Hehalutz in Theresienstadt - Its Influence and Educational Activities
Following the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Hitler’s army in March 1939, approximately 26,000 Jews emigrated from the Protectorate. Zionist leaders had decided to stay behind to serve their communities, but they did encourage Jews to leave for Palestine. However, most missed the opportunity. In November 1941, 6,000 Jews were deported to the Lodz and Minsk ghettos. Panic-stricken, Jacob Edelstein and other leaders came up with an idea to set up a “Jewish town” in Theresienstadt. Hehalutz and other Jewish groups including the leaders immediately commenced construction. Edelstein was a popular leader and opposed the German plan to deport 20,000 Jews to Auschwitz in mid-1943. He was arrested and together with his family transported to Auschwitz where they were exterminated in June 1944. From the beginning Hehalutz took over social welfare and youth education (clandestine) and made every effort to prevent Jews from being sent to the East. Collective life in the children’s houses was positively received. Older children who had to work during the day received cultural education in the evenings. The number of qualified instructors was extremely small. Hehalutz did not neglect the cultural life of the adults and undertook the teaching of Hebrew to groups of all ages. Hehalutz established a successful “Helping Hand” scheme whereby children helped and brought joy to the crippled and elderly. In August 1944 most of Theresienstadt’s inmates were transferred to Auschwitz where they met their death.