Jiří Lauscher collection
The Jiří Lauscher collection consist of reports, albums, artwork, writings, photocopies, photographs, copyprints, and diary entries documenting the Jüdische Kultusgemeinde's work related to emigration and job training in Prague; the administration, history, and culture of Theresienstadt; and Holocaust-era ghettos and concentration camps. Lauscher collected the materials during his internment in Theresienstadt from 1942-1945 and acquired many of them from friends and acquaintances as they were deported to killing centers.
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- Document Creator
- Jiří Lauscher
Jiri Lauscher was born on September 14, 1901, to Jewish parents Siegfried and Anna Schwarz Lauscher near Prague, Austro-Hungary (Czech Republic). His father Siegfried was born in the mid-1800s. His mother Anna was born on August 22, 1876, in Pribram, to Jakob and Leonora Schwarz. Jiri had two siblings: Frantisek, born October 12, 1899, and Josefina, born in 1906. The empire collapsed at the end of World War I (1914-1818) and Prague was part of the newly independent Czechoslovak Republic. Jiri’s father Siegfried died and his mother married Julius Katz, (1874-1942). Jiri was a Zionist and at some point, went to Palestine and lived there for a while before returning to Prague. Jiri, an artisan and designer, was the technical director of a fur factory. He married Irma Kohn, born May 2, 1904, to Ruzena Kohn. Irma was a dedicated teacher and graduate of Charles University where she studied German. She taught children at the Jewish School in Prague. Jiri and Irma’s daughter, Michaela, was born on December 30, 1936.
On September 29, 1938, Nazi Germany annexed the Sudetenland border region of Czechoslovakia. On March 15, 1939, Germany annexed the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, where Prague was located, ruled by a Reich Protector. Other regions were absorbed by German allies and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. Jews were banned from most professions and organizations. Jiri was fired from his factory directorship. He was a talented woodworker and got a job in a carpenter’s workshop, which made toys and other crafts. Jewish children were expelled from public schools and Irma worked two shifts at the now very overcrowded Jewish School. Jewish life was restricted. There were curfews, few shops would serve Jews, and Jews could shop only a few hours a day. Jiri and his family were kicked out of their apartment so a German officer could live there. They had to move to an old house shared with three other families; each family allotted only a single room. Radios and all valuable possessions were confiscated.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded neighboring Poland. In September 1941, Czech Jews were required to wear a yellow Star of David badge to make them easy to identify. At the end of the month, Reinhard Heydrich, SS Chief of Security for the Reich, became Reich Protector. Regular deportations of Jews from Prague began, with daily transport notices in the newspapers. On July 16, 1942, Jiri’s mother and stepfather, Anna and Julius, were deported. The Jewish School where Irma worked was closed. On September 8, Jiri’s brother Frantizek was sent away. On December 22, Jiri, Irma, and Michaela were sent on transport CK to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp, 40 miles north of Prague. When they arrived Jiri was asked his profession. He showed them a wooden toy which Michaela had brought that he had made at work and they were sent onto the camp. The family was separated, as men, women, and children were housed in different barracks. Jiri was assigned as a draftsman in the camp technical department. He became part of a closeknit group of other artists, including Dr. Karel Fleishmann, Peter Kien, Bedrich Fritta, Karel Bruml, and Leo Haas. Michaela contracted typhus, scarlet fever, and measles, and was placed in the infectious disease ward at the hospital. One of Jiri and Irma’s cousins, Hana Mueller Schiff (later Bruml), was a nurse and cared for her and brought Jiri and Irma notes and drawings from Michaela, as they were not permitted to visit. After Michaela recovered, she was able to live with her mother. Irma was involved in the clandestine classes offered for children and taught them about Jewish traditions. In January 1943, Irma bribed a camp guard to smuggle her a tree sapling. She needed the young tree to celebrate Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, with the children. She planned a secret ceremony with dancing and singing with the children and together they planted the tree, using their precious water rations to nurture it. Other children continued to care for the tree they called Etz-Hayim, the Tree of Life, and as it grew it was a symbol that life goes on. It was difficult to get paper and pencils, and Irma would sometimes trade her scarce bread for supplies. Over 90% of the children in Theresienstadt did not survive the Holocaust. In fall 1944, there were frequent, large transports taking inmates to camps in the east. Around October 1944, Jiri was scheduled for deportation. Irma wanted to volunteer that she and Michaela go with them, but Jiri insisted she not do so, and she complied. While Jiri and the other deportees were waiting for the train to arrive, an SS commander came to get workers to repair a roof recently damaged in a windstorm. Jiri and a few others volunteered to do the work and the train departed while they were still working. There were few transports after that and Jiri remained in Terezin.
