Viking, the river cruise line which sponsors Downton Abbey on TV, provides beautiful video showing its ships on Rhine Cruises and also shows film of the many side-trips possible to cultural sites when the ships dock. They don’t mention one of the least popular trips, the bus ride from Prague to the nearby Terezin concentration camp. We took that trip five years ago and you can see from my long shadow over the grave of a prisoner named Salomon that it was late afternoon when I took the picture.
I said to myself as I stood there, “I wish I could do something for Salomon to mark his time in life.” His is one of many graves in a huge cemetery outside the concentration camp where the multitudes who died there are buried. It’s the camp the Nazis used to fool the International Red Cross, which sent a delegation to see if rumors of Nazi death camps were true.
The Red Cross concluded Terezin passed muster as what the Nazis said it was – a facility to protect Jews, especially musicians and artists. On the day of the Red Cross visit, there were candy shops set up displaying bon-bons and only neat, well dressed residents out on its streets. One survivor remembers a Red Cross delegate asking her how life was going at Terezin and the prisoner, having been warned by the SS guards, feared making an explicit statement. She tried to give away the scam to her questioner by saying it would be a good idea if the inspectors made sure to look carefully at the camp and she said she rolled her eyes as she spoke. Didn’t help.
All the Red Cross inspectors saw was lollypops and bon-bons, an artful façade the Nazis had prepared for their inspection. The International Red Cross declared there was no death factory at work in Terezin. Nothing to fret about.
The Red Cross inspectors were almost right.
Terezin was used as a way-station, a stopping-off place from which Jews were sent to the death camps like Auschwitz, whose liberation by American troops 70 years ago was recently celebrated. The many deaths at Terezin were due to over-crowding and malnutrition, not gas chambers or machine guns.
But what about my promise to Salomon No. 2171? Was he old or a youngster? I’m sorry, I just don’t know. But, perhaps, Salomon’s grave-side picture will reach someone with the key to the Nazi numbering system and provide information about Salomon No. 2171 in life. We do know the population at Terezin was disproportionately drawn from artists and musicians to make the Nazi story about its function as a haven for artists credible; or at least credible to inspectors from the International Red Cross.
Thousands of colorful drawings by children were found at Terezin and are exhibited at the Holocaust
Museum in Washington, DC, and other museums. Many of the pictures show happy times like the one nearby, which isn’t from a child at Terezin but was drawn by a concentration camp child survivor during time spent at a British refuge called Weir Courtney and Lingfield House. It’s similar in unbowed spirit to the Terezin children’s drawings.
Terezin was stocked with artists and musicians of all kinds to create the Nazi legend that it served as a refuge for Jewish creatives. Survivors reported there were enough skilled musicians there at one time for two symphony orchestras and a leftover string quartet or two.
But that’s before the Nazis got down to shipping bigger cargoes off to Auschwitz where the old were killed on arrival and those young enough to work survived till they were drained of their strength.
If you look at the photograph, you can see I left a few stones on Salomon’s grave, a traditional sign he’s remembered. But perhaps the Internet, with its great reach around the globe, will find us more than a few stones as a memorial for Salomon.
My daughter Heidi who helps me to post these pieces tried to do some research using the database at Yad Vashem. This is an incredible site containing the world’s largest repository of information on the Holocaust.
Heidi found a man whose last name was Salomon and who died at Terezin very close to the date shown on the headstone. Her guess is that the plus sign to the left of the date on the headstone means it’s an approximation of the date he died. His full name was Dr. Maximillian Salomon and he was married to a woman named Kreina Lautman (her maiden name). The Salomons had two daughters and a son. Their youngest daughter, listed as a student in the database, died in Budapest, Hungary. That fits because the family came from Hungary. The details about Dr. Salomon and his extended family came from documentation contributed by his brother-in-law. The information indicates that the doctor’s nineteen year old son and twenty year old daughter were with them at Terezin and died there. But they must have sent their youngest to school perhaps in hopes of keeping her alive.
Of course, it’s certainly possible this is another holocaust victim named Salomon. But the facts do seem to fit together. Hopefully, Yad Vashem has helped me keep my promise to give the Salomon on that headstone a more complete memorial. And if not, perhaps Dr. Salomon and his family can stand in as my tribute to those millions of Jews whose lives were brutally cut short by Nazi atrocities.