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Wooden toy bus owned by a Czechoslovakian Jewish girl

Object | Accession Number: 2016.220.2 a-b

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    Wooden toy bus owned by a Czechoslovakian Jewish girl


    Brief Narrative
    Wooden toy bus given to Renate Pollatschek (later Renata Polt) by her parents in the 1930s when they were living in Ústí nad Labem, Czechoslovakia. The bus is a German toy with “Eilkraftwagen” painted on the sides, rather than “Autobus.” The new word was likely created by the Nazi party to replace foreign words like “Autobus” in the German language. Renate lived with her parents, Friedrich and Elisabeth, her older brother, Hans, and her paternal grandmother, Henriette. She was less than a year old when Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Friedrich, was concerned about Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies, so when he found out that German troops were gathering at the border in September 1938, he decided to get his family out of Czechoslovakia. On September 11, 6-year-old Renate left with her brother and their parents for Lucerne, Switzerland. Her grandmother, Henriette, came to visit and Friedrich tried to convince her to stay with them, but she refused. In April 1939, the family left Switzerland for Havana, Cuba, before settling permanently in the United States in September 1940. The family stayed in contact with Henriette through letters. She eventually decided to emigrate, but was never able to get the required paperwork to leave. After the war, Renate and her family found out that Henriette had been transported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia on July 13, 1942, and then deported to Treblinka II killing center in German-occupied Poland on October 19, where she was murdered.
    received:  after 1933-before 1938 September 11
    received: Ústí nad Labem (Czech Republic)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Renata Polt
    right & left side, center, painted, black : Eilkraftwagen [speed motor coach]
    Subject: Renata Polt
    Renate Pollatschek (later Renata Polt, b. 1932) was born in Ústí nad Labem, Czechoslovakia, to Elisabeth (née Lederer, 1902-2005) and Friedrich Pollatschek (1896-1967). Both parents were born in Aussig, Austria, which became Ústí nad Labem when Czechoslovakia was formed following World War I, during which Friedrich was injured fighting for Austria. Elisabeth was a homemaker born to Josefine (1874-1967) and Richard Lederer (?-1936), and had one brother, Willi (?-1971). Her father, Richard, was born Jewish, but converted to Protestantism when he married Josefine, and Elisabeth was baptized Lutheran. Friedrich was born to Henriette (née Heller, 1870-1942) and Hermann Pollatschek (1858-1926). He was a lawyer with his own firm. He had one older sister, Lene (Helene) Fürth (née Lederer, 1893-?), and two brothers, Hans (1891-1914) and Wilhelm (1899-1918), who both died while serving in the Austrian army during WWI. Friedrich grew up Jewish, but split from Judaism at 18 after a disagreement with a Rabbi. Consequently, Renate and her older brother Hans (b. 1929) were baptized Lutheran, and although they rarely attended church, they grew up celebrating Christian holidays. The Pollatschek family lived comfortably and employed several staff members. They lived on the second floor of Friedrich’s childhood home, while Friedrich’s mother, Henriette, lived in her own apartment on the first floor. They all spoke German as their native language, and considered themselves loyal to Austria, despite the border change that made them Czechoslovakian citizens.

    On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. The growth of the Nazi party in Germany allowed the party’s popularity to spread to other German-speaking areas, including where the Pollatscheks lived. Several members of Renate’s extended maternal family joined the Czechoslovakian Nazi party and refused to speak to the Pollatscheks anymore, viewing them as Jewish. Renate’s father, Friedrich, was concerned about Hitler’s policies and the threat of Germany invading their country, but the rest of his family thought he was worrying too much. In September 1938, Renate’s uncle, Willi, returned from a business trip in Germany and warned the family that German troops were gathering on the border. On September 11, one week after starting first grade, Renate left with her brother and parents for what she thought was another vacation in Switzerland. The family took several suitcases with them, but left the majority of their possessions behind. On September 30, the Sudetenland, which included Ústí nad Labem, was ceded to Germany as part of the Munich Agreement between Germany, Britain, France, and Italy. The family settled in Lucerne, Switzerland, and Renate enrolled in first grade. While they were in Lucerne, Friedrich was unable to work, and they lived in a hotel because Switzerland did not allow non-citizens to rent an apartment. Renate’s grandmother, Henriette, visited the family, and Friedrich tried desperately to convince her to stay with them, but she refused. Soon after the Munich agreement, she decided to move to Prague, Czechoslovakia, which was not yet under German control, with her daughter Lene. On March 15, 1939, German forces marched into Prague, and Czechoslovakia became a protectorate of Germany.

