Surviving Persecution: One Holocaust Survivor’s Story

Toman Brod’s journey to Auschwitz… and back

By Kieran Kesner

“My name is Toman Brod and I am a former prisoner of many concentration camps.”

This might be a startling conversation opener, but Brod, speaking in his living room, has become accustomed over the years to recalling his life story to strangers, especially students for whom the Holocaust is a long-ago forgotten event that is hard to fathom.

Brod, 84 years old has made a life for himself in the Czech Republic despite the horrifying harships of his early years. He has a beautiful apartment in Prague 6 where he lives with his wife whom he met at university shortly after returning to Prague. Brod has dedicated his life to studying the history in and around the era of World War II, and part of his study is also to teach others.

Brod was born in Prague in 1929 and recalls growing up comfortably. Being Jewish didn’t hinder him from assimilating with Czechoslovakian culture and having a strong sense of patriotism. His father died the day the infamous Munich agreement was signed, the 1938 pact that allowed Hitler to annex one third of Czechoslovakia, but Brod counts the death positively. “He was one of the lucky ones,” he said. Brod’s father died under the supervision of the best doctors in the best hospitals, he noted. Brod the elder was fortunate not to experience what Toman, his brother and mother would soon experience.

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One of the Birkenau Boys, Toman Brod survived Terezin and Auschwitz concentration camps.
Photo by Kieran Kesner

In July 1942 Toman Brod, his brother and mother were forced on a transport to Terezin concentration camp along with most Jews living in Czecholslovakia. “There were still no trains to Terezín so we had to walk there, weighed down with heavy baggage which was later confiscated,” he said. The camp, 40 miles from the Czech capital, was, as Brod remembers, miserably overcrowded; there was sewage everywhere and food was scarce. But far worse hardships were yet to come.

Brod’s brother was killed in the so called “death marches” at the age of 17, as prisoners were being marched from camp to camp, often in the winter for days without food, clothing or shoes.

Brod’s mother who had suffered from breast cancer, was killed shortly after in the ‘selections’ of Auschwitz. She arrived at the German death camp, located in Poland, and was chosen for death by the Nazis.

Toman received what should have been a fatal call that he would be included in the transport to Auchwitz concentration camp in December 1943. He was forced into a cattle wagon amongst 70 other people for two days and two nights and suffered terribly from the conditions.

After seven months in Auschwitz, Brod and the boys he was with were sentenced to death July 6 1944 because they were 14 and too young to work. He recalls seeing Dr. Josef Rudolf Mengele that morning, “perhaps he was there to find himself some twins. Twins were his hobby. He wanted to achieve how to make German women have more babies.” Just before the group was sent away, one of the boys ran out at Mengele and asked him, “we are here, a group of boys who are not 16, but we are willing and able to work. Would you be so kind to give us a last chance?”

“A small group of boys made it to the end of the Holocaust with me, we named ourselves the Birkenau Boys… We are now located all over the world: Venezuela, Israel, Boston, Canada, New Zealand and the Czech Republic.”

Perhaps Mengele was in a good mood that day, Brod recalls. The boys were then forced to march naked in front of him awaiting a motion to either the left of right, which would determine their fate. “I was not sick at this time. I was tall, healthy and I was given a chance to live,” Toman said. Health of course was relative. It meant losing half one’s body weight but not having any lethal diseases so common in the camps like typhus or tuberculosis.

 Of the 89 individual young men in his group, 45 were spared because one of them had the courage to speak up. “A small group of boys made it to the end of the Holocaust with me, we named ourselves the Birkenau Boys,” he said, referring to a camp attached to Auschwitz. “We are now located all over the world: Venezuela, Israel, Boston, Canada, New Zealand and the Czech Republic. It is important to underline that all these boys have children. And their children have children. We helped to save the part of the Czech Jewish community. We could say that we are the winners over the Hitler regime over the insane regime of Germans.”

Kieran Kesner is in the NYU Class of 2013, majoring in Photography. His hometown is Lexington, Massachusetts.

 

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Categories: Culture, Spring 2013 Issue Number 2

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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