The Cybrary Remembers Chuck Ferree
NOTE FROM THE CYBRARY: In July 1999 we lost a good friend. We invite you to remember him for hisstory, and the courage he shared with us in the following article he wrote…his outreach toother Liberators can be seen in the extensive archives he inspired and helped meput online. Visit the Liberators Page at the Cybrary. From Chuck Ferree, I share this article and my own promise that I will do what I can to keep the memories alive, and to prevent such events from happening again…we will miss him at the Cybrary. Please tell a friend to remember today, because we lostone Liberator, one person who helped us all remember. Peace, Vladislov Borsky
Michael Declan Dunn,
Cybrary of the Holocaust
From left to right:
Another Angel for God
by Charles V. Ferree
ValieBorsky went to Heaven August 23, 1995. Few of us knowabout Valie Borsky, or would care very much about hertransition from a seventy-five year old house-wife, toan Angel. I consider myself fortunate to have spentthree days with Valie and her husband, in their Oaklandhome three years ago. She agreed to be interviewed byme for my book project, and after becoming acquainted,we quickly became staunch friends. We spentconsiderable time together, while I taped nine hours ofher experiences, from her childhood, to herincarceration, liberation and eventual immigration toAustralia and finally to the States.
We talked on thephone every week, and wrote letters often. Of courseher husband mourns the loss of his beloved companion offifty years. Her only child, and her threegrandchildren weep over the incredible vacuum hersudden exodus has created in their closely woven lives.
One local woman grew up with Valie in the formerCzechoslovakia, but she happened to be born aChristian, while Valie happened to be born into aJewish family. This accident of birth, placed Valie’slife in jeopardy from the very beginning and preventedher from living a normal, human life for most of hertime on this earth. An educated woman, Valie moved toPrague after college. Her employment by a large Czechbusiness allowed her to earn a decent wage, and enjoythe bountiful cultural opportunities available in thisMecca of music, theater, and other performances whichdrew people from all over Europe during the twentiesand thirties.
Valie spent the first twenty years of herlife as a productive, and happy young woman, unaware ofsigns of impending doom for her and millions of otherJews from one end of Europe to the other. Her fatebecame sealed when Adolf Hitler came to power, and theNazi War Machine began it’s historical conquest ofEurope, and decreed the death sentence for an entirerace — (religion) of innocent Europeans.
Valie wasarrested for being Jewish, and spent over four years inthe Nazi Concentration Camp (Theresienstadt) located 40miles from Prague. A military fortress built byAustrian Emperor Joseph II in 1780 and named after hismother the Empress Maria Theresa. The Fortressconsisted of two main parts: The Big Fortress on oneside of the River Ohre and The Small Fortress on theother. It became a typical military garrison town in1882 with 3,700 inhabitants living in 219 houses plus3,500 soldiers housed in military style barracks. In1941 the Germans took over the town (Terezin) andtransformed it into a concentration camp for Jews.
Theso-called Ghetto averaged a population of 35,000prisoners during it’s five year existence, but as manyas 60,000 Jews were jammed into the Ghetto during peakperiods. The Nazis fooled the German Red Cross, andwealthy Austrian and German Jews into believing thatThereisenstadt was actually a resort, and lovely spawith all kinds of cultural activities, theaters, coffeehouses, and beguiled thousands of Europe’s elderly Jewsinto actually paying a fee to live in this Paradise.Brochures were produced by the Nazis, depictingTheresienstadt as a health resort, a spa, located on abeautiful river, with acres of fruit trees, rollinghills and lovely summers. Hundreds of wealthy Germanand Austrian Jews fell for the propaganda, andrequested an apartment with a view. They were assuredthat they would love the place.
Valie worked in theRecords Department, which made up lists for transportto Poland and death in the infamous gas chambers ofAuschwitz-Birkenau. She soon learned thatThereisenstadt was nothing more than a way-station forJews condemned to death by Nazi Germany. Valie’s mainjob became that of typing the names of inmates boundfor transport to the “East.”
Working twelve to fourteenhours every day, Vali and her co-workers placed thenames of more than 100,000 Jews from all over Europe on70-80 lists of one thousand people each for shipment totheir deaths. Men, women and thousands of children. Herown name appeared on the “Transport” list on fourdifferent occasions. Each time her name was removed byco-workers, but another person had to be chosen to makeup the complete Transport.
One of the cruelest schemesthe Nazis used in Theresienstandt, became the hoax ofselecting a committee made up of so-called electedJewish leaders, headed by one person appointed by theSS, and named “The Elder of the Jews.” During it’sexistence, Theresienstadt, produced several so-calledElders, all of whom were simply figureheads with noreal power. They all perished one way or another,usually shot along with their families, and usuallyafter weeks of torture.