    On April 5, 1939, Renate and her family left Switzerland for Havana, Cuba. Cuba was a popular place for refugees as it was one of the few countries that issued entrance visas rather than visitor visas, allowing families to stay indefinitely. As a young child, Renate struggled with the unfamiliar climate, language, and food. The family’s ultimate goal was to immigrate to the United States, and after a year and a half in Cuba, they received their US immigration visas on September 4, 1940. They flew to Miami, Florida, and settled first in Queens, New York, before moving to Lake Placid in 1942. The Pollatscheks changed their last name to Polt, and took on Americanized first names. Friedrich became Frederick, Elisabeth changed her spelling to Elizabeth, Hans became John, and Renate started going by her middle name, Harriet.

    While they were in Cuba and New York, the family stayed in contact with Henriette, still in Prague, through letters. They continued trying to convince her to join them, but she wrote about her concerns on traveling so far and being an economic burden to them. In a letter from March 1941, Henriette wrote that she had finally decided to emigrate, but she put off leaving because she did not want to leave her daughter, Lene, behind. Frederick managed to purchase them both tickets to Cuba, but they could not get all of the required paperwork to leave, and remained stuck in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. The US entered World War II soon after the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and direct correspondence between Czechoslovakia and the US became impossible. The last letter that Harriet and her family received directly from her grandmother was dated January 21, 1942. Instead, Henriette began sending letters through her brother, Fritz Heller (1879-1960), who was living in neutral Switzerland. The last letter she sent to her brother was dated July 1, 1942. She reported that Lene had been transported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp on May 7.

    While at home in Lake Placid in 1945, Harriet heard over the radio about the victory in Europe, on May 8, and the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, on August 6. After the war ended, the Polts found out that Henriette had been transported to Theresienstadt on July 13, 1942, and then deported to Treblinka II killing center in German-occupied Poland on October 19, where she was murdered. Lene, was deported from Theresienstadt to Siedliszcze labor camp, near Sobibor killing center, in German-occupied Poland, where she was presumably murdered.

    In 1947, Harriet resettled in Santa Barbara, California, with her parents. Her brother John had already started college by that time. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from UC Berkeley, and went on to teach English at Oakland Junior College for 33 years before retiring. In 1969 Harriet met Fred Schmitt, a computer science professor at another local college, and the couple married in 1970. Later in life, Harriet reverted to her birth name, changing the spelling to Renata.

    Physical Details

    Wooden toys
    Object Type
    Wooden toys (lcsh)
    Model vehicles.
    Physical Description
    a. Yellow, painted, wooden toy bus with five rotating black wheels nailed to it and added details painted in black throughout. The top is gray-blue, and the back half of the roof has a raised edge with vertical lines on it. Each side has six square holes cut out along the full length to represent windows, with a seventh, thin rectangular one at the front. Below the windows, there is a horizontal line above German text. On the passenger side, the door is formed by a line border around the first square window. At the front, the windshield is a large rectangular hole, along with a hood represented by painted, horizontal rectangles connected to vertical lines. The grille is indicated by painted horizontal lines at the front of the bus. The back has a cut-out square window with a ladder to the left and a painted spare tire below. Each side has three wheel wells with black-painted cardboard fenders above: one at the front, and two near the rear. On the passenger side, the second rear wheel is missing. The front wheel’s fender extends into a step below the door. Inside, there are four bench seats and five painted wooden figures. Sitting in front of a brass-colored metal steering wheel is a figure with a red shirt and blue hat. On the third bench seat is another figure wearing the same clothing, but missing its left arm (b). There are two loose figures with blue shirts and red hats. The bus is stained and discolored overall. There is cracking between the windows, and paint and pieces of cardboard are missing around the loose wheels.

    b. Thin, rectangular piece of wood, formerly attached as an arm to a wooden figure inside a toy bus (a). The arm is slightly wider on one end and painted red.
    a: Height: 1.625 inches (4.128 cm) | Width: 1.250 inches (3.175 cm) | Depth: 5.500 inches (13.97 cm)
    b: Height: 0.375 inches (0.953 cm) | Width: 0.125 inches (0.318 cm)
    a : wood, paint, cardboard, metal
    b : wood, paint

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The toy bus was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2016 by Renata Polt.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:30:51
    This page:

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