“Between 1941 and 1945 the small fortress town of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia became a transit point to the death camps in the east for thousands of Czech, German, Austrian and Dutch Jews. All those deported to Theresienstadt were led to believe it was an ‘end camp’ from which they would travel no further. They were promised a comfortable and peaceful life in the ‘Reich home for the aged’ and were hoodwinked into signing over to the S.S. all of their properties and assets. In reality, many would be sent on to death camps such as Auschwitz. From 1943, following international concern, the Nazis developed Theresienstadt into a ‘show camp’ a propaganda exercise designed to conceal from the outside world what was really happening to Europe’s Jews. A large scale ‘beautification’ programme swung into action, giving the camp a pleasant and respectable facade, a deception that succeeded in shielding the terrible truth.”
On the 10th of September 1942 Berta & Jakob Weinshenk, an elderly Jewish couple were deported from Nuremburg to the Ghetto-Camp Theresienstadt near Prague. On the 1st of March 1943 Jakob Weinschenk died as a result of starvation. Over a year later Berta marked her 75th birthday in Theresienstadt on the 11th of May 1944, surrounded by friends – Pauline Salomon, Paula Plaut, Hermann Plaut, Hamburger, Blanka Briska, Mathilde Heimberg, Marta Samson, Flory Ehrenwerth, Marta Kluth – who composed a poem that they wrote on a simple piece of cardboard, which has survived.
The Birthday Poem:
“The bravest woman in the entire room is dear Frau Weinschenk And today she is 75 years old! We present to her our dream
May our dream for her come true,
A dream that she herself can’t dream of! She will sit, so we dream, among her loved ones With wine and in good health The room will be comfortable and homely We sing aloud with happy faces: Little mother Weinschenk pour in [a play on words: “Weinschenk” means host of a wine bar. “schenke ein” means pour in] Long live little mother Weinschenk Among your children and grandchildren.”
Berta’s friends’ good wishes came true and she survived in surprising circumstances. She related that in Theresienstadt in early 1945 a German officer asked: “Who wants to go to Switzerland?” She didn’t believe him for a minute, but because she wanted to die she volunteered. To her great surprise the train actually did arrive in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in February 1945. From there she continued to her children in the United States and celebrated her birthdays with her children, grandchildren and great-children until her 95th birthday!