Another strange twist inventedby the Nazis; each list of names destined fortransport, had to be submitted by a committee of theElders and approved by the Camp Commandant, who inreality cared less whose name appeared on the heinouslist, so long as the quota was filled. This policycreated a great deal of chaos, because even though someinmates were considered “safe” by their jobs or valueto the ghetto their names were often selected by otherJews who didn’t know them, but had to complete thenecessary quota, often with less than twenty-four hoursnotice. Frequently, spouses would volunteer to go alongwith their families, and it wasn’t unusual for a motherto take all of her children with her even though mostsuspected “Transport” meant death, or being shipped toslave labor camps, which were much worse thanTheresienstadt.
On the other hand, many families wereseparated forever, when the father or mother orchildren appeared on the list, and nothing could bedone to make changes once the list had been approvedand submitted. In the mean time, an estimated 160,000people perished in the Ghetto from many causes:disease, execution, and starvation.
Valie’s parentsarrived late in 1941 along with her younger sister. Herfather died at the age of 55 of starvation, a brokenspirit and broken hearted. Her mother soon followed.Her beautiful blonde, blue eyed sister went to herdeath in the death camp Auschwitz before her 21st.birthday. Valie typed the names of many of her friendson the death lists, including her fiancee. Vali’s yearsin the Ghetto were miserable, as were the lives of mostother inmates.
Fleas and lice were a constant problem,the source of Typhus and other contagious diseases.Hunger never left her. Stealing food meant survival,but just barely. Every prisoner became emaciated andmany simply gave up and died. Valie told me thatstealing food became an honorable thing to do, eventhough the penalties were severe if caught. Some of theinmates who worked outside, harvested weeds and grasswhich they cooked and ate. Eventually, the SS outlawedthis practice, but inmates furtively continued stealinggrass and weeds, which the horses grazed on. She toldme that when boiled, the weeds and grass tasted alittle like spinach. Potatoes became a most valuablecommodity, while the staple food was watery soup andstale bread.
Valie lived in a one of the militarybarracks, sharing space with other women working in herdepartment. They slept on straw scattered on the woodenfloor, with one tattered blanket each to keep them warmduring the wretched winter months. Many succumbed topneumonia and other diseases caused by malnutrition andthe cold, damp winters. Valie continued to augment herdiet by stealing and or trading items of one kind oranother for more edible food. She finally got caughtwith three stolen potatoes, and the punishment was asevere beating administered by one of the many Czechghetto police, hired by the SS, and armed with whipsand clubs. Valie suffered grievous wounds during thepunishment, which was supervised by a young SS officerwho encouraged the Czech to “beat her to death, toteach the rest a lesson.” The club injured herinternally, but the worst consequence was broken bonesin her back, arms and shoulder.
Even thoughhospitalized for weeks, the Jewish doctors did not havethe necessary medication nor equipment to treat herproperly, and as one result, she became a “hunchback,”with a distorted spine and one leg shorter than theother. She never stood upright again. Her height hadbeen shortened by four inches and she was crippled forthe rest of her life. All for three potatoes, and themaliciousness of the SS.
Such treatment of inmates wascommon, the brutality of her fellow countrymen, wasonly surpassed by the inhumanity of the Nazi SS.Eventually, the Czech police were dismissed and somekilled when they became part of the Czech resistance.One reason they were replaced by SS was suspicion onthe part of the camp Commandant that they might becomeorganized and cause trouble for him. When the Germansrealized that the Russians were closing in on Prague,Adolf Eichmann received orders from Heinrich Himmler toset up gas chambers and kill all the people still inthe camp.
The gas was delivered and one of thebuildings was set up as a gas chamber. The Commandantmade preparations to follow orders. The Commandant, anAustrian (all three Commandants of this camp wereAustrians) named Karl Rahm, a tool maker in civilianlife, became concerned that if he followed through withgassing the thousands of inmates, he could be tried asa war criminal. A double agent, named Rudy Schultz,also an Austrian, and professional criminal assigned tothe Gestapo, warned Rahm that he could be heldresponsible if the gassing program proceeded asordered.
Rudy had been punished by his superior forminor and personal grievances. His punishment, a shortstay as a prisoner in Theresienstadt, where he actuallybefriended many Jews and helped the other inmates inanyway he could. Rudy enjoyed total freedom ofmovement, and wore only the best civilian clothing. Adapper dresser, and handsome man, his cunning enabledhim to live a good life while confined to the ghetto,he lived in his own apartment in SS Headquarters,enjoyed the company of SS officers including Rahm whoknew the power of Gestapo Agents.
