Frank Bright

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A selection of photographs showing the family Brichta (Courtesy of Frank Bright)

Frank Bright, who lives in the UK, wrote to me in 2008, with his comprehensive and detailed memoirs, which were then serialised on the H.E.AR.T. website that same year. It is not my intention to reproduce that detailed account, but to tell Frank's account in a shortened biography, using the above photographs as a way of telling Frank's story and the wider family story:

Franz Brichta, now known as Frank Bright was born on October 1, 1928, in Berlin. The second photograph from the left, shows Franz being held by his mother aged about three in Berlin. at the villa, her twin brother Fritz had built for the family. Franz's mother and her twin brother Fritz Wasservogel were born on June 22, 1892, in the Kreutzberg district of Berlin. They were about ten years old when their father died and were both sent to different orphanages.

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Toni Brichta front row second from left location unknown, circa 1910 (Courtesy of Frank Bright)

 Franz's father was Herman Brichta, who was born on a farm on May 6, 1897, in Vlkos u Kyjova, Slovakia. He served in the Austrian army and was taken prisoner in 1915. The postcard photograph was sent from Irbit, in Russia to his mother's home in Vienna. He is on the left of the photograph on the first row.

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Herman Brichta as a POW in Russia, left on the first row (Courtesy of Frank Bright)

After his captivity as a Prisoner of War of the Russians, he returned to Vienna, and he was demobilised in Vienna during 1921. Some of his relatives were in the banking profession and they sent him as their agent to the private Jewish bank of Siegmund Pincus of Berlin W8, which was located on the Unter den Linden 49.

Returning to the photographs, Franz is seen in a photograph marking his first day at school. This was taken in April 1935, aged six-and a half, holding a cardboard cone filled with sweets. A traditional German custom to 'sweeten' the first day at school.Franz attended the Joseph Lehmann Schule which was administered by the Jewish Reformed Community. The school was located on the Joachimstaler Strasse, a side street off the wide Kurfurstendam.

The photograph at the bottom right was taken in Marienbad, in the summer of 1933. Pictured on the left is Emanuel Brichta, who was the brother of Franz's grandfather Siegmund. Next to him is his wife. Then there is Franz and his mother Toni.

The photograph at the top right was probably taken during 1934, also in Marienbad. Herman Brichta is on the left, his elder brother Oswald, who was an accountant in the middle and Fritz Wasservogel, who was a director of the Dresdner Bank, on the right.

The Brichta family emigrated to Czechoslovakia, firstly Franz went with his mother, and they stayed in a cheap hotel. The photograph in the bottom row middle, was taken in Prague, shortly after his arrival, aged nine -and a half -years old, i.e. 1937. They were joined later by Herman.

Once settled he arranged for the family to rent a small apartment in the district of Liben, a development of a six storey block of flats at na kopecku 1915 (on the hillock), with what remained of their furniture which had arrived from storage. They moved in on November 29, 1938, and he volunteered to work for the Jewish community, on a volunteer basis.

Frank recalled his school days in Prague:

My father enrolled me at a Jewish school. It was nominally a religious school. It was located in the Old Town on Jachymova Street. In Berlin, my school had been on the Joachimstaler Strasse. Jachymov is the Czech for Joachimstal, which was a huge coincidence. The German occupation caused the once empty school to be filled to the brim.

In his memoirs, Frank recalled the deportation from Prague:

The deportation of Jews from towns was carried out at nights, so that a potentially sympathetic population was not aware of it. Our turn came on July 12, 1943, when a young man with a two-wheel pushcart arrived to take our three pieces of luggage. We were an isolated outpost, it would have been too costly to send a van and horses. We walked behind him to the assembly point. It was in the open, but that didn't matter, July is a very warm month in those parts.

The next morning July 13, 1943, we were put on a train and soon arrived in the Theresienstadt Ghetto, which is not far from Prague. During registration the clerk managed to list his mothers name as Antonia, as Toni does not exist in the Czech language, and that was the name that appears in the Theresienstadt Memorial Book.

