Chapter Four: Italska

(excerpt)

 

Gidon “Arriving in Prague in 1938, was a tremendous relief for my parents, at least at first. We rented an apartment not far from Vaclavkse Naemsti, in the center of the city. There, we waited for our household furniture and belongings to arrive, but they never did. I learned later that the mover we hired took everything. There were five of us who lived in the small flat on Italska 7 Street. I shared a bedroom with my grandfather because my grandmother was very ill and needed her own room. I remember going to kindergarten, and I being sick quite often, with colds and sometimes a fever too. When I stayed home from school, I would sit at a small table next to my mother’s sewing little garments for my doll while my mother worked on hats for her clients. My mother had gone to a millinery school when she was growing up, and this was her profession, and it helped us to survive since neither my father and even less so, my grandfather could find work because nobody would hire Jews. We lived close to a lovely playground, where my grandpa Alfred would take me from time to time. I remember the swings there, one in the shape of a canoe, which I particularly loved. One day, I came home from kindergarten to find my father terribly aggravated and angry with my mother. It was my mother’s regular practice to air out our bedding on the windowsill every day, and that day, one of the pillows had fallen down to the street. My father had run down the four floors of steps only to find an elderly lady who had picked up the fallen pillow. After my father thanked her profusely, he had come back upstairs with the pillow, and only then did it become clear to my mother why he was so upset. My family had hidden all of my parent’s money inside that pillow.” 

Julie "Italska Street is in what is now an up and coming neighborhood in Prague, with cafes, a yoga studio, and frozen yogurt shops. But the building at Italska 7, while not lacking in character, was not as well kept as the neighboring buildings. I took a picture of Gidon on the steps of the buildings, wearing his backpack, looking curiously like a child as he peered into the glass front doors. Inside, a Czech janitor was mopping the floor, disinterestedly. He caught sight of us and opened the door, a cigarette dangling from his lip. I tried to explain that Gidon used to live here in this building, long ago, but the janitor only shrugged and continued working.

The suffocating dread must have crept up, slowly on Gidon’s parents and so many others. The small humiliations. The student protests. The arrests. The yellow stars. The posters pasted on the city walls ordering the Jews to do this and that; no longer allowed in this park or that cafe or this bus - do I look Jewish? How will they know? The appearance of German soldiers in their grey uniforms, marching down streets and over bridges. The wondering where the neighbor went or if the neighbor talked. The pulling down of the blinds at night.  The radio announcements. Going out to shop with clipped ration cards. Trying to bring home a living when your living has been “confiscated” by the Reich. Your bank account too. Your property. Your dignity. The knock on the door. The lining up to register your existence as a Jew in your own country, your city, your life. The noose tightening, slowly and then at an accelerating pace. What will become of you? Your child? Your spouse? Your family? What comes next? Will this be stopped? The order to report to the train station.  The dread. The disbelief. What do you pack? Bring your valuables, they said. And something warm."

Read excerpt from Chapter 7: Terezin

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