Testimony of Valerie Straussová

Testimony of Valerie Straussová and the Dokumentační akce (Documentation project)

Within weeks of liberation, Valerie Straussová, the concentration and labour camp survivor, gave her first testimony about her imprisonment and persecution, as part of one of the documentation initiatives – Dokumentační akce (Dokumentation project). Immediately after the end of the war, similar projects were established throughout Europe, usually founded by small groups of Jewish survivors. Their members felt a duty to document Nazi crimes and what had happened to them during the Holocaust. With their efforts, they wanted to ensure that the scale of the catastrophe was not forgotten and show the Jewish perspective of the persecution. With the beginning of a series of post-war trials, witnesses and their testimonies became even more important.

Zeev (Vilém) Scheck, a Zionist and member of Maccabi Hatzair, was the main initiator of the Dokumentační akce. Sheck was deported to the Terezín (Theresienstadt) Ghetto in November 1943, where he became a member of the Hechalutz leadership. During the war, ghetto prisoners including Karel Herrmann and H.G. Adler collected documents relating to the persecution of Jews in Terezín. The Zionist youth movement, Hechalutz gathered the largest set of documents. After his liberation in May 1945, Scheck returned to Prague and with the support of World Jewish Congress and World Administration of the Jewish Agency established the Dokumentační akce. The main aim of the project was to document the fate of the Jews from Bohemia and Moravia during the Holocaust, with a special focus on the Terezín Ghetto. At the core of the project were the materials gathered by Hechalutz. Other materials as well as testimonies, photographs, documents and artworks. The testimonies are usually raw and informative, yet brief, as we can see here with the testimony of Valerie Straussová. The Dokumentační akce didn’t collect as many testimonies as other documentation initiatives. The reason for this remains open for further research.

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Historical background

In the immediate post-war period, the material gathered by the Dokumentační akce was divided; in cases where there were at least two original copies, one was sent to the Jewish Museum in Prague, which still holds dozens of early Holocaust testimonies and other archival materials gathered as part of the project, the second was sent to Palestine, along with most of the originals. In 1946, Zeev Scheck made Aliyah, taking with him the materials he had gathered for Dokumentační akce. Scheck’s archive was stored in the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People at Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. In 1976, most of the collection was transferred to the Yad Vashem Archives, part was moved to Beit Terezín and the rest stayed at the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People.

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Valerie Straussová, her family and fate

Valerie Straussová, née Kantorová was born in July 1907 in Vienna. Before being deported to Terezín, she lived with her husband Adolf Strauss and her parents, Emilie and Evžen Kantor, in Prague. Adolf Strauss was deported to Terezín in December 1941. She was transported with her parents the following February. In October 1942, Emilie and Evžen Kantor were deported from the Terezín Ghetto to Treblinka, where they were murdered. Her husband was sent in September 1944 to Auschwitz-Birkenau and didn’t survive the war. Valerie Straussová herself was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 1944, where she was selected for forced labour and sent to Sława (Schlesiersee), a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen. At the end of January 1945, the camp was evacuated and she was forced on a death march with other inmates, during which a number of prisoners froze to death. A few kilometers from Łupice (Osweide), around forty inmates, who were unable to continue marching, were shot and buried in a mass grave. Valerie Straussová was also shot, but she wasn’t fatally wounded. She escaped and fled to the village Wijewo, where she received help from the local people.

After the war, Valerie Straussová returned to Prague to discover that her husband, parents and sister had all died. Over time she gave several testimonies, the first of which was for the the Dokumentační akce. She was also a witness in the trial of Karl Rahm, the former commander of the Terezín Ghetto and her testimony was used in the Nuremberg trials. The Jewish Museum in Prague holds four of Valerie Straussová’s testimonies: The first written in July 1945 for the Dokumentační akce; the second from January 1946 for the Nuremberg trials; the third is a transcript of her legal statement from December 1977, when she was a witness in a trial relating to Nazi crimes at the labour camp of Sława (Schlesiersee). The final version of her testimony is an audio recording and transcript of an interview she gave to the Jewish Museum in Prague in May 1994.