Frank remembered his father in Theresienstadt:

My fatherís first job had been stacking timber in the open on a timber yard. The Reich, every aspect of it, used prodigious amounts of timber, from ammunition boxes, to wooden bunks in ghettoes, prisoner of war camps, slave labour camps, to watch towers in the same establishments and timber was found, or simply taken, from the Baltic and Polish and Ukrainian forests.It was also treated as if there was no war. The trunks were stacked upright to dry out, cut roughly into boards, the boards were stacked horizontally with a distance piece at intervals to allow air to circulate and only when it had dried naturally was it fine-sawn or machine-planed and used. That takes years, one cannot hurry nature, and the resulting timber does not warp, shrink, twist or bend after the final process which is what it does here where timber is vacuum dried. I think that my father liked the work, it reminded him of his years in the Urals working as an Austrian POW on the Trans-Siberian Railway.It made him fit although he was not the 20 year old any more. He had also started with great enthusiasm but soon realised that he had to slow down, like everybody else, so as not to spend more calories than contained in the daily ration.

My father left Theresiestadt on transport ďElĒ of 1,500 people on 29.09.1944, only 79 survived. He had lost his immunity from transportation, as had the Prominente and the Mischlinge although, as already mentioned, not all of them were sent. We did not say goodbye. May be he did so on purpose. If there was a forlorn hope that we would meet again then we would meet again. If death was to lay in wait for him at the end of the journey, and my mother had been saying for years that Hitler would not allow her to survive, then a farewell now would be an unforgettable heart- breaking event for the survivor.

Frank remembered his mother in Theresienstadt:

Although I cannot remember the name of the barracks (Kaserne) to which my mother was sent, it doesnít really matter, they were all the same, had been designed and built at the same time, were built of the same materials, looked the same, had the same details, stairs and rooms off a wide corridor, after all they had been built for 18th century soldiery whose lives were poor, nasty, brutish and short, so nothing new there.There she was allocated a place on a two-tier bunk in a room, more like a hall, of identical bunks closely spaced, with no room to put anything, as far as the eye could see, or that was how it seemed to me. Even the sight of it was overpowering..

  This very crowded place must have come as a terrible shock to her. My father had been a soldier and a prisoner-of-war for many years, six to be exact, and had experienced such very basic conditions before, even if that had been 25 years earlier. I was 14Ĺ and flexible as well as phlegmatic, my emotional resistance was beginning to bite, to take it all in and bewail oneís fate would have been fatal, resilience was the order of the day and one would have to call on that attitude frequently, getting upset wasnít going to get one anywhere but would affect others.

  For my mother there had already been a severe reduction in space from our Berlin apartment to a small one-bedroom flat in Prague, but that at least had been hers. She never left that flat for the last four years. There had been nowhere to go, there were no walks, no parks, the latter closed to Jews anyway. Having come from Berlin she didnít know a soul in Prague and the flat was her refuge, her island without a sound, there was no traffic, no radio and no gramophone. The radio had been handed in soon after the occupation and the gramophone had been left behind in Berlin, together with everything that was of any size.

He recalled their departure to Auschwitz:

On 12 October 1944 we boarded a third class railway carriage, similar to that which had brought us from Prague to Theresienstadt 15 months ago. Our luggage consisted of the same large duffle-bags but now there were only two of us.Luggage was put on the floor, some could put theirs on the luggage rack. We sat on long wooden, slatted varnished, curved seats, not uncomfortable, used even in peacetime for long journeys by the below 2nd class humanity. Decidedly more comfortable than the pitch dark cattle truck which normally entered and left the ghetto with frightened human freight. Why we were so privileged I donít know.Either that happened to be a train the Reichsbahn happened to have to hand that day or it was done on purpose to reassure passengers and those left behind that we were considered more than cattle, and particularly cattle being taken to the slaughter. But that assurance had always been needed and had not been forth-coming.

The simple answer, without recourse to any conspiracy theory, is that the Reichsbahn just happen to have this particular train available for one of their very many journeys to this particular destination.If the number of Jews killed there is 1.1 million and the average number per train was 1,500 (30 cattle trucks @ 50 victims each) then that makes for 733 journeys from as far away as Greece and to as close as Breslau.A good many train drivers and stokers must have become familiar with that final destination as they would have been with Riga, Sobibor, Treblinka, Trostinetz, Minsk, etc. which served the same purpose, as were the time-tablers who made the journeys possible in spite of the exigencies of the war which was going badly for Germany, but then their priority didnít change to the last minute, to kill Jews.  By the time we entered the train on 12.10.1944 the Germans were retreating rapidly on all fronts but because they had advanced so far it was also a long retreat.

