Edgar Krasa: From Cookery to Butchery, Fine Pastry, and Verdi’s Requiem – Part Two, The Deception

The following biographical information about Edgar Krasa is adapted from “The Music Man Of Terezin: The Story of Rafael Schächter… As Remembered by Edgar Krasa,” by Susie Davidson, with illustrations by Fay Grajower.

In continuing the story of Edgar Krasa, it dawns on me that I do so for posterity, to add one small unit of information regarding the Holocaust to the repository of knowledge already in existence. But also, and most importantly, to honor this man who has dedicated his life to the memory of another man, Raphael Schächter, the “Music Man of Terezin.” 

There may come a day when the memory of the Holocaust is eclipsed by the dark, glacial forces of historic revisionism or the perfidious onslaught of Holocaust denial propaganda… but, it will not be this day. Not as long as there are those who keep the memory of the people–the victims, the survivors–alive. To keep the memory of the people alive is to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.

Map of Theresienstadt that was cut out of an original document and mounted on black paper in an album assembled by a survivor.

Map of Theresienstadt that was cut out of an original document and mounted on black paper in an album assembled by a survivor. [USHMM Photograph #42024]

Edgar worked at the Jewish Community dining hall, until the fall, when the manager told him that he’d been designated to become a member of the Jewish Council of Elders in charge of “supplies, economy, and feeding,” in a ghetto created to hold all Jews in the Czech lands. He wanted Edgar to spearhead the effort to start its kitchens. He knew that the ghetto would be temporary, but withheld this information from Edgar. The manager told Edgar that if he agreed, he would protect Edgar’s parents from being deported further to the “East.” Edgar’s father protested, but he knew that “my turn would come eventually, and this way I would be ahead of the game,” if, of course, this man “held to his promise.”

I’ve fielded many questions from audiences concerning the reasons the Jewish people seemed to go to the killing centers, etc., as they say, “like sheep to the slaughter.” As most Holocaust survivors testify, there was much deception involved, right up to the point of standing before the doorways to the gas chambers; this directly connected to the absurd, macabre nature of the overall objective of the Final Solution, as Elie Wiesel has put it, an “unthinkable” possibility to most normal people at the time.

Deception and absurdity combined to form a lethal spell cast to condemn the innocent Jews living in Christian Europe without awakening the sense of awareness required to identify the threat, much less understand it. Edgar writes:

A group of Czech political prisoners interned in Theresienstadt stand in formation as they reenter the camp after a day at forced labor. [USHMM Photograph #42524]

A group of Czech political prisoners interned in Theresienstadt stand in formation as they reenter the camp after a day at forced labor. [USHMM Photograph #42524]

“The 17th century fortress town of Theresienstadt, named by the Kaiser who built it after his mother, Maria Theresa, was built in an octagonal shape in order for guards to be able to see the enemy approach from every angle. An ideal place to hold people, there were only three gates into the town, guarded by Czech gendarmes. Eleven military barracks sat on the inside perimeter, with the houses of 3,000 German civilian town inhabitants in the center. Between 1918 and 1938 there had been 5,000 soldiers accommodated in those barracks, but now, since the German occupation, the Czechs had no military, and the Nazis need their soldiers on the front.”

I recall hearing Edgar speak this next sentence to us at the Facing History offices in Brookline, and, for some reason, it still stands out as one of the saddest statements, spoken in Edgar’s eloquent, understated style, I’ve ever heard.  Though it may, at first reading, appear to be lacking in dramatic substance, I hear the words “the last time” ring out above the rest:

“In November, 24, 1941, three hundred forty-two handpicked engineers, technicians, carpenters, and two cooks assembled at the railroad station, and that was the last time we traveled in a passenger train.”

From that time, on, it would be only cattle cars, wooden boxcars with one or two tiny window openings, for those three hundred forty-two Jews who boarded that train with him. Cattle cars and concentration camps; concentration camps and gas chambers. Or, as in Edgar’s case, the open-air imprisonment of death marches would be the only mode of travel left.