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“I myself was captured, along with many others. Half a year later, our daughter, Edna, was born. She passed away before her second birthday,” she said. At the end of the war, Steiner also learned that no one had survived. “I had contact with my parents until 1942. After that they went in a transport to Terezin.” She never heard another word from them.
Steiner went to Sweden in October 1943 and remained there until Europe was fully liberated. As the war ended, she made her way backward, stopping first in Denmark. “My [foster] family, they were happy, very happy, to see me; it was like coming home. They wanted me to stay in Denmark,” she said. But they understood when she said she had to see if there was anyone to find in Prague from her biological family. Her boyfriend had volunteered in the British army; he was returning to Czechoslovakia. So Steiner did the same, with no funds, on a desperate march to look for survivors: “I returned to Prague in 1945, looked to see if someone else had come back.” Of her entire extended family, only one aunt survived. In Prague she met her boyfriend again. They married in 1945 and remained together in Czechoslovakia until 1949, a year after their son was born. Then they took their first opportunity to migrate away from Communism and move to Israel. They left for Canada in 1952.
Shaked got married to her second husband four years after the War of Independence took her first. “I had the privilege to live with [my second husband] for almost 60 years, until he passed away suddenly last year. We have a son and a daughter, five grandchildren and a (newborn) great-grandson,” she said. “I lost touch with my friends from Denmark when I came to Israel and they stayed in Denmark. Later we scattered all around the globe. The ties of friendship with the few who lived in Israel remained. This was so until Ms. Matyášová contacted us and began to research each of our fates and to document it. Through her we found out what each of the friends has been through — and mostly we had the chance to renew our friendship. Unfortunately, it is only natural, but [only a] few of us remain.”
The survivors of the Czech transport are all quick to list what they gained, even as they acknowledge what they lost. As with all stories of the Holocaust, there are no happy stories of survival: There was too much pain in being the only one to remain. And yet, painful as their stories are, this small transport created 150 worlds, dozens upon dozens born into the subsequent generations, all descending from this one mini-ecosystem of Zionist youth. And while their stories are not happy ones, the “kids” are now able to acknowledge the joy that having these friends gave them, at a time when the rest of the world was dark.
Sarah Wildman is a visiting scholar at the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins SAIS. She is working on a book for Riverhead on the lover her grandfather left behind when he fled Vienna.