Every man is our brother
Christian or Jewish kid
United we march under the banner
Of the Republic of Škid
The Republic of Škid – such was the proud name that the boys from Heim 1, building L 417 (a former school) gave themselves. Their warden and teacher, Valtr, gradually managed to create a system of self-government within which the boys not only organized their own lives in the ghetto, but also learned to help, correct and teach one another. The government had its own chairman and council, but there were also weekly general meetings, where problems were discussed by all the 40 or 50 boys between 13 and 15 years of age. Within less than two years of its existence, many excellent boys entered the group. The self-government system, which helped to create the wonderful community of Škid, enabled these boys to find and form themselves, as well as to find the meaning of the days spent here in learning, creating and working for their friends.
The magazine VEDEM was not only a classical collection of boys’ works, but a real bulletin. The column “Praise and reproach” exposed problems, praised those who in some way contributed to the good of the community and reviewed evening lectures and other events, organized by Valtr and the boys. The work on articles for the column Rambles around Terezín, including visits at the discussed places, talking with the people in charge, as well as the writing itself, was in fact what we would call “topic work” today. VEDEM is hardly imaginable without the self-government and vice versa.We should mention that the magazine would never function in this way without its chief editor Petr Ginz (see the column “Of many of us”). Moreover, the survivors present him as the good soul of the whole community, able to not only to coax articles out of the boys, but also to awaken and develop their good sides. Thus, the phenomenon of the government of the Republic of Škid together with VEDEM not only instills esteem and respect, but it also serves as an inspiration for work with children and youth.The following texts are a mosaic of articles from different issues of VEDEM. They should present the working of the government and the life at Heim 1 as it was. They are accompanied by a few reminiscences of the survivors. In the course of time, we plan to expand the material, but even as it is now, it presents a decent image of the “boys’ republic” and its everyday pleasures and sorrows against the background of one of the most tragic events in the history of humankind.
We present the first two articles from the first issue of VEDEM, concerning the origins of the self-government and the organization of the evenings at the Heim. (It is a reconstruction of the partially damaged original text.)
…The Sabbath Eve of 11th December 1942 witnessed an event which could be of uppermost importance in the history of our Terezín community. We founded the government of the Republic of Škid. Until now, discipline, demanded by the madrichim, was maintained by the unpleasant means of the boys’ vocal chords. Until now, discipline, order and culture were maintained by the madrichim, who were the ones to plan and give orders as to how things should be done. The boys danced to our tune. Your creativity was thus being neglected and the hidden talents that each one of you has were being killed. You hardly needed to think; the madrichim did the thinking for you. You did not it think necessary to do what we did not command. The reason is, we believe, in what we would call the good spirit of the community. That is, if an individual is untidy, unclean and careless, the whole community should not suffer from it. Since now you have a self government, each one of you is in fact a double person, I and We.
We, the madrichim, will not become idle; we will advise and help you, but you will no longer be robots, moving in coordination with the machinery. You will be the ones to decide how to plan work, how to keep order, and what will our cultural life consist of. You will be the ones to create it. As a whole, you are better than any madrich, or even a pair of madrichim. You can do more than anyone can imagine. All you need is opportunity and conditions. And these you shall have from now on. I am convinced that even with the moderate means that are available here, you can do great things. The honor of our Home, the Škid, is at stake after all.
You have your anthem; sing it with an honest and virtuous soul. You have your banner and shield; keep it unblemished, so that you can be the true successors of the original Škid boys.
The cultural program of our Home has undergone a major change at the beginning of this week. The regular school program has overtaken the time previously devoted to hobby groups. Professor Bumbrlíček has come up with the following decision: All existing hobby groups will be replaced with regular evening lectures (on literature, biology, etc.). Apart from that, amusement parties will be given by our amateur comedian, H. Beck. Twice a week, there will be an evening of solemn silence, of a sort, when everyone will engage in reading or studying. After the evening program, various instructive or amusing books will be read out loud. Evening lectures will not be attended only by those who are interested, but by everyone from the Home.
And one more thing to conclude with: Tomorrow, that is on Saturday, Mařenka and Vašíček from The Bartered Bride will pay a visit to us. I think we will all have a great time. This will be all for now. Let us hope our new program will thrive!
The selected reminiscences of Erik Polak depict the life at Heim, as well as the personality of its warden, Valtr Eisinger.