The German 6th army had capitulated at Stalingrad on 02.02.1943, the tank battle had been lost at Kursk in July 1942, Sicily had been invaded on 10 July 1943, the D-Day landings had taken place on 6 June 1944 and Paris had been liberated on 25 August 1944, ten whole weeks before our departure. We didnít know any of that, except for the invasion of Sicily, and, in any case, the war would drag on for another 6Ĺ months and one can only quote these dates with the gift of hindsight.We didnít know any of that, except for the invasion of Sicily, and, in any case, the war would drag on for another 6Ĺ months and one can only quote these dates with the gift of hindsight.  All I remember of the departure is the locking of the trainsí doors. Now I had been on trains in pre-war days but never one that had been locked and there had never been the unease, the apprehension, the foreboding that comes from sitting in a sealed compartment not knowing oneís destination, not knowing what to expect. Although there was a large window there was nothing to see. We were into October and it gets dark early in those parts. There was the rhythmic clanging of steel wheels against the joints between the steel rails. We were on our way.

Arrival at Auschwitz:

The journey was dull, our minds were dull, we didnít know where and what we were heading for and what awaited us. Just as well. The last time we had travelled on such a train had been from Prague to the ghetto of Theresienstadt exactly 15 months ago. True, we didnít know what the ghetto was like but at least we knew where we were going and that it would not be far. In their memoirs those who had travelled in cattle or goods wagons complain about the discomfort caused by luggage and not being able to sit and to see out of the only small window. We in our compartment may have been squashed but we did have a seat and large windows to look out of. Most of the time it was dark, we travelled through the night, I probably fell asleep. Mother probably looked forward to meeting father again but how and what, any new and different circumstances, and they had been separated in the ghetto, must have caused her great anxiety.

Day dawned. We were passing through a dull, flat landscape. And then the train slowed down and all of a sudden we were in a large area defined by concrete posts, wire and wooded towers in the distance. Some people say that they saw the sign ďArbeit macht freiĒ over a gate but we saw nothing like it. We couldnít, we went underneath it. The scene was most odd, weird, abnormal and therefore frightening, certainly not welcoming, just the opposite, something one would have avoided if at all possible. Only it wasnít possible. What we saw in the distance were watch towers and concrete posts with horizontal lines, the electrified high-tension barbed wire which became familiar and our narrow horizon for the next 7 months. 

Then somebody shouted: ďThis is a concentration camp!ĒNow the large window of our compartment was fixed but it did have a sliding ventilation window. Suddenly some frighteningly emaciated faces appeared under the window and shouted for bread to be pushed to them through this ventilation window. Opposite me sat an old man and his daughter, they had brought with them plenty of bread. They considered what to do. There wasnít much time for that. These thin people in prison garb with a haggard look were obviously stepping out of line from where they had seen our train and it was clear from the urgency of their voices that they were taking risks and were driven by desperation caused by hunger.The old man decided against pushing a loaf, or part of it, through the ventilation window because if the situation was that bad then they, he and his daughter, would need all the bread themselves.This picture has never left me.

From it I have tried to learn and put into practice that if one sees a need and is in a position to help then do so right away, one may not have the chance to do the good deed later. An hour later, at most, this man was dead, the bread and everything else he had possessed, he had to leave on the train from where it was collected and taken to Kanada.The train came to a halt, the seal on the door was removed, we were ordered out. Others remember the shouting, screaming, threats, whips being brandished, snarling dogs. Nothing like that occurred at the arrival of our transport, there was no need to.Obviously there was utter confusion, but trusties, prisoners doing the dirty work for the SS, not that I blame them, everybody clings to life and this particular lot hadnít done it then others would have. Surely the blame for the system rested squarely on the SS and the German people who supported this way of life, or death, one can hardly blame it on the victims. These trusties, for want of a better word, put us into two long columns, one made up of men, the other of women, some six abreast.As there were 1,500 of us then there must have been two columns 125 persons long, quite a length, it didnít take long to form, the prisoners who got our long column into line had done this before. There was a wide gap between these two columns, enough for a truck to pass through.The trustee prisoners or the SS, I cannot remember which, asked whether there were any blind, lame infirm or sick who needed a lift into the camp. Those who felt that they answered that description stepped out and were helped up into the rear of the lorry. At the time I thought that it was a rather decent act to help the old, blind and infirm but I soon learned to suspect any such outward sign of civilised behaviour.

