Edgar Krasa: From Cookery to Butchery, Fine Pastry, and Verdi’s Requiem

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

Edgar Krasa poses in the kitchen where he worked as a chef's apprentice.

Edgar Krasa poses in the kitchen where he worked as a chef’s apprentice.

I really like Edgar Krasa. The moment I met him in the hot, sticky basement of the Facing History and Ourselves offices in Brookline, MA, I just liked the guy, literally, the moment I saw him.

To hear his story only adds respect and admiration to liking him. After hearing his story, you can’t help but love the man.

Edgar Krasa was born in Karlsbad, in the German border area of Czechoslovakia, then called Sudeten.  As the majority of area inhabitants were Czechoslovak citizens of German nationality, his education was conducted in German, and he vacationed at his mother’s relatives’ home in Kaaden, the Sudeten.

At that time, Edgar writes, there was no noticeable animosity between the Czechs and the Germans, or between the Germans and the Jews, either. The ill will did not begin until Hitler came to power, after which German national leaders began to complain about discrimination under the Czech government, and ultimately, demand annexation.

Group portrait of cooks in a dining hall or kitchen in Prague during the Nazi occupation. Among those pictured is Edgar Krasa (left), who was working as an apprentice chef.

Group portrait of cooks in a dining hall or kitchen in Prague during the Nazi occupation. Among those pictured is Edgar Krasa (left), who was working as an apprentice chef.

By 1933, life for Jews had become so difficult that my father could no longer make a living among the German population. We moved to Prague, where I continued my education in Czech while spending school vacations at the homes of my father’s brothers in Pribram, in Central Bohemia.

In September, 1938, writes Edgar, with support from the British and the French, the Germans annexed the Sudeten. Jewish parents, realizing that the Germans