Don Herberto

The Model Camp: Terezín 
Voices and Art From and About Terezín

Newly Arrived Inmates Being Instructed Upon Arrival at Terezín

One of the Everyday Aspects of Life in the Terezín Ghetto
by Don Herberto

It is cold. The streets of Terezín are completely snowed under and the snow is already beginning to freeze in the bitter cold. I amble slowly along the sidewalk, watching life in the street. Suddenly I catch sight of an old man of about eighty, with white hair and a white beard. Were I to judge him by the way he walks I wouldn't put him at more than 40. He walks briskly, carrying his mess kit. Perhaps he is going to fetch his lunch. Suddenly he stumbles and falls on the frozen, unsanded sidewalk. He hits his head on the pavement and lies there without moving. Passersby rush up to help the old man and one of them, a doctor, judging by the badge of Aesculapius* he is wearing, examines the old man, but all he can do is confirm death.

A few days after this occurrence I visited one of the blocks. As I entered one of the many rooms, a terrible stench hit me. Along the dusty walls there were two rows of wooden bunks. When I went further into the room I saw that the bunks were occupied by many old men and women with sunken cheeks. Some were groaning weakly. I approached a man in a white coat who was on duty with two nurses. I asked what the matter with these people was, and where in fact I was.

"My boy," said the man in the white coat, "this is the hospital for the aged. Most of them are suffering from pneumonia. Don't forget, we're in Terezín. They get cold in the unheated rooms and crawl into bed for warmth. Then they get pneumonia and in a few days they're gone." And the doctor hurried off.

I am not particularly sensitive but later, when I thought about these two occurrences, which are surely quite common in the ghetto, I felt like crying. Never before had the horror of Terezín struck me so compellingly as then. And once again, I was richer by another experience.

* In Greek mythology, the god of healing arts.

Don Herberto is the pseudonym used by Herbert Fischl, who perished in the death camp.