A three-day stay at the assembly area in Veletržní palác followed by the departure for Terezín with my mother; my father died in 1941. After arrival the Schleusse (“sluice”) in Podmokly barracks, then a short stay in Hannover barracks in mass quarters together with the adults. It lasted for some 3 – 4 weeks, just at the time when the character of the camp was changing. The civil population was gone by then; the regime slackened and only at the beginning some minor restrictions were in operation. I had heard about the Jugendheim (which was a Kinderheim in fact) and got to stay – more or less by chance – at Heim 1 with prof. Eisinger. I was a boy of 13 then and, like everyone else, was admitted after a personal interview with Eisinger.
The government did not exist then; it only came to existence sometime before Christmas 1942. Heim 1 was a regular home then. Things were only taking shape. Eisinger was apparently still searching. From the beginning of my stay, I worked in the garden-husbandry, although the obligation to work arose only at 14 years of age. At the Home, there were two groups of boys: 1) those who worked and 2) those, who studied and stayed at the Home. The Home was occupied by boys born between 1928 and 1929. Sometimes, the older boys avoided work and studied in one of the hobby groups. Working in the garden, however, carried along material advantages; it was possible to smuggle out vegetables, and vegetables could be bartered for anything. I was glad to work there. There were also apprentices among us, for instance Honza Boskowitz was trained to become an electrician. I worked in the garden without training. Those who worked returned home (to the Home, that is) more tired, while the others were more hungry. (We got the so called zusatzes – “seconds”.) During evening programs, I often fell asleep. I could do nothing about it, even though I wanted to listen. I think it happened to me on the middle bunk bed, where I lay (we could not all of us fit around the table, of course), when Poláček was lecturing. Only later I came to realize, that this fact, this division of the boys to “working” and “not working”, influenced the relationships in the Home. The ones who studied knew more, of course. There was a difference between us in the level of education.
There were about 40 – 50 boys in the Heim; of course, the number changed as trains came and went. The ratio between the ones who worked and others was roughly 1:1, but even that was changing. We did experience a certain “golden age” of Terezín, when less people were leaving and the Terezín core remained relatively stable. Boys, who reached 15, left for the youth quarters in L 218.
Our Home was a rectangular room with a narrow space in the middle, surrounded by bunk beds. The bunk heads formed a sort of frontage, and the aisle was transformed into Wenceslas Square and decorated. We used paper and colors that we managed to get. We painted houses and stores and the block of bunk heads represented the National Museum. Prague was very dear to us all; everything had its meaning here. In front of the Museum, tram number 1 was painted; it did not matter, that nr. 1 never went there; the painting presented our Home.
The Škid Anthem
(consisted of three stanzas and was sung on the melody of the Worker’s Song)
Oh, what glory; all are cheering
The whole of One is on its feet
Government has come to being
Of the Republic of Škid
Every man is our brother
Christian or Jewish kid
United we march under the banner
Of the Republic of Škid
Insult us no one shall dare
No one shall dare to hit
To work hard we swear
To honor the Republic of Škid.
This was sung every Friday. The anthem also opened all government meetings, readings from the magazine Vedem and the evening programs, attended by everybody. It was also sung on ceremonial occasions.
The contributions were collected roughly as follows: Some of the boys contributed willingly; sometimes the contributions had to be asked for, or even extracted from, the boys. P. Ginz managed to virtually squeeze them out of you, harshly and without scruples. I was more into sports; here I did well. There is an episode connecting to this: One day, a long distance race was held. We ran around Magdeburk and Jégrovka and then back home. (It was, I think, organized by the head of the Home.) I did very well. Two days later, Ginz came up to me and virtually scolded me, asking me what I was thinking, that being good at sports is not everything, and that I should do something for the Home as well and write something. I wrote a long article together with H. Boskowitz (Z. Ornest and J. Kotouč, who was in the government, were, of course, much more active in Vedem; Kotouč was also the one to design and manufacture the badge of Škid) and it is a part of the exhibition Art in Terezín, transcribed in P. Ginze’s hand. It describes, how we went to steal potatoes in the Dresden cellar with a sack to stock up for winter. I have to admit, I laughed when I read the article by Jiří B. about the delousing chamber. We called this boy Teddy; he was strong, a plumber apprentice in the ghetto and had no intellectual inclinations whatsoever. And Ginz forced even him to write an article which turned out entirely matching his character: a description of the chamber, all its technical components etc. He had to virtually grind it out; he was no big writer. He was a fine boy, but working in the magazine was entirely out of his character. The magazine was red out loud; but not only that. It was put up and then archived (At the Ginzes. After that, if I remember it well, it was only discussed among the boys.)
