(24th February 1924 Plzeň - 30th December 1989 Palo Alto, California)
The following text includes parts of the memories Egon wrote himself:
"He was open and jolly, he knew how to laugh. He liked to recite - always with such zest! Once he was called forth by Professor Devetter to recite a poem called 'A Tempest'. Egon was holding the book and as he was saying 'Let the boat of his run as a fox over the heavy waves...' his hand suggested the movement of the boat. We were rolling on tables laughing." That's how Mrs. Jarmila Krejzová (now J. Bartůňková) talks about her former classmate Egon Löbner who was from the family of a prominent importer of exotic food and other rare commodities. This family lived in a house called "U Srdce" on the Republic Square and later moved to newly built villa at 50 Schwarcova Street. The father's name was Emil and he was born on April 26th, 1897 in Heřmanova Huť. Besides owning and running the fruit trading company (named after its original owner R. E. Erben) he supplied more than 200 gas stations all over western Bohemia and he was a member of local Zionist organization.
He and his wife (Josefína Klára, born Köserová on November 23rd, 1897) had two children - Egon (born on February 24th, 1924) and younger Vilém (born on March 13th, 1926). The children grew up in bilingual environment - their governess changed annually from Czech to German and back again.
When the school year 1934/1935 began Egon entered the first grade of a grammar school (II. československá státní reálka) where he was studying with excellent results for the next four years. Mr. Karel Kabát, his classmate of that time, says about him: "He was very smart. Very smart! He helped me with German language. We used to sit at the same desk. He could speak perfect German and Hebrew. He used to read some Hebrew texts for me and he knew how to speak French as well." Egon and Bohumila Wildmannová (today Červenková) were the best pupils in the class and competed in having the best marks. She talks about their struggles: "I remember forgetting my math homework once and doing it during a break in the Ladies room. He caught me when I went out of the door and reported me. He simply wanted to have straight A school report."
But in 1938 he had to leave the school because of his father's wish and study a more useful engineering school. This crossed his dream to become a diplomat.
By May 1938 we were getting ready for war and my dad insisted that I change schools. While his insistence that I train for the engineering profession saved my life many times over, I bitterly resisted his snuffing out my educational goals and professional dreams.
This was the family reaction on the first signs of the forthcoming danger. The situation was getting worse. After the annexation of the Sudetenland their relatives from Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) and Marienbad (Mariánské Lázně) were forced to move to Prague. In April 1939 Egon's uncle Walter was accused of being a member of anti-Nazi organization and imprisoned in the Small Fortress of Terezín. Egon's brother Vilém left for Palestine in December 1939. In 1940 Jews were banned from studying but Egon kept meeting with his friends. In the fall of the same year he began to work in a factory manufacturing aircraft parts but he was laid off when it turned up he was Jewish. Then he worked as a technical drawer in an electrical firm. The family moved to 18 Kollárova Street and their former home became a Luftwaffe officer's club.
My mother was terrified and wanted to leave as fast as possible. My Dad thought it was not going to be so terrible. The decision went his way. There was a small window of two weeks after the Germans occupied then it was closed. Mother was ready to go with my brother and me. She threatened that she was just taking the kids and leaving Dad behind, but finally she decided not to do that.
Egon, Josefína and Emil were transported to Terezín on January 18th, 1942. Egon found a job there in the technical department where he helped making new waterworks system blueprints. Egon lived in the room No. 127 (L218 Jugendheim). He took "underground university" courses, acted in a theatre, was a member of a Zionist movement Hechaluc and helped in a hospital (this activity was connected with an organization called Yad Tomekhet - where also Fredy Hirsch worked - which helped to care about old or abandoned people. His father had an acquaintance with a Jewish Self-administration member and this helped him to find a job of a bread teller - he took over bread delivered from a nearby village (Bohušovice) bakery and passed it on to the Terezín warehouses.
On September 28th, 1944 Egon and his father were deported to the East - the Ek transport with 2499 people arrived at Auschwitz a day later. Only 20% men and women fit for work passed the initial selection and got to the camp (Durchgangslager BIIc). The resting 80% (cca 2000 people, including Egon's father Emil) were murdered in Birkenau gas chambers. 371 people from this transport survived till the end of the war. Josefína Löbnerová arrived at Auschwitz in the Es transport with 1600 people despatched from Terezín on October 19th, 1944. The selection chose 173 (or 169) men and women capable of work to go to the camp, the resting 1158 men, women and children were killed in the crematorium III gas chamber in Birkenau. It isn't possible to find anything more about Egon's mother's fate but one thing is for sure - she wasn't one of those 51 people from her transport that survived the war.
