johnny rozsa
photographer
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My One, My Only, My Golden Child The biography of My Grandmother - Selma Leibschutz.

This book is currently in development and seeking a publisher

It has befallen on me, in my family, to write the story of this wonderful woman, my grandmother, Selma Leibschutz. In 1978, she had come to Switzerland from Nairobi, Kenya, where she was living to meet my elder sister Eve's first daughter Mara. She was Selma's first great grandchild. It also happened to be just the 2nd time since the Second World War that she had set foot in Europe, since she had fled 30 years earlier, having survived years in the Nazi concentration camps of Terezin and Auschwitz. The first time had been a few years earlier for Eve�s wedding in London. I was with Granny at both occasions and of course had been beautifully raised by her in Kenya where I was born. I thought I knew her well, and I did, but in fact I only knew the bright, kind, happy, side of a loving grandmother. I never knew anything about her own life, born in 1895 in Brno, Czechoslovakia, married in her late teens, raising 2 daughters in a comfortable successful family, a lover of good food and an aficionado of music and theater, whose life was turned upside down by being caught in the Holocaust. In 2000, I was with my sister Eve, in Santa Barbara, and she sat me down, with a box of letters that neither of us knew existed. Saved, by my parents for decades, they are all the letters Selma had written to my mother, who was living in Nairobi, married with a daughter. The letters are all written in English and are dated from 1945 to 47, when Selma had returned to her home in Brno to pick up the shattered pieces of her life and communicating, longingly, with her only living blood relative, her daughter Lisa. I believe this is a dramatic story, of an amazing woman's life, a story that must be told. The letters all start with the words: �My One, My Only, My Golden Child".

Excerpt 1

One time, in my despair, I remember that a Deputation of SS German officers were going to visit Terezin, and inspect the ghetto, and be able to report back the conditions of their prisoners of war. Weeks before the event, everything had to be cleaned up and look spic and span, especially the children�s quarters, which is where Gerda had worked. The buildings were freshly painted, new curtains put into windows, which had their own window flowerbeds. What was in store for all of us, with all this revamping? The inevitable question in all our minds was �WHY?� Why would the Germans encourage the formation of a children�s soccer team? Why would an old house be converted into a coffee house? The children�s food was improved and more varied. The nurses who looked after the young ones, had to teach the appropriate answers to any questions that the German officers might ask them. On the very day of the arrival of the inspectors, the children were fed sardines, bread and butter and even a sweet dessert. This, naturally, made the Germans very proud, of the way they saw that things were being run in Terezin, but of course it was a false view. We worked hard for these improvements as ordered, and realized that everything was being done to convince the world out there that we were treated well, that the nasty rumours about Jews being gassed, starved and tortured were malicious slanders.

Time dragged by. What was I to think? I dreaded the mornings more than any time. The split second I opened my eyes, the nightmare that I thought I was dreaming proved itself to be true, just because the fact that I was cramped, that the stench of body odors all around me were real and I saw the dripping wall of the barrack. Yet, I was here, and I had to ready myself to face danger, and endure more hunger and loose bowels, and try to clean the oozing sores that kept appearing on my body. It took such effort, to wake up and realize that I was freezing, and I felt dirty and had to compete with the other women at the faucet, clutching my wash-rag. And on top of everything, I was inconsolably depressed. All I could see was Gerda�s beautiful face, all I needed was a spoon-snuggle with Jacques, but the ghastly reality was that I was in a heinous nightmare. I was sad to be here, all alone, without hope. I would peer around and see filth and squalor, and in my heart was a sense of self-pity and sadness, wondering what had I done to deserve to endure such an environment of despair. However, I never had any time to wallow in my desperation, as I had to immerse myself in my work, as this seemed to take my mind off the misery all around me. Time marched on relentlessly, and my only hope was to be reunited soon somewhere with my daughter Gerda.

Transports were still arriving. Among them was my sister-in-law Stella, Zdenko and their two children.
They did not linger long in Theresienstadt. All of them were sent away on a transport of unknown destination. They never returned. My throat never ceased to feel like I was being strangled, strangled by despair.

Sometimes, there was a postal system that worked here, and for me one day, I was informed by the mailman, that a card had arrived for me from home in Brno. It had been forwarded to me, and by chance, it found me. I had to go and wait in line at the �post office� - the one post office here that served over thirty thousand people! I stood in line at the counter, and handed over the notice I had from the mailman.: it gets clipped and stamped at the next counter, and returned. At another distribution counter, I wait...What will be there for me? Nobody had written to me here. It was a postcard. From my Lisa! She is alive! She still breathes - there in the other world, on a different planet! Here was some news, some concrete evidence, from my eldest daughter Lisa and her husband Imre. I was overjoyed to hear some news of them and know that they were alive, safe and sound. They let me know that they were living in a town called Nairobi, in a country called Kenya in Eastern Africa. I really had no clue about East Africa, but Prof Holz told me that he knew of a few Germans in the ghetto who had lived in East Africa, and that he would do his best to get me in touch with them.




Excerpt 2

That first night we slept on hay in a cowshed, that we shared with six cows and several baby calves. The stable was a big, clean lofty barn, and we were separated from the animals by a rope. We slept so well, listening to the breathing of the cows and their comforting moos. I was awakened, in the morning, a Sunday, by one of them licking my face and the sound of church bells! A plump peasant woman brought us roasted rabbit for our midday meal, and we devoured it because it tasted so wonderful. She had a tall beautiful daughter, but her farmer-husband, though polite to us, was a firm believer in the Reich. Naturally, they felt afraid to shelter us. After three or four luxurious days, even though we were never to venture outside for fear of being noticed, we were asked to leave, and were moved to another farm, this time belonging to the Mayor of this little farming community. He had a big house, garden and some big fields, and a wife with several children. Here too, we had to sleep in the cowshed, but this one was filthy, and soon both Maria and I caught lice. We ate our meals in the family kitchen, after our hosts had finished their meals. To earn our keep, we were put to domestic chores, like doing all the family laundry, scrub all the floors, and clean all the windows and toilets. Also, we had to mend all their clothing, shirts, pants and socks especially those of the children. Never in my life had I seen so many torn clothes. The mayor was a tall, jolly and stout goodhearted man. He worked hard in the biggest room of his home, his office, and seemed to be very popular. We saw him often as we worked hard in the morning around the house, and in the afternoons, sometimes deep into the night, we mended their clothes. My favorite chore was when all the old women of the village would come and gather around a long table to pluck goose-feathers and gossip, usually about the dreaded impending arrival of the Russian soldiers, who, laughingly, they thought would rape and violate them. We stayed here for four whole weeks, and even though we worked quite hard physically, we put on some weight from the regular and farm-fresh meals we were given. As the spring days grew longer, we felt a kind of comfort and a sense of safety here, something we had not had for such a long time. Short lived!

On a Sunday afternoon, in early April, two gendarmes appeared at the Mayor�s house and demanded:
�Where are the two Jewish women who have been staying here? Come on, bring your belongings and follow us!�

Nervous and frightened, we wondered what would befall us now. We dressed in our shabby dresses and were brought to the railway station in the next village called Kaden. Three tall, well built SS officers and a woman, also a prisoner of war, were waiting for us. We were piled onto a train to Karlsbad, via the town of Aussig, on a train full of captured prisoners. Our guards, in our carriage, were very strict and very harsh. We were accompanied and watched every time we tried to move or speak. Even when we wanted to use the toilet, we were accompanied. This train journey took the whole long, uncomfortable, worrying night, squashed together with hundreds of people. We were fed stale, hard rolls and some lukewarm light tea. We were not allowed to utter a word for the entire journey.