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Reminiscence of Karel Schlesinger (b. 1921) about his deportation to the Maly Trostinets concentration camp near Minsk and escape to the partisans

Transport AAx dispatched a thousand prisoners from the Terezín ghetto to Nazi-occupied Byelorussia on 14 July 1942. Only two young men – Karel Schlesinger (b. 1921) and Karel Klein (b. 1910) – survived by escaping to the partisans; they later fought in Svoboda’s army. The fate of all the transports to Byelorussia in 1941–1942 is dealt with in the exhibition “Since then I believe in fate...”, which is on display at the Robert Guttmann Gallery from 29 July 2010 until 30 January 2011. Proklik na výstavu

Karel Schlesinger:
‘Our journey lasted several days. We went via Vratislav and Warsaw to Brest Litevsk, where the transport was transferred from passenger to freight cars. The end station was Minsk. About 20 to 30 young men were picked out while all the others perished in gas vans. We put the luggage onto trucks and were then taken away to the camp in Maly Trostinets. There were already several hundred Jewish prisoners and a large number of Soviet POWs in the camp. We lived in barracks with bunk-beds. There was a field kitchen and the food was dire: a small portion of army bread and a cup of tea or coffee for breakfast and dinner, and soup for lunch. People were dying of hunger there. I was with a group of about six Moravians and we decided to escape. One day, when I came back from work to the camp, I found out that I had been slated for transport, along with Karel Klein. By then, however, we were old hands and we knew what that involved. We immediately called together our group and got ready to escape. Apart from Karel Klein, however, nobody showed up, so there were just two of us. We went out of the camp with a shovel, so as not to look conspicuous. We walked for about two kilometres to a corn field where we waited until it got dark and then headed for the nearby village of Beryozovka, where the partisans went. We told them that we want to join them. That was in about August 1943, after being in the camp for a year. The partisans carried out checks on us through their contacts in the Trostinets camp. The first task we – just the two of us, Karel Klein and me – were given was to set on fire a wooden bridge in Trostinets on the main road from Minsk to Mogilev. We torched it at night by burning sheaves of corn with matches that we had been given. In 1944 the entire region was liberated by the Red Army. The partisans had cleared a route for the troops through the forest, so they could move forward quickly. We joined the Red Army’s tank battalion. I was injured at Minsk and was taken to hospital in Moscow. After getting better, I went to the army mission and was assigned to the artillery in Svoboda’s army. I was trained and then went on to Slovakia, where I met Karel Klein in Stropkov. I then fought at Dukla with the artillery regiment. At the end of the war we were in Holešov, Moravia.’

Brothers Ota, Karel (in the middle) and Josef Klein before the war
Private collection

Military ID card of Karel Klein
Private collection

Klein’s Czechoslovak Military Cross, 1939
Private collection

Soviet Medal for a Partisan of the Patriotic War of Karel Klein
Private collection

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