By early 1945, all of Jiri’s close friends were deported to other camps, primarily Auschwitz, and as the last member of the group, he became the guardian of their personal possessions. The International Red Cross took over the camp on May 2, 1945. The guards fled, and on May 9, the Soviet Army entered the camp and took control. The war had ended on May 7 with Germany’s surrender. The Jewish Council archive was burned, but Jiri preserved as much material as he could and photographed the camp, in order to document what had occurred there. In June, after three weeks under quarantine, the family returned to Prague. They learned that most family members had not survived. Jiri’s mother Anna and stepfather Julius were murdered in Treblinka killing center on October 19, 1942. His sister Josefina and her husband Arnost Saar were sent to Theresienstadt on January 23, 1943, and then to Auschwitz 8 days later and murdered in the gas chambers upon arrival. His brother Frantisek was deported to Auschwitz on February 2, 1943, and killed upon arrival. Jiri and Irma’s cousin Hana Schiff wrote to let them know that she was still alive and had returned to Prague, which was a great surprise, as Irma had been told by an acquaintance that they saw Hana killed in a concentration camp.
As antisemitism emerged in postwar Soviet controlled Prague, Jiri and his family tried to emigrate to Israel in 1951. They were refused permission and the family attempted to leave illegally. They were caught at the border and jailed, Jiri for two years. Michaela was expelled from high school. She later passed exams for university, earned a doctorate, and had a career as biochemist. She married, and changed her name to Vidlakova, and had a son. Jiri was a sought after expert on Theresienstadt, due to his personal experience and his extensive archive, and led tours of the site into his 80s. The tree sapling that Irma and the children planted was relocated and became a site of memorial and remembrance. Irma and Michaela also shared the stories of their experiences. Irma, 81, passed away in 1985. Jiri, 88, died in November 1989 in Prague.
- System of Arrangement
- The Jiří Lauscher collection are arranged as three series and nine subseries: Series I: Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Prag, 1939-1941, Series II: Theresienstadt, approximately 1941-1989, Subseries 1: Reports, 1942-1944, Subseries 2: Scrapbook: "Samples of Administrative Documents from the Theresienstadt (Terezin) Ghetto," 1942-1975, Subseries 3: Reproductions from Jiří Lauscher's Theresienstadt album, approximately 1942-1945, Subseries 4: Index cards of prominent individuals at Theresienstadt, approximately 1943-1944, Subseries 5: Karl Fleischmann materials, 1942-1965, Subseries 6: Cultural and literary expression, 1941-1989, Subseries 7: Reproductions of camp artwork, approximately 1967-1983, Subseries 8: Theresienstadt electrical works, 1979, Subseries 9: Ulrike Migdal correspondence, 1986-1989, and Series III. Holocaust materials, approximately 1940-1945
- Topical Term
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Czech Republic--Terezín (Ústecký kraj)--Personal narratives.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), in art.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Poetry.
- Geographic Name
Terezín (Ústecký kraj, Czech Republic)
- Personal Name
Lauscher, Jiří, 1901-1989.
- Legal Status
- Permanent Collection
- Jiří and Irma Lauscher and Michaela Vidláková donated the Jiří Lauscher collection to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1989.
- Funding Note
- The cataloging of this collection has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
The accessibility of this collection was made possible by the generous donors to our crowdfunded Save Their Stories campaign.
- Conditions on Access
- No restrictions on access
- Conditions on Use
- Restrictions on use. Copyright ownership is undetermined on much of the collection. Fair use restrictions apply.
Record last modified: 2020-04-24 10:47:33
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn512867