Shortly after his arrival in Auschwitz Egon linked up with his uncle Walter in one of the satellite camps called Janina. Together they lived through the death march to Gross-Rosen where each of them was chosen for another work. Egon was shifted to Bavarian Flossenbürg on February 14th, 1945. Thanks to his engineering education he could work there in Messerschmidt company factories as a controller. The camp was liberated by general Patton's army in May 1945.
Three weeks later our names were being called out throughout all the men's camp in Birkenau. It was Walter who had arranged with the Camp commandant of Janina to find his brother and nephew among the new arrivals from Theresienstadt. He was half lucky. They found me. A few days later I jumped from the truck into Walter's arms. It was a remarkable reunion after five and one half years of separation!
I found the second Walter quite different from the first Walter that I had known before the war. He was strong. He was tough. He appeared in his white coat of a physician. He was second in command after Dr. Erich Or1ik who headed up the infirmary (Krankenbau) in Janina, a small coa1-mining side camp of Auschwitz owned by I.G.Farben, west of Krakau. The SS called it "The Grube der guten Hoffnung", the mine of good hope. Walter immediately spoke to the camp Kommandant on my behalf. I was excused from the deadly work in the mine and assigned to the "Schlosser" detail working on the surface, repairing the wagons that carried the coal and doing hard work of carrying railroad tracks and shoveling coal. Walter helped me in many ways. He gave me extra bread to eat and admitted me for a few days into the infirmary to recuperate from the hard work.
We spent another three weeks after January 18, 1945 on the death march to Gross-Rosen. We tried and managed not to get separated. However we became separated in Gross-Rosen where we volunteered for a transport of "Schlosser's". While marching naked past an SS-doctor Walter was recognized and yanked out from the line of volunteers. We did not see each other for another five months.
After returning to Plzeň Egon first finished his secondary school education and in December 1945 left for abroad.
I did attempt restitution of my parent's property and my own health. I was not able to repossess items that they hid with non-Jewish people in Plzen. People just would not want to return them. The returned property constituted family photos and legal papers deposited with my father's attorney. I did not bother to re-establish my father's business and I had to sell our house because the mortgage payments far exceeded my income.
I fell in love with a young refugee woman from the Carpathian-Ukraine. I helped her and her sister to escape across the border into the Deggendorf Displaced Person Camp in Bavaria. When the US Army withdrew I went through a "war graduation" and escaped across the border because Plzen's mayor Hrbek was after me for having insulted him by calling him before his subordinates an anti-Semite. I joined my girl in Deggendorf where I became a teacher and secretary of the Zionist organization. When my girl left to join her nearest of kin in Buffalo, New York I gave her my school certificates because I had applied for Foreign Student Scholarship with the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation in the United States.
Egon married Soňa Sajovic (also a survivor) and they had three children - Gary (1953), Ben (1955) and Mindy (?). They settled down in the United States where they received their citizenships in 1952. Egon's dreams to become a diplomat were fulfilled and even more - he became an accredited scientist in optoelectronics. Most of his career is connected with the Hewlett-Packard Company.
The School of Engineering at the University of Buffalo was not what I expected. With the assistance of Albert Einstein I was permitted to switch to the College of Arts and Sciences and enroll in Physics major.
Egon testified about his holocaust experience. Shortly after the war he took part in the trial with an SS member who was a guard in Janina - one of the Auschwitz satellites. He also made his own research trying to find the reason why the Allies had not bombed Auschwitz.
Out of the extended family of 27 members - father, mother, younger brother, aunts, uncles and cousins - only three survived the war - Egon, his uncle Walter (the father's brother) and his younger brother Vilem who committed suicide in 1953.
On December 30th, 1989: a few hours before his death Egon wrote a congratulatory letter to Václav Havel, the new president of free Czechoslovakia. Egon's sons Gary and Ben live with heir families in Palo Alto, California and run firms dealing with information technology.
Terezin's Bread Teller
On January 18, 1942, Emilek L. became ghettoized in Terezin. He was the 7,771st Jew from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to be imprisoned in this three?quarter square mile, walled?in garrisoned town which had became an involuntary "Jewish Ghetto" on November 24, 1941.
Unbeknown to the Czech Jews setting up the Ghetto at that time, Deputy Protector SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich (chief of all but the municipal police in the Third Reich, as well as chief of its Foreign and Domestic Intelligence) had met on October 10, 1941, with his SS subordinates at the Prague Castle to establish the so?called Ghetto Terezin (also known as Theresienstadt) as a temporary concentration camp for central and west European Jews before their shipment to the conquered eastern territories where they would face mass extinction. According to the records of Heydrich's October 10 meeting in Prague, Terezin would eventually become a model settlement for Germans. Indeed nearly 87,000 Czech, German, Austrian and Dutch Jews were deported between January 9, 1942, and October 28, 1944 from Terezin "to the East." Of these, less than 3,000 survived the end of World War II. The number of prisoners who died in Terezin itself was recorded on August 31, 1944, to be 32,647. These plain figures belie the Nazi claim for Terezin to be a "ghetto paradise" and "spa," even though a majority of the prisoners died in bed. They succumbed to digestive disorders, malnutrition and respiratory diseases and unlike prisoners in other camps, were privileged to receive a decent burial. Their individual and mass graves are there today.