In the melee of leaving the train and being put into one of the two columns I became separated from my mother. Anyway, my mother was in the column to the left of mine. Both of us were near the front of each column. As always, I was a bit slow, was overwhelmed by it all and didnít see my mother but my mother saw me. She left her place in the column, walked over to me, shook my hand and returned to her place. Her column went forward first, one at a time until one came across an SS-officer with several assistants either side of him. I couldnít see exactly what was happening but some of us went to the left and some to the right. I had seen my mother go to the left. It didnít seem to take all that long for the left column of women to be processed and then it was our turn. I was, as I said, near the front and when it was my turn I walked forward until I got to the SS-officer in charge. According to the accounts of others he would look at one, just for a second, the process was quite quick, and indicate with his finger where the person in front of him was to turn. I canít remember any of that, I didnít take that in.

I had seen my mother go to the left and so I simply turned left too. I was called back. Obviously the officerís assistant had watched his finger and saw it point to the right even if I had not. So I was called back and told to go to the right. I had been chosen to live or rather, not so much to live as to work and to work until I died of exhaustion by which time I would look like the prisoners who had asked for bread about an hour earlier. It was really a postponement. On the right I waited for further directions with the others who had also been told to turn right. There werenít many of us. From records I now know that out of our transport of 1,500 who left the ghetto of Theresienstadt on 12 October 1944 only 78 survived. Of course, a few more may have survived this first selection and died, or were put to death, later but there were very few anyway. Say that there were 90 picked to work of whom 50% were men, then there were 45 of us.

Also with hindsight, i.e. from the list of prisoners transferred from Auschwitz to Gross-Rosen, the central Silesian KZ of which Friedland was a branch, I know that the manager of VDM in Friedland had asked for 165 slave labourers from a transport from Theresienstadt because 165 slave labourers were delivered but that number had to be made up with prisoners from other transports, from Theresienstadt, who had arrived up to two weeks earlier (Fred Klein) or a week earlier (Arnoöt Reiser), and a few days later but before our departure on 19 October, and with Slovak, Hungarian and Lodě Jews.

Those 45 or so who had waited until the whole of our transport had been selected one way or another were now marched to the next stage of the process, taking our clothes off thereby losing our last shirt, shower, shaving off of all hair on our bodies and the issue of prison garb which in our case was not the striped clothing. On the way to stage one the SS-soldiers asked us for watches. They were quite polite about it, they just said we werenít going to need them any more. They, of course, knew better. Once taken off and put on one big heap they were out of their reach. Some of us handed them over. We had to wait outside one of the large halls, women were still inside who had been shorn. A door was open and we looked in. I had never seen a naked young woman but these beings looked utterly and completely like the shop window dummies, deprived of all sexual appeal, which I had seen.

Except that is for the ďshearerĒ, one could hardly have called her a hairdresser since her job was to get rid of all feminine tresses. She had a full head of wavy black hair. Odd, since one of the reasons for removing hair was to deprive lice of a foothold. Lice lay eggs on human hair and lice carry the typhus bacillus which is no respecter of person and the Germans were frightened of typhus outbreaks.Once we were inside we were told to remove our clothes and put them on a pile, or piles, except for shoes or boots which were retrieved. That made sense, we were earmarked for work, some, like us, within the jurisdiction  of other main camps, KZ Gross-Rosen in our case, it was winter, we would need shoes to move and work more efficiently and, since everybody had a different size shoe, it best to keep them.That is a generalisation. I was to lose my shoes inside the camp and there are stories of others who had to walk to work barefoot and were lucky if they had rags to tie round their feet. What struck me then though was the order for all those with surgical trusses to support their hernia, to put them all on one pile. That did not make sense. Having selected them, admittedly on outward appearance, on Dr. Mengeleís hunch, and having got them this far, to deprive them of their trusses would soon make them unable to work

Different people describe the next steps in different sequences and I canít remember. Did we have our hair removed before or after the shower? I donít know. Reiser says that it was done professionally and that his crowd was painted with carbolic to disinfect any cuts. That is not what I remember.By the time it was my turn, and I was very hairy, the barberís safety razor was very blunt although there must have been plenty of replacement blades as every arrival would have carried a supply, he did a ďdryĒ job and it was painful to have all hair removed from chest, legs, arms, arm pits, testicles and anus. I cannot remember the carbolic at all. Then there was the short shower, I canít remember whether we were given any soap, just a rinse would not have removed any dirt. There was nothing to dry oneself with, exposed to a Polish winterís blast at an open door one would normally have caught pneumonia. There was nothing normal about our situation and we didnít.