Warden Valtr Eisinger
1. He was ripping in approaching the adolescent, unruly kids, such as were in the ghetto. Even those who did not love him respected him tremendously. He was able to nail down what the boys needed. I remember the evening debates at the barrack, after the lights were turned off. He’d climb on the bunk bed and start to tell stories. The atmosphere was intimate and the boys dared to ask more. He would talk about things that mattered to us, about sexual problems, about the problem of masturbation among the boys. All these things he managed to discuss with delicacy.
2. KK SKRZ (Disciplinary Squad “Through”) – He would never use corporal punishment himself, but let the “Skrz Boys” do, what they judged appropriate. They were the ones who punished. He always remained neutral.
3. He had the gift of being able to laugh at himself. He would come up with anecdotes in which he was among the laughing stock. He did not mind his professor’s dignity; it was by no chance that he would let us call him Shorty. (New Year’s Eve 1943 – a procession of masks was burying the old year; the whole Home marched behind the coffin, singing.)
One important feature of Eisinger’s character and political inclination was true internationalism. Home 5 – DROR – Vlaštovky (“The swallows”) was a Zionist home, with rivalry and competition. We had a more Bohemian-Jewish spirit, whereas they had the Zionist spirit.
Eisinger was also able to extract everyone’s hidden qualities. He would assign specific tasks in the community. We would compete in essay writing; e.g., we wrote an essay on our views on upbringing in the family and in a community. I wrote it on the roof on a straddle scaffold behind the chimney, where I would search for the scanty privacy that was nowhere else to be found. Eisinger thought my essay a very good one. Eisinger’s upbringing, his sense for the community, remained with you somehow. Such were his ideals. – On the other hand, he was able to play the fool at one of the numerous SS inspections, in front of the commission in 1944. We’d sit and await the inspection. The SS man came and asked us what we were doing. Eisinger replied that we are reading “Toman und Wald-Jungfrau” (Toman and the Wood Nymph). He looked completely serious. He was that kind of man. Not every boy got along with him. One was W. Roth, who was later in the “opposition”. He was a truly noble boy, had something English in himself.
The subsequent articles from various issues of the magazine VEDEM require no comment. They show the everyday life in the ghetto, problems as well as the attempts at solving them. They are mostly written humorously and candidly.
I don't know why it is - perhaps the reaction to some injection, heaven knows, anything is possible here - but it's a proven thing: the inmates of our home (interestingly only those up to the age of fifteen) have been afflicted by a strange disease that, so far, has never occurred anywhere else. It's more or less painless, at least for those who are aftlicted.
What's it like? Suddenly (the incubation period is very short) the patient feels an irresistible urge to destroy or disturb some part of Home L 417. Since it is my responsibility to care for the well-being of the Home and its furnishings - and I stress: the Home and its furnishings - I decided to seek out the particulars of what, for me, is a treacherous disease.
After detailed investigations I have come to the conclusion that people infected by this unknown virus respond in different ways. One might almost characterize it as a form of specialization. I would like to describe some of these areas for you, so that you can avoid them, if you are healthy, or discuss your own area with other specialists.
Some of those affected, for instance, carry things in such a clumsy manner that they break as many windows as possible. (Highly irresponsible, is it not, given the shortage of glass in the ghetto? Fool, you object, that's just why they're doing it. At least they'll have fresh air.) Football is played exclusively in the corridors, and unless there is a conílicting program, it's played in the home as well. (What's wrong with dirty smudges on the walls?) Who needs a wastepaper basket, when we have windows that give out onto the garden? We steal the bulb from the cellar for our very own private night light. (Who cares if someone breaks his neck down there in the dark?) Boys, I know a new game: if you stick enough potatoes down the washroom drains, you'll have a really neat flood there in no time. (You could, if you wanted, use millet, noodles, or some other food.) Never take ashes all the way to the dump; take them to the pump or empty them between the doors. If you see a good blackout blind anywhere, tear it down immediately. (Serious reprimands - twenty-eight so far - have been received by the Jugendleitung, but so what?) Broken dishes can be thrown down the toilet. (Then Dr. Jachnin has a lot of trouble finding new ones.) It only takes a few seconds to ruin the lock to the gymnasium door. Kicking down a bit of the corner wall is child's play for the expert. Emptying the tar container is fun. Mrs. Bachnerová got the corridor beautifully clean (poor woman, she had to use cold water), so don't hesitate to strew pieces of paper or dirty bandages about. It won't look so monotonous. I found many more areas of specialization, but this is enough for one article. Still, I'm an optimist and so I say: it's better than catching typhoid. Off you go, boys, the north wall of our house is still spotless. Go to it, give me something to do.
