Hirschberg, Hans Werner
With Hans Walter Hirschberg and Arthur Goldschmidt in Theresienstadt
Kai Kjær-Hansen, International Coordinator of LCJE – 2007; posted with permision
This evening we are going to a place about 40 miles north of Prague, to Theresienstadt in what was then Czechoslovakia, to the town that Hitler “had donated to the Jews” and which in Nazi propaganda was described as a “spa town” where elderly Jews could “retire”. From the end of 1941 to the beginning of 1945, more than 140,000 Jews were sent to this ghetto, which for many, about 88,000, became a transit camp to the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Approximately 33,000 died in this ghetto. When it was all over and the ghetto had been liberated on May 8 1945, there were about 19,000 survivors.
Theresienstadt was governed by a council of Jewish elders; but although there was a certain degree of self-management, it did not mean that they had freedom to do as they pleased; it meant that they were expected to make things work and to carry out the German orders with all the compromises that involved for the council itself.
Among those who died in Theresienstadt, or were deported from Theresienstadt to the death camp Auschwitz or survived the horrors in Theresienstadt, were individuals who were Christians of Jewish descent. It is tempting today to call them “Messianic Jews”, but this would not correspond with their self-perception. Like most other Jews in Germany they saw themselves as Germans; unlike most other German Jews they were Jews who had embraced the Christian faith, some by conviction, others for pragmatic reasons. In plain words, and whether or not we like to hear it: the Jewish identity Isaac Lichtenstein or Lucky had fought for 50 years before was quite beyond the horizon of these Christian Jews. But in Theresienstadt they shared the fate of “Mosaic” Jews. In the eyes of the Nazis, their Christian faith did not obliterate their Jewishness.
Hans Werner Hirschberg
I will begin with Hans Werner Hirschberg, who had been a judge in Berlin. He arrived at Theresienstadt on February 10, 1944, and survived the horrors. We have at least two written accounts from him. After the liberation Hirschberg writes in the Romanian magazine Prietenul, which had been launched by Isaac Feinstein, “that the light of the gospel shone brightly in Theresienstadt. One tenth of the Jews who had been interned there belonged to a Christian confession. Some were Protestants, some Catholics. Among these Jews, there was a group of Evangelical Jewish Christians from Holland, four hundred in number that distinguished themselves. They even had a Jewish Christian pastor with them.” The person he refers to is Dominé Enker, who came to Theresienstadt in September 1944.
Hirschberg also writes: “The Catholic and Evangelical Jews lived together as brethren in harmony. In Theresienstadt the words of Jesus, that we may all be one, became reality . . . and we prayed publicly for Pastor [Martin] Niemöller and other Christians who were in concentration camps. I think that we were the only people who really had freedom to do that. No one could commit us to a concentration camp, for we were already in a concentration camp.”
Hirschberg concludes his account with the following words: “Many of our ‘church members’ had, although they had been baptized, never really considered being followers of Jesus until they came to Theresienstadt. But here, under the influence of God’s word, many of them were truly converted. Jews who had been Christians in name only became true Christians.
Many Mosaic Jews and Jews who had no faith whatsoever found Jesus and were saved in Theresienstadt.
I am one of the few survivors from the concentration camp in Theresienstadt. Most of my brothers went home to be with the Lord. But my Saviour saved me out of this camp so that I might proclaim the wonderful things that He performed among those who were in ‘the valley of the shadow of death’”.
Some will probably be surprised at Hirschberg’s statement that one tenth of the people in Theresienstadt were Christian Jews. And it does seem to be an understatement if the whole period is considered. On April 20, 1945, more than 36 percent were “non-Mosaic” Jews. To this I just want to say that it cannot be deduced that there were 600,000 Jewish Christians among the 6 million Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. But there was a considerable number of Christians of Jewish descent – some mention a six-figure number. Their certificate of baptism could not save them from the gas ovens.
ghetto-theresienstadt. Theresienstadt 1941-1945.
Hans Walter Hirschberg, Christen im Ghetto (unpublished ms., 8 pages), The Wiener Library, London, P.III.h. (Theresienstadt) No. 712. Hans Walter Hirschberg in Prietenul. Norwegian translation by Magne Solheim: “Jødekristne i gettoen i Theresienstadt”, Misjonsblad for Israel, 1946, 122-123. Arthur Goldschmidt, Geschichte der evangelischen Gemeinde Theresienstadt 1942-1945 (Tübingen, Furche-Verlag, 1948).
“Mosaic“ and “non-Mosaic” Jews in Theresienstadt
The number of “non-Jewish Jews“ increased over the years, there is however no material till October 1943. At that time the share of Christians amounted to approx. 9%, the number of those without confession to 6 %. After this time there are more precise figures:
Mosaic Non-Mosaic Dec. 1943 30.480 87,9 % 3.925 12,1 % May 1944 23.529 84,2 % 4.193 15,8 % Dec. 1944 8.346 72,1 % 3.112 27,9 % 20.4.1945 11.104 63,4 % 3.619 36,6 %
The non-Mosaic groups were distributed in the following way :
Cath. Evang. Sects No confession Not stated Dec. 1943 1.321 830 207 1.567 250 May 1944 1.439 1.084 195 1.475 255 Dec. 1944 943 1.198 139 832 110 20.4.1945 2.014 1.808 368 2.004 117
Source: Theresienstadt Lexikon: Christen http://www.ghetto-theresienstadt.de/pages/c/christen.htm