Then came new clothes, a misnomer. Reiser says that there was a deliberate mismatch of sizes but I canít remember that. Underpants were short, wide, ill-fitting and tightened with string. They were made from prayer shawls. That may have had its root in wanting to insult the Jewish religious procedure but as they were made of the finest wool it did us a good turn. I received no shirt, instead I was handed a thin blanket to wrap around me and to tuck into the trousers. The trousers too were ill-fitting, made for a short but wide man and held up with string. The jacket was black, very old, had been worn by many others who had probably died in it, disinfection by steam had made the fabric brittle and a very large cross had been painted in red paint on its back. Exposure to the elements had made the paint brittle, bits had fallen off.  Each of us was also issued with a cap, for the doffing of, the most important part of our used or second hand attire. We were then marched off to an empty wooden hut, or block, but before we could enter we had an extended period of instruction by the Blockšlteste on the removal of our hat, or beret, with a flourish, to be carried out whenever an SS-man of any rank approached, as a sign of deference. There was also a knack in putting it back on again, this too had to be done quickly and pulled to one side, it was not to sit centrally on oneís head like a yarmulke. We were then let go but warned not to go too far, if there was a roll-call one had to rush back to the block to which one had been allocated.

If taken short and one found oneself in a strange block and there were more in that block than its allotted number then the surplus would be killed.A preferred method by some Blockšlteste/senior of a block or hut, or of kapos, another grade of prisoner endowed with unlimited powers, was to put a spade across the unfortunateís throat and step sharply on the spade thus severing the head.  Gruesome but quite possible.I didnít stray far, it was dark outside by then apart from the gloomy light given of by the bulbs attached to the concrete posts with bent tops to which the barbed wire was attached. The wire was actually attached to porcelain insulators. It was the insulators which were attached to the posts. The insulators were necessary because of the high voltage in the exposed barbed wire. I saw just one man in the wire, his body twisted by the electric shock. Presumably he couldnít take it any more.I didnít have far to go or to look to see the squat rectangular chimney belching black smoke. By that time I had heard what had happened to those who had been directed to the left by the moving finger. I stood there by the flickering flames licking above the top of the chimney and thought to myself: ďwhich of these flames is my mother?Ē but not feeling the immensity of the loss, the slaughter of innocent blood who had thought of herself as German until 1933, had played her part for Germany in the 1914-1918 war, had given gold for an iron ring in support of the Kaiserís war, had been proud of her brother in the German navy, the Kriegsmarine, being awarded the Iron Cross and who knew and had said so on many occasions that Hitler would not let her survive the war.  It did also occur to me that my father, who must have arrived at the very same place a fortnight earlier, would have suffered the same fate and that I was from now on my own and quite unprepared for that, but I didnít cry or had strong feelings.

The automatic mechanism of self-preservation, the shutter to feelings which could hinder that had already come down quite firmly and the numbness with which one confronted this valley of the shadow of death where there was no comforter took years to lift. When I returned to my hut we were all assembled in a corner next to the door, a wooden box was pointed at us, we were told that it was an X-ray machine and would we voluntarily hand over any weapons found on our person. We may have been confused, downhearted, miserable, frightened and some were now deeply concerned about siblings, parents, wives, girlfriends, relatives, etc. but we were not stupid and to be treated as if we were was just annoying. I did however find a horseshoe sewn into my new old jacket which was removed. I suspect that it not been sewn in for luck but at heart level to protect the previous owner from blows, i.e. it would have spread the impact. The first night was horrific. There was a rendered brick heating duct running the length of the hut, something like 1m high and 1.5m wide, dividing the hut into two and, while these huts had been stables for horses, which is what we assumed they may have been, that would have been a heating duct but of course now it was cold as was the concrete floor on which we had to lie with a thin blanket over something like five people.What kept us awake and disturbed us were people coming in inspecting our shoes. On the other hand we were not permitted to leave the block at night and had to relieve ourselves into a huge tub or wide half barrel with two holes through which a wooden rod, like a broomstick was passed. Unfortunately I and another fellow were ordered to lift it and carry it to the cesspit and empty it. As it was full to the brim spilling was unavoidable and some of it went over us.