At the time of his arrival Emilek was 44 years old. He was accompanied by his wife of eighteen years and their seventeen-year?old son. Each of them brought with them the allowed 110 pounds of belongings, most of which consisted of a month's supply of food. The rest of their belongings were left in their home in Pilsen. Each piece of furniture, clothing, tableware, knick?knack, utensil, tool and every piece of property such as shares, life insurance policies and bank books had to be listed on forms which were turned in to a gun?wielding SS officer upon arrival at the Rifle Association Clubhouse, which was the collection point of the to?be?deported Pilsen Jews. Under the watchful eye of the officer all the listed belongings were signed over to the Jewish Resettlement Administration, an SS?owned bureau which financed the destruction of European Jewry. Emilek, a prominent and well?regarded businessman, knew better. Instead of turning over his cashable valuables, he burned them. But prior to their destruction he deposited all of their serial numbers with his non?Jewish attorney. It worked. The SS never found out.
When, way before the deportation, Jews were deprived of white bread, meat, egg, dairy, poultry and coal rations, Emilek sold his car to a Czech butcher, and his wife sold her piano to a coal merchant. These below?the?table deals provided them with rationless meat and fuel for many months. They joked that they ate the car and burned the piano. On the day that Emilek left his home he showed his defiance by placing a night pot full of urine in the middle of the living room, carefully locked up the apartment, and an hour later handed the keys to the SS officer at the Rifle Association Clubhouse.
Upon arrival in Terezin the men were separated from the women and children, to be housed in separate military barracks. For many months most of the families were not able other, except for those who were reunited prior to the dreaded to see each deportation "Eastward."
A few weeks after arrival in Terezin the food supplements brought from home became exhausted and an irritating and aching hunger set in. It drove some to steal. Many women of all ages succumbed to prostitution with men on work details in women's barracks. Fear and uncertainty also intensified the sex drive when cohabitation was forbidden and punishable.
There was a scramble for work and positions which would protect one and one's family from further deportation "Eastward" and/or provide opportunities for supplementing one's starvation diet. The struggle for survival took on many forms. Thus jobs in the kitchens and bakeries provided additional food by misappropriation. The word stealing was only used when prisoners deprived each other of their meager possessions. This happened very seldom. Other types of illegal appropriation were called "sluicing." This euphemism derived from the German designation of the place where incoming transports were searched and many of their belongings taken from them. It was called "Schleusse" in German, a metaphor for the passage of human beings from civilian to prison life. While sluicing from the kitchen or bakery deprived other prisoners of their full measure of provisions, it was accepted as a way of life in a camp where the strong took advantage of the weak in a callous and desperate attempt to prolong life and avoid starvation.
There was a second way of sluicing that did not deprive fellow prisoners of their allotted rations. This was stealing from the SS. It was very dangerous, and severe punishments were meted out to those who were caught. Those who were not caught by either the Czech gendarmes or the SS guards were considered heroes by their co?prisoners. Examples of such stolen goods were tomatoes and potatoes taken by those who were privileged to work in the fields outside the Ghetto that supplied vegetables and fruit for the SS kitchen.
The other kind of jobs that were highly desired were those that were designated essential and that provided a protection from being included in the next transport "Eastward" (called nach Osten in German). Such jobs were those of certain needed skills in carpentry, engineering and also assignments close to the top echelons of the Jewish Council of Elders which administered the camp in strict obedience to the orders of the SS Commandant. Many high?placed appointees within the administration exercised de facto powers of life and death over the other camp inmates.
Emilek was very fortunate to secure for himself a very special job. He was appointed by Mr. Schliesser, one of the elders, to a low?ranking job of Terezin's Bread Teller. Since not all the bread could be baked in the Terezin bakery, somebody very trustworthy had to be responsible to receive and certify delivery of bread that was shipped by truck into Terezin from Czech bakeries in the nearby Czech village of Bohushovitse. That became Emilek's job only a few days after his arrival in Terezin. The Bread Teller's job consisted of counting every loaf of bread that was unloaded from the truck and received by the storehouse manager in the half?a?dozen warehouses scattered throughout the town of Terezin. The Teller signed the shipping papers for the bread truck driver and in turn received a receipt from the warehouse manager.