Rahm feared thatRudy’s warning could be true, because of Rudy’scontinuous contacts with the outside world. He didn’twant to risk being hanged as a war criminal, so heprocrastinated on the orders to gas all the remaininginhabitants, and made good his escape just before thecamp was liberated by the Russian army. Rahm did getcaptured by the Allies, was returned to Prague afterthe war, where the Czech courts tried him and sentencedhim to death.
Rahm did hang, as did other’s involvedwith crimes committed in Theresienstadt. In the meantime, the Russians found a raging Typhus epidemic, anddid the best they could under difficult circumstancesto help the sick inmates. Many perished, but Valiesurvived. After a brief period of recuperation, Valieset out along with other former inmates for Prague,expecting help from the government. The forty mile walkwas very difficult, because many were still ill, andweak from years of suffering.
Upon reaching Pragueafter a most difficult journey, Valie found totalchaos. None of the officials could offer help orassistance. She had no money or other assets, just theclothing on her back and a cardboard suitcase with afew extra tattered things to wear. She was helpless andhopeless. Hungry and desperate. She wandered aroundPrague, along with many others who had been recentlyliberated, finally finding her way to the oldestSynagogue in the city. She was fed, and given shelterin “Old Prague,” along with a few coins which she usedto rent a tiny apartment, sharing it with another womanand her nine year old son, who also had been in theghetto.
Everything a person needed to survive wasscarce, there were no jobs available, the country hadbeen occupied by Germany for almost five years, and nowthe Communists were trying to put things back in order.Valie managed to find her way to Austria, where shefound domestic work, and saved her money to leaveEurope. Her words to me were; “I didn’t want any partof Europe. I hated my own people, and other Europeansas well.”
She booked passage on a ship bound forAustralia. During the voyage Valie met another Czechnamed Vladislav Borsky. (her maiden name was Tick).They fell in love and were married during the longvoyage. Vladislav was not Jewish, and he had survivedduring the war and occupation by becoming a bootlegger,providing the occupation forces with booze, some ofwhich he made himself. An engineer by education,Vladislav, was a very bright and resourceful man. Hehad plenty of money, and when their ship reached theshores of Australia, he purchased a house and took ajob operating an aluminum factory. Eventually, heopened his own business and they prospered.
Vladislavwanted to return to Europe, at least for a visit, ormaybe to return to Prague and pursue his career as anengineer. Valie refused and they decided to visitfriends in America. After this visit, they decided toimmigrate to the states. They settled in Oakland whereVladislav worked in his profession until retirement.They had one child, a boy, who went to medical schooland practices Ophthalmology. They never returned toEurope although Valie expressed a desire to visit Pragueonce more before she died.
Vladislav, who told us tojust call him “Joe” because we had difficultypronouncing his name developed heart trouble years ago,and wasn’t in good health, is one of the nicest men wehave ever met. Valie who seemed healthy except for herinjuries, suffered a heart attack in August 1995 anddied after two days in a hospital. During our manytalks, she expressed little bitterness or hatredagainst any one. Her son knows about her past, but notin detail. She has always been reluctant to discuss indetail, her terrible experience and suffering at thehands of the Nazis, but because she trusted me and felttime may be running out, she shared her story with me.
As a person who entered several Nazi concentrationcamps shortly after their liberation, and saw themanner in which millions of innocent people were killedor died because of the Nazi policies, and havingreturned to Europe several times, re-visiting placeswhere I saw so much death and destruction, I’ve come tobelieve that even though many have seen documentaryfilms of the Holocaust, and read about the terrorperpetrated upon millions of Europeans by Hitler andNazi Germany, if you haven’t smelled the smells,personally viewed the deep pits filled with unknowncorpses, and watched as American soldiers summarilymowed down hundreds of Nazi guards, especially inDachau, it would be difficult to develop a realisticfeeling for the significance of Valie’s experiences.
In1994, we visited Theresienstadt. I walked on the sameground Valie walked on. I visited museums in the LittleFortress, I went into the deep underground dungeons,where hundreds of prisoners were tortured and murderedby the SS. I’m haunted by the ghosts of Valie and theothers. Valie is an Angel now, and she’s at peace. I’llnever forget this kind, gentle woman who treated us sograciously, cooked special Czech meals for us, andpatiently answered my long list of questions of herlife in what has become to be known as the most uniqueconcentration camp of all. Not a designated “DeathCamp,” rather as the “Gateway To Hell.”
“Let any doubter, in all the generations to come,comtemplate what it would be like to live in a worlddominated by Hitler, the Japanese warlords, or anyother cruel dictator or despot.”
IRA C. EAKER Commanding General, United StatesEighth Air Force