The next day we were told by our Blockšlteste, or hut elder, that we were very lucky indeed, a good job in a factory was waiting for us and that we would be leaving in a few daysí time. While we didnít know what he was talking about, what he really knew, how reliable it was and seeing is believing it sounded good, anything must be better than this hell hole.That wasnít necessarily true, the Germans had plenty of other hell holes, Friedrich Flickís mines and munition factories, Dora Mittelbau where V1 and V2 rockets were being made and life was brutal and short are examples  but as it turned out in our case he was right, that did not mean that some of us werenít going to die at our as yet unknown destination. We also experienced our first Selektion, another inspection of the state of our bodies, a daily routine, carried out by Dr.Mengele or a deputy. Having been passed as fit at the so-called ramp on arrival did not guarantee future survival. If oneís ribs started to show through the skin one was taken to a hut and from there to the gas chamber. A Selektion was an unnerving experience.As we realised some time later we had not been tattooed because only those who were to stay and work within the Auschwitz territory or boundary were thus marked. The property in our bodies had been pre-destined, probably before we even had left the ghetto, to pass to the jurisdiction of another KZ and it was that other KZ which was to number us. That is why Fred Klein called his story ďNo name, no numberĒ, we had lost our identity by name and a number had not taken its place.Because we were in transit we had nothing to do. On my walks, always within easy return to my hut, I was once spoken to by a more permanent inmate, which in a way was a contradiction like so many things there, in striped garb though I canít remember what small coloured triangle provided a clue to his category, we had not been told anyway, it could have been a homosexual, it could have been a murderer, he was not a Jew.He was German and enquired where I had come from and when I told him he ask whether we were ďanstšndige LeuteĒ, decent people. I assured him that we were indeed ďanstšndigĒ such a virtue seemed out of place there where the exact opposite ruled, but then it was just small talk. My perception of what went on had not been completely deadened.

Once I saw an elderly man being beaten by a young kapo and felt terrible. There were other, less traumatic yet odd sights, like Russian prisoners of war. They must have come from a particular region because all of them had the same features, fat necks, just like the cartoons depicting German bureaucrats. What were they doing in an Auschwitz transit camp? As I learned much later Russian POWs were treated abominably, millions of them were starved to death in open enclosures. Here they seemed to be doing well and not subject to Selektions for the gas chamber, which they would have passed anyway. Permanent occupants, if that is the right word for a transient hell, also had a far more comfortable stay if, so I was told at the time, they were artists. Painters were treated generously by the German guards and officers in return for having their portraits painted. There was one Czech female artist who painted Gypsy girls for Mengele before they were gassed.

The second night proved crucial and also proved that the forecast about our future had been correct. It was dark, that could have been as early as afternoon, it gets dark early in October in those parts, when we were told to stand along one side of the raised central platform or heating duct which divided the hut for no apparent purpose. The door near us opened and a civilian with a couple of SS entered. The civilian wore the outfit which marked him as a Nazi party member, a light gabardine coat with the round party emblem in his lapel. The light was dim in these huts and even when the eye got used to it one couldnít see well and far, but it seemed that he was looking at us from a distance and then pointed his arm towards individuals as if closer contact would be distasteful, if it had to be done it had to be done from a distance.That was it, we were being chosen. Those who had been pointed at then crossed the brick heating duct barrier and assembled at the party memberís side. I happened to be close to the door and when it was my turn to be pointed at I seem to remember actually jumping across. There were two hitches. Firstly there were not enough of us, Dr.Mengele had not played the game.

The man in the raincoat was undoubtedly the manager of VDM of Friedland, Southern Silesia, formerly of Hamburg, who had been promised 165 Jewish Metallarbeiter, skilled workers in metal, and there was only a quarter of that number to chose from, but we didnít know that there should have been more of us. Secondly, he had also been promised a mathematician. The reputation of Theresienstadt as a never ending source of intellectuals must have permeated German society so that by their reckonning there must have been at least one mathematician even among the few to come out alive after Dr.Mengele had done his worst (he had 95 out of every 100 gassed on arrival).In fact these last eleven transports which left Theresienstadt in quick succession during October 1944 contained most of the many of the ghettoís musicians, composers, painters, poets, film makers and doctors and doctors who were also musicians and cartoonists (ďArt & Medicine in Ghetto TheresienstadtĒ, the Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, the Technion, Haifa, 2001), of whom hardly any survived. The reputation had been a deserved one, there had been a concentration of intellectuals, very nearly all of the place and date of death on index cards bearing their name is Auschwitz-Birkenau, October 1944.What the manager of VDM really needed was a technician who would find and list the properties of each propeller blade using the apparatus provided so that when three or four blades were to be fitted to a hub of any one engine their eccentricities would cancel out and there would be no resultant vibration.  To use a mathematician for such work was rather a waste of talent but then if you could have the best of Jewish expertise then why not go for it, the cost was the same. However, when asked, no mathematician raised his hand.That was a grave disappointment to all, may be the Auschwitz system of providing German industry with Jewish labour of every skill imaginable wasn't perfect after all. Later, in Friedland, when the German Air Force asked for an electrical engineer merely to operate a spot-welding machine they got a professional engineer who pre-war had been in charge of an electricity generating station.

