Peter Ginz And The Boys Of Vedem

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Petr Ginz was born in Prague in 1928 to a mixed Czech-Jewish family. Between 1918 and 1938 Prague was the capital of Czechoslovakia.  This period was to be later called the First Czechoslovak republic. Here you can find a map of the interwar Czechoslovak state.

Petr's family was affected by the political events brought about with the fall of the free Czechoslovak republic in September 1938. Czechoslovakia was a nationally heterogeneous state where appart from Czechoslovaks (64,37%) also strong minorities such as Germans (22,95%) or Hungarians (5,47%) lived.  The most serious political threat was the rise of National Socialism in neighboring Germany accelerated with Adolf Hitler's coming to power in 1933.

 

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The Munich agreement on 29 September 1938 put an end to the Czechoslovak democracy and deprived the country of a considerable part of its former territory (you can open the map by clicking on its small version on the right side of the website). The remaining territory, the so-called Second republic was no longer ruled according to democratic principles and ceased to exist when the German Nazi troops invaded the country on March 15, 1939. On that day the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (under Nazi "protection") was created. At the same time on 14 March 1939, the Slovaks had established their own state - a client state of Hitler's Germany.

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In the Protectorate anti-Jewish laws, modeled after the racist Nuremberg laws published in Germany in 1935, were enforced very quickly. The first one of the whole range of discriminating decrees was issued on June 21, 1939.

The racist laws also affected Petr and his younger sister Eva born in 1930 even though they were not ‘pure Jews’ due to their non-Jewish mother (here you can see an original instructional chart on 'blood purity' published by Germans). For example, they couldn't go out after 8 pm, enter city parks. They could only use public transport vehicles that were for Jews only. From the school year 1940/1941 Jewish children were banned from attending non-Jewish schools. This was followed by a complete ban of any sort of education during the summer of 1942.

To get a notion of how these omnipresent bans oppressed the life of an individual, read an excerpt from Anne Frank's diary.  Petr Ginz himself wrote a poem on this topic (only available in Czech).

The oppression culminated in deportations to concentration camps with the aim to murder the Jewish population as a result of the politics of the so-called 'final solution to the Jewish question'. Here you can read an English version of the protocol from the Wannsee Conference held in January 1941 that decided on implementing this 'final solution'.

The coordinator of the 'project' was Reinhard Heydrich. Here you can watch a documentary on Heydrich and his career as a leading SS man. He was also appointed Acting Reich Protector of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in September 1941. Heydrich's assassination by the Czechoslovak resistance the next year, however, did not put an end to the persecution of Jews in any way. On the contrary, the Germans responded with heavy repressions on the Czechoslovak population which culminated in the liquidation of the Czech villige of Lidice.

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Jewish population not only from the Protectorate but also from some other Western European countries (Germany, Austria, Denmark or the Netherlands) were concentrated into Theresienstadt (Terezín in Czech), the fortress town and garrison city in Northern Bohemia, where Germans set up a ghetto in November 1941. All its former inhabitants were forced to move out and make way for the Nazi project that made Terezín a "Jewish town".

See Theresienstadt on a map in the key period.

Jews coming to Terezín had to leave behind all their homes and properties as well as their homes except for luggage of a limited weight. Here you can find a description of how the deportations and the transfer of the Jewish property was organized in Prague

Theresienstadt ghetto was not an extermination camp; people usually spent some time there before they were deported further to the East. Despite that a lot of people, especially elderly Jews, died in the ghetto because of bad hygienic conditions, lack of medical care and food.

Here you can find a map of the European ghettos and extermination camps during World War II.

In Theresienstadt everybody over the age of 15 years who was able to work was employed in German war industry or agriculture. Families were torn apart as people were grouped together according to their gender and age. Every child lived in a so-called "heim" each of which had its number and warden.

A map of the ghetto during the war can be found here.

 

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Petr Ginz was put in heim No.1 in building L 417 of the former Theresienstadt school among boys between 13 and 16 years of age. Valtr Eisinger, their left-oriented warden and teacher was an initiator of the idea of a self-government system that 'his' boys called 'The Republic of Škid' (Škid or SHKID stands for "Dostoevsky School for Social-Labour Education" which existed in the 1920s in Leningrad).

The boys published their own magazine called 'Vedem' from December 1942 to the second half of 1944 when most of them including Eisinger were deported to camps in the East. All still existing numbers of Vedem are browsable online.

Here you can read the story of the Republic of Škid and 'Vedem' narrated after years by Kurt Kotouč, one of the former heim No.1 boys.

'Vedem' was not the only magazine published by children and young people in Theresienstadt, there were about ten of them. Another ghetto magazine that is accessible online is Kamarád.

To get a good idea of what the wartime Theresienstadt ghetto looked like you can take an interactive stroll through it with the boys of 'Vedem' and read the texts they wrote about those sites.

During the fall 1944 most Škid boys including Petr as well as the majority of other ghetto residents were deported to the extermination camp of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This massive wave of transports concerned nearly 20, 000 people out of whom only a small part survived the war.  They were the ones lucky enough to be sentenced to hard labour in inhuman conditions instead of being directly sent to gas chambers. Petr was not one of them.

Petr's sister Eva stayed in Theresienstadt until its liberation by the Soviet Red Army in May 8, 1945. Both of his parents also survived the war.

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