Emilek, who was of short stature, less than five and a half feet, found it difficult to climb into the truck. As a Jew with a yellow Star of David on his coat, he was not allowed to ride in the cab. Only the Czech gendarme sat there. Emilek could not leave his post for a moment. He was fully responsible for the proper delivery of most of the bread to the Ghetto. His life depended on the proper count.
Why was Emilek so fortunate to get such a unique job? The first 1,300 men who set up the Ghetto were volunteers. Nearly all of the Ghetto?builder leaders, approved by SS Sturmbannfuehrer Adolf Eichmann (then head of the SS Jewish Emigration Post), were prominent leaders of the Prague General Zionist Organization. This included Mr. Gora Schliesser, who became the Elder in charge of the Administration's Economy and Supply Department. Emilek was among the Zionist leaders of the provincial city of Pilsen. Mr. Schliesser knew him well as an ardent Zionist and trustworthy businessman. That is why he appointed him to the job of Bread Teller.
Bread was the gold of Terezin. Besides its life?sustaining function it was also the medium of exchange. One could purchase almost anything for a loaf of bread. It was, together with the illegal cigarettes, the currency standard in the Ghetto. Each third day the inmates received their bread rations. Workers received half a loaf, nonworkers a third and old people a quarter. No wonder that Emilek's job of being a Bread Teller resembled the job of bank teller, and bread delivery vehicles were treated as armored cars. During unloading of the bread, Emilek was obligated to count aloud each loaf. The counting took place in the Czech language so that the Czech gendarme could follow and check the total count when the unloading was completed.
Over a period of several weeks Emilek succeeded to work out a system by which the actual number of delivered loaves exceeded by about six the official count to be delivered by the Czech baker to the Ghetto. When the truck arrived, the driver whispered into Emilek's right ear (Emilek was deaf in his left ear) the number of excess loaves he was bringing that day into Terezin. Emilek then carefully watched the gendarme. When he thought that the gendarme became inattentive to the monotonous droning of the long count, he miscounted. He would repeat the same number twice or even three times. Thus he would count 43, 44, 45, 46, 46, 47, 48, 49, 49, 50 and so on until the correct number of excess loaves passed onto him by the truck driver became unloaded. In this way additional breads, which did not have to be accounted for, reached the warehouses of the concentration camp. The excess breads, which this resourceful teller undercounted into the Terezin Ghetto, were then divided between the warehouse manager and Emilek, who came later, usually when all was quiet during the noon break, to collect his share.
The most remarkable part of this true story is that Emilek did not use his windfall of bread?riches for personal profit. Naturally he kept his wife and son from slow starvation. But the greatest portion of this undercount windfall was given free and without obligation to needy friends and strangers alike. Emilek became a one?man social agency that kept over a dozen people alive for a very long time. One of Emilek's "clients" who received a regular bread supplement was his 80?year?old high school professor, Vlastimil Kraus. After the war, Kraus, an ordained Rabbi who gave up his pulpit to become a teacher, returned to Pilsen where he died a free man a few months later. He told me that besides Emilek's bread gifts, what kept him alive was a strong desire to outlive Hitler. Emilek would "adopt" a young mother from Berlin and bring milk to her sick baby lying in the attic on a little bit of straw. And there were many others who received sustenance for months and years. They were known only to Emilek. Some may have survived but most, I am sure, did not. Neither did Emilek.
A train carrying 2,499 men, comprising transport EK, left Terezin on September 28, 1944. In one of the cattle cars were Emilek and his son. "Destination unknown" turned out to be Auschwitz. Even though he knew he had to undergo the rigors of a long and unpleasant journey, Emilek fasted the whole day of Yom Kippur, which preceded by one day his departure. In the cattle car, Emilek volunteered to sit underneath the excretion filled pail. As the train negotiated curves, the contents of the pail kept spilling on him.
After a few days the train reached Auschwitz. Emilek, who was only 47 years old, looked sick, exhausted and very aged. As the men became arrayed in rows of five they saw an eerie surrealistic scene. Prisoners dressed in striped pajamas were unloading the luggage left on the train. Their posture and movements were cat?like and not human. They seemed like the tiger in Kipling's stories of the jungle. Not far was a building with a chimney whose exhaust flamed just as the burning exhaust from a refinery. There was a terrible stench in the air. Emilek's son turned to an SS guard, pointed to the building and asked in German: "What is that?" The guard replied without hesitation: "A candle factory."
Something was happening in front. An SS officer was sending the men in two directions. Emilek turned to his son and said: "I will go this way and you will go the other way." The son understood. His father often quoted the Bible when he explained why he divided his family rather than keeping it together in times of danger. It was Jacob, who, fearing the wrath of his heavily armed brother Esau, divided his family and belongings into two camps. When their turn came, there was no choice. The SS man, now known the world over as the notorious Dr. Mengele, separated Emilek from his son. I am that son.