However in our present, or the manager's predicament the Auschwitz reputation was saved. One of our group remembered that one of us had failed the 'Selektion' that morning and was in another hut to be taken to the gas chamber, when they had a few minutes to spare and that this unfortunate being was a mathematician. A messenger was quickly sent to that hut of the condemned and the man was reprieved.

On the appointed day, it was 19 October 1944, we were marched to the sidings, this time it was a cattle truck/box car for us, given a ration of bread, and stuffed, literally, into the cattle truck, standing room only. To start with at least we didnít mind, a small price to pay if it took us away from the smoking chimney stacks. The train rattled along all night. At some time in the morning , we had no idea what time it was, we stopped, the doors were slid open, the sun shone in, we were ordered out onto a platform of a small town railway station. I had stood in a dark corner and didnít know what had been going on. Others, like Arnoöt Reiser who had been close to the one small ventilation window says that we had stopped at another Friedland, now Frżdlant and in the Czech Republic and close to what is now Poland, where they hadnít expected us and that the train driver had to retrace his steps to deliver his cargo of slave labourers where we were expected. Arranged into a column five or six abreast we were marched to our new abode.

f. brichta - terezin

F. Brichta Transport Document (Courtesy of Frank Bright)

i now return to the days from 20 October 1944, onwards. We had been standing on arrival on the Appellplatz and the matter of the deputy camp elders, block leaders and assistants had been sorted out. Very nearly all of the rest were sent to work at VDM. The factory is somewhere at the end of town. I donít observe the land and townscape we pass through but keep my eyes glued to the ground and the feet in front of me to stop myself from slipping and sliding on the ice with my wooden clogs. To keep myself from falling takes energy of which I havenít got any to spare. Reiser says that he worked out of doors before VDM was ready for him -that was not the case with me.

In fact the factory was keen to have us because there was an overlap of two weeks during which Czech and French workers were to show us what to do. It became obvious and is worth pointing out now that we had not been brought to Friedland to increase production, we had been brought here because we were much cheaper and even in an evil an empire as the Third Reich on the point of collapse, its armies retreating on all fronts, its Air Force in terminal decline, its factories and cities being bombed day and night, short of food and fuel even for its own German population, economic considerations still ruled.

We were simply cheaper. We were paid no wages and no national insurance contributions were paid on our behalf. The rent the manager paid to the SS for our labour amounted to a few pence. Production of propeller blades must have declined sharply. None of us were good at it, we were slow, our only incentive was to conserve, not expend, calories and it was a skilled job.

The hydraulic presses we had to use were primitive foot operated ones. I was detailed to shadow a young Czech man. The foreman was a German. There were no guards on the shop floor. One could talk. Just as the manager had been inside Auschwitz and saw its workings and probably swore blind after the war that he didnít know what was going on, so the young Czech saw us.

As he was going to return to Prague I asked him to deliver a message to my Aryan relative by marriage, Alicia BrichtovŠ, whose husband Oswald had been my fatherís brother, and he did so.

The End is nigh

The end was obviously nigh. That didnít mean that we would see it alive. There were still the watch towers manned by Ukrainians who had always, throughout history, been ill-disposed towards Jews and they had machine guns.It only needed a call to assemble, a few hand grenades, short bursts of machine gun fire and that would be the end of us. We were aware of that. We were so near and yet so far. Anything could happen.

 Until now we had a German camp commander, an Austrian corporal and the rest were Ukraininans. In relative terms the German was best, the Austrian felt that he had to prove that he was a good German and he was pretty miserable specimen to start with. The Ukrainians  felt that they had to prove that they were at least as good, or as bad, as the Austrian and if they hadnít been forbidden to injure us which would have interfered with VDMís production schedule, they would have clubbed us with their rifle butts at every opportune moment.