- Technician-journalist (Leo Demner)
Why is the magazine board not finished yet?
Why does it take so long to finish the table under the window?
Why are some curtains still missing?
Why do you blabber about things you don’t understand?
Why are you still reluctant to obey the government?
Why don’t you see to the blackouts yourselves?
Why are there fingerprints on the wall in 02 again?
Why don’t you eat your lunch together?
Why don’t you still have the rations trolley?
Why, why, why...?
My eyes witnessed a peculiar episode last evening. I am lying in the bed when suddenly I hear: “Čepička, could you lend me that book?” It was Guti. “No way,” was the answer. “Just for a while.” “No, I won’t.” Nothing odd, it would seem. But wait, it is not over yet. In a short while, Guti comes over to Čepička. “Hey, I’d give you two lumps of sugar, if you want.” The rest I did not hear. I only heard Cortéz shouting at Čepička: “Erýšek, you were supposed to give me a lump, so hand it over!” Would you call that commercial spirit too?
More of us have observed, that the chairman of U, Laub, does nothing. He even dares (probably for his merits) to let Maier wash his mess tin. That happened when he was still in good health.
The newspaper U, Ginz, leaves the contributions to their fate, and collects them only on his way to the printing office, trying to shake them out of anyone he can lay his hands on. The cultural U, Mr. Kotouč, not only drops the evening parties, but also lets the water drop from the pipe. Maybe to back up his dropping the evening parties. Theatre is now only a matter of discussions. The Persian cabaret, an opportunity to present ourselves, Mr. Seck, will probably remain a wasted opportunity. Dornička has fallen asleep in the woods and so has the golden spinning wheel. A prince who’d wake all this up wanted. Maintenance U, Fishl, now apparently serves only as a decoration, since he does nothing and thus we still didn’t manage to get the white flag. Rations U, Krausík, has already forgotten the heap of sh... we were in for picking up rations without the lid. Maybe he thinks street dust is the best seasoning. The High and Almighty, Master Farodý, sometimes also intends to take care of the morning order. The intention is all we get, though. Some of the S rest on their laurels. It is therefore impossible to finish the pipeline, Brady, which needs only some plaster. We have to virtually beg Benoška for the decoration.
Thirty-three boys took part ín the intelIigence test this month. There were one hundred questions on all sorts of subjects and Bucháček came tops with 75 correct answers, "Associate Professor" was next with 74. Abscess got 73 right.
Here are a few howlers from the competition:
"Big Bertha" is a name given to fat women.
Kosher are people who don't eat meat. St. Wenceslas was murdered by his brother Prokop Holý
Flora is a church in Prague.
The author of Quo Vadis was Comenius. St. Wenceslas was murdered by his grandmother.
Bamboo is a hollow stick.
The highest mountain range in Europe is the Himalayas.
These, and many more equally stupid figments of our imagination, had to be corrected by
- DrBe (Valter Roth - Beno Kaufmann?)
'Iwo lectures were given last week: Hanuš Weil on The History of Chess and Pepek Taussig and Nora Frýd on Gogol. The first lecture was extremely well prepared and little Weil delivered it faultlessly from memory. But I'm afraid it wasn't very original. It is not the task of the lecturer to spew out the text of a book he used for research, but to gather material and, like a bee turning nectar into honey, suck out the most relevant material from his reading, digest it, and deliver a lecture in his own words.
The second lecture was one of the best ever given in the Home. But I must still take Pepek Taussig to task over something. I am sure you noticed that whenever he got stuck he reached for a joke as though it were a life preserver. Mass-produced jokes and anecdotes are like ready-wrapped presents with the inscription: "Wishing you all the very best ..." Whenever he was hard up, Pepek managed to shake one out of his sleeve. Pepek's lecture was most instructive, and told us a lot not only about Gogol, but also about the era that contributed to his formation. I would criticize Nora for overacting while reading his excerpts, and a little less gesticulation would not have hurt either. But the conclusion of his lecture was impressive and fiery... On the whole it was successful. We are greatly looking forward to the lecture cycle on Russian writers.
- nz (Petr Ginz)
(Since the founding of the government)
Škid had altogether 64 citizens
Moved away 13 citizens
Left for Poland 12 citizens
In hospitals 10 citizens
In sickroom 20 citizens
Mortality 0 citizens