1942 and by July 1943 most of Prague was emptied of Jews. In July 1943 we were transported by train to the ghetto of Theresienstadt, which is fairly near Prague."
Conditions got worse for the Brichta family. Around 60,000 people were forced to live-in facilities designed for 7,000 "Theresienstadt was a big star-shaped military fortress built in in the late 18th Century. It was very overcrowded with poor sanitation and little food. All the time you had the threat of being 'sent East'.
"You didn't know where you might be going, although now we know it was to extermination camps. Compared to Prague it was awful, but compared to Auschwitz it was paradise. It's all relative.
Auschwitz:Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes One Free)
"My mother lived in a large barracks room with 50 women. My father lived in similar conditions. I was 14 and lived in a house with other young people working as a locksmith.
"All you looked forward to was your one meal. Basic rations weren't sufficient, but if you worked you'd get extra which was delivered to the workplace. Girls and boys were separated - you couldn't mix, but I could try to see one or other of my parents. We were adolescents but we couldn't lead normal lives. Far from it."
Frank was in the Theresienstadt ghetto for 15 months (July 1943-October 1944) "In October 1944 nearly the whole of the ghetto was liquidated. Transportation on trains was 1000 prisoners at a time taken mainly to Auschwitz. We'd heard of Birkenau, but we didn't really know what Auschwitz was.
"The Germans made people write a card back from Auschwitz. They'd write in code - saying things like 'saw Uncle George' when we knew Uncle George had been dead for years. But it was difficult to explain Auschwitz to outsiders because it was so horrific."
Frank's family was split up "My father went a fortnight before me and my mother, but I don't remember much about it because the liquidation of the ghetto happened so quickly. However, that was the last I time I saw him.
"Services in the ghetto broke down because people suddenly weren't there. It was possible my mother could have stayed in Theresienstadt if she'd worked in a goggle factory, but she wanted to follow my father.
"We left the ghetto on 12th October 1944 and the train journey took around a day. We arrived in Auschwitz on the morning of the 13th."
last updated: 18/01/2008 at 16:59
The Suffolk man who campaigned against the slave trade