The Holocaust children of Oslo and Prague

September 23, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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Wellington-based Vera Egermayer recently visited the Centre for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo and the only Jewish day school in the Czech Republic  on behalf of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand. 

Georg Andreas Broch of the Centre for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minoritiesand Vera Egermayer in Oslo

Vera’s visit focused on children in the Holocaust. She writes:

The Permanent Exhibition on the Holocaust in Oslois housed in a magnificent villa occupied during the war by the notorious collaborator Vidkun Quisling.

Two  thirds of Norway’s Jews managed to flee, mainly to Sweden, before the Nazis arrived. The remainder, approximately 750 Jews, perished in the Holocaust.

88 of these were Jewish children under the age of 15.

Before their own deportation on ships from the Oslo harbour to concentration camps in Germany these children witnessed the round up of all their male relatives and the humiliation of their mothers having to report to the police everyday. They were forced to give up all their possessions, leave their homes and live in cramped collective housing designed to isolate Jews from their non-Jewish neighbours. These children have no graves. Their names, places of residence, dates of birth and death are displayed in the Holocaust exhibition in Oslo.

Soon, each one of them will also be commemorated in New Zealand in the Moriah Buttons Memorial Project for which the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand (HCNZ) has assumed responsibility. The 88 buttons representing Jewish children from Norway were donated by a Norwegian woman whose family were in the Norwegian resistance movement.

Aase has been to New Zealand on several occasions and has paid a visit to the HCNZ and to Moriah School to see her buttons.”

Egermayer’s next stop was at the Lauder School in Prague.

She continues her report:

“I contributed one single button to the 1.5 million from which the Button Memorial called ‘’Bewilderment’’ will be built in Wellington. This button comes from the Czech Republic and represents the youngest member of my lost family, my cousin Joseph (Pepicek) Mautner who was transported to Terezin on 22 December 1942 (transport Ck) and then to Auschwitz on 28 October 1944 ( transport Ev),  the date of his death: he was gassed on arrival being only 14 and considered too young to work. His older brother Erich was sent to the other side and managed to survive.
The Lauder school is the only Jewish school in the Czech Republic. The building where it is located in, Belgicka Street in Prague, used to be a Jewish orphanage.  My cousin Pepicek was placed there along with his three brothers before the war. He was one of the 429 children deported in 40 transports from this orphanage.  Only 63 of them came back. The number of children housed in the orphanage swelled between 1939 and 1943. Orphanages and similar institutions housing children during the war provided easy pickings for the Nazis in many countries (France for example) Their innocent prey were conveniently gathered in one place which – which was also my case when I was taken to Terezin from an orphanage in Prague.

Before the war, the orphanage provided a good education and subsequently sound professional opportunities within the Jewish business network. Some of the inmates were not orphans as such: they may have been placed there because only one parent was alive and did not have the means to look after a  child, as was the case of Pepicek’s widowed mother.

Pepicek is not here to tell us how he felt about being in the orphanage but for most of the inmates including his twin brothers, Roman and Ronald, it holds happy memories. They returned to live in the orphanage after the war and are always glad to go back for a visit. Roman recently came to Prague from his home in Israel to celebrate his 80th birthday with his twin and made it a priority to visit his old home in Belgicka Steet.  I accompanied him and we were received by the principle Mrs Dejmlova. This visit could create a fertile terrain of further connections between the Lauder school and interested New Zealand schools.

I discovered in the New Zealand National Archives that Pepicek Mautner was one of the handful of Czech Jews granted an entry visa to New Zealand in 1939. He did not manage to get away in time. He has become one of the 15,000 Czech Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust.  Each one of them will be symbolically present in the ‘’Bewilderment’’ Memorial.

The largest number of buttons from a country outside New Zealand comes from the Czech Republic. These 1227 buttons were donated by my friend Eva whose Jewish classmate was another victim of Nazi persecution although she did not die in a concentration camp. Terrified at the prospect of being deported, she and her mother committed suicide.

Another of these Czech buttons represents an outstanding boy Petr Ginz who lost his life at the age of 16. His writings and art works live on as does his message of hope. Petr never gave up. His story is a great inspiration to young people of today and the Holocaust Centre is exploring the idea of bringing it to New Zealand.”

Vera Egermayer reported on her visits through her connection with the Holocaust Button Memorial project, which she is presenting around Europe on behalf of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.

The Buttons for the Moriah Project come from a number of other countries such as France, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland  and Germany .”

Egermayer plans to visit some of these in order to create links for the HCNZ around the Moriah Buttons Project as part of the Centre’s international outreach programme.

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