 Whatever was happening at the front, however closer it became, there was no guarantee that we would be liberated alive. We had no clock, no radio, no newspaper, no calendar, so I am not sure whether it was on the 7th or 8th of May, but it was likely to have been the 8th, the day the war actually came to an end, the German forces surrendered unconditionally on 7 May on LŁneberg Heath, not that we were aware of that.

We were indeed called to assemble on the Appellplatz and stood in our usual formation. The Lagerkommandant appeared in an outfit we had not seen him in before, with a leather belt contraption that looked like the braces worn to support Lederhosen, i.e vertical braces with a horizontal piece at chest level connecting the two.

 He gave us a short address, something he had not done before either. The gist was that would we please remember that he had treated us decently. And then he was gone. In other words, should it come to pass that he too would have to answer for the crimes committed by the SS of which he was a member and in whose system he played his part, would we please put in a good word for him!

 Everybody else had gone too, the large gate through which we had entered and left so often was left open. Then the rumour circulated that an Ukrainian SS general by the name of Vlasov was in the vicinity and that it would be a good idea if we left the camp and spent the night in the nearby woods as his troops were quite capable of throwing a few hand grenades over the fence. The current must have been switched off too. We left and spent the night in the woods.

 Both Reiser and Klein provide a lot more detail but as usual I did not take any of it in. I was in my usual only-half-awake state. I repeat their version with the proviso that I am quoting others. ďReiser does not even mention KŲnigís speech, Klein mentions it in passing. Apparently the Ukrainians on the two watch towers were carrying up ammunition boxes while we stood to attention and that certainly was not a good sign. We were also ordered to change our formation so that no man stood behind another one, the first row acting as a shield. That too was an ominous sign.

 The Ukrainiansí machine guns were trained at us for something like an hour, or so it appeared to the reporters, after which signals were made by the Ukrainians in one tower to that in the other one, they had a conference, then some more signals after which they descended from their respective towers carrying their machine guns but leaving the ammunition boxes behind.  They walked past us between the two rows of barbed wire and drove off. The formation then disintegrated and we made our way individually to the woods."

The Russians Arrive

This was the first week in May somewhere between Central and Eastern Europe.  The night was warm, spending the night out of doors in the fresh air was pleasant. The chances of anything going wrong now were small. I had no thought in my head, I just didnít know what to expect.In the morning I got up and went into the town, free to do so.  It was, or seemed to be deserted. I reconnoitred a bit, my aim was to find a change of clothes and something to eat. I found a large cellar full of barrels of what I took to be cider.

 Shoes were my next concern, the clogs given to me in Auschwitz in exchange for my shoes had ruined my feet because they were solid, not flexible, and it was difficult to walk in them. I entered a shoe repair shop but found little except a pair of German army boots. I took them and soon found out why they had been in the shop for repair, there was a nail protruding from the heel.

 I went into various houses. The doors had either been left open or somebody else had been there before me. At first I found nothing to eat, what the Germans had left behind were large glass jars of things like goose liver in solid goose fat, something I knew would be real poison.I had not eaten fat for years and the digestive system, the bile, liver, stomach had lost the enzymes, the means to deal with it as it had for most things. I was more likely to digest grass or plants resembling beetroot, our staple diet, i.e. cellulose.  Yet somehow, and I cannot remember where and how, I found a change of clothes, shoes which fitted and something to eat.

Then the Russians arrived. The victors looked somewhat dishevelled and dirty, for them too the war had only just come to an end too. I recognised their uniforms from my fatherís photographs of the Czarís soldiers, the fashion hadnít changed, the high collar with buttons along the shoulder. They had arrived by horse and cart, the most economic way of travelling, they had advanced so far their lines of communication had become enormous, just like those of the Germans had shrunk.

Journey to London

Frank flew to London on a Junkers 52 plane from an airfield in Prague. The plane had hard bench seats along the fuselage. The seats were uncomfortable, but in the words of Frank, 'that hardly mattered.' He could only take one suitcase, which contained family photographs. He wanted to merge, so changed his name in November 1952, to Frank Bright.


Frank Bright points to himself in a school photo taken in Prague (Courtesy of Frank Bright)


Frank Bright unpublished memoirs

Frank Bright correspondence with Chris Webb

Photographs and Document - Courtesy of Frank Bright


Thanks to Michael Chocolaty

© Holocaust Historical Society, December 17, 2020