- Copy of the journal will be provided. See Below
THE ANGEL OF THERESIENSTADT
It was all over. The fear, the unspeakable terror; the starvation.
The last of the guard; the cocky young SS; the Slovak hangmen; all fled from the onslaught of the approaching Russian tanks. It took weeks to separate the skeletons from the living, to group the sick and the healthy, but weak and to organize special barracks for special cases.
I, together with six others, occupied a large room furnished with mirrors, neat and newly painted furniture and seven wide, clean-smelling beds.
I knew that much, that the seven of us must have had something in common, but what? All of us were in fairly good physical shape, although terribly underweight.
All of us were of higher learning and education - lawyers, physicians, teachers -- myself, a chemist. Five different nationalities - myself, a Hungarian.
As the days passed with routine meals, walks, small conversation, reading; twice a day visit by Czech, Russian and volunteer Swedish and French doctors and nurses, I did make some observations.
Dr. Gagis, the Greek medical doctor, had hair and beard as long as reaching to his shoulders. They could not force him to shave. Occasionally, he pounded his chest with both fists and he uttered only one sentence, “I am a man, I am a man.”
Dr. Muslav, the Polish linguist had nails grown so long that they interfered with everything he attempted to do and hindered the nurses in handling him.
Van Urn, the Holland lawyer, never wanted to change pajamas, never wanted to take a bath or even wash his face or hands. He screamed with terror when several orderlys finally subdued him and put clean clothing on him.
But what was wrong with me? I surely did not belong to this weird group of mental cases?
I let the barber shave me four times a week. I enjoyed the long, soothing sessions in the bathtub, I refused no food. I engaged myself in pleasant conversations with anybody on any subject.
But one thing I knew for sure – all the miseries of the past years were written all over my face; I knew I looked at a monster’s face and I was surprised that every time roommates or the doctors and nurses looked at me, they did not scream out as if they had just seen a nightmare.
I was convinced that tremendous will power controlled their emotions when they even tried to smile at me.
But I knew different and no power on earth could force me to look in the mirror!
What confirmed my belief was the fact that nobody forced me to face a mirror!
One morning – it must have been around the middle of July, 1945 – at the end of the long line of visiting doctors and nurses, a new and attractive face caught my attention. My eyes followed her and so did all the others in the room. A blond, extremely well-shaped young woman with smiling blue eyes closed the line.
And, she was the only one who stayed behind after all the officials had left. She spoke briefly. First in French, then in English, finally in German. She was our new supervisor, nurse, mother and sister. She would listen to all problems, would try to make our monotonous life easier to bear, help to speed up our recovery, whatever was ailing us.
So she spoke – then left the room. Something, somewhere – inside my skin and muscles, something was stirred up. I looked at the others and I had the feeling they all were disturbed.
I did not count the days. From then on, the early sunshine brought her in the room and until the lights were turned off, I lived, ate, washed and breathed only for her or because of her.
It was an unusual bright and pleasant evening when she entered the room unexpectedly. Instead of greeting us all as she used to do and throwing individual remarks and encouragement to each of us, she walked straight to Dr. Gagis’s bed. He lay there on his back and his deep seated, black eyes watched her approaching. His beard already reached below his stomach and but for his eyes, one would not think he had a face or chest.
“Come on, Dr. Gagis” – she whispered, although I heard her clearly and so did the others. “Let’s take a walk to the lake. I am lonesome and this night is too beautiful to waste alone. Come on, keep me company.”
And he got up slowly, like in a trance and they walked out, arm in arm. The following hours were very difficult for me. Why? What was the purpose of the walk? None of us went as far as the lake before. Not that we were forbidden – we never cared. And how long are they going to stay and why?
He came back alone. The room was very dark, I heard him stretching out on the bed. Then I thought I heard some cry, some sighs coming from his direction. Next morning, Dr. Gagis decided to get rid of his beard and long hair.
I did not like her as much any more as I did before.
She came in routinely as if nothing had happened.
Hardly a few more days passed and suddenly, around nine in the evening, the door swung open and there she appeared. Slowly, deliberately, she walked over to Dr. Muslav’s little table, where he was sitting, staring at her.
“Dr. Muslav? This is a splendid night, is it not? Why should you sit here alone, when we both need companionship! Come on, join me for a few, happy hours.”
And out they went, arm in arm.
If I thought of her before as my saint, my angel, our helping, smiling sister, now some anger, some frustration, almost hatred, had overcome me.
She is nothing but a common, crude woman who wanted love, no matter how she gets it.
Yet, how I wished I was the chosen one! A few days and Dr. Muslav’s nails were clipped and neatly filed.
And so it went on, week after week, date after date with another one, until only two of us were left.
God Bless You, wherever you are, The Angel of Theresienstadt.
January 24, 1967 Lawrence Rawl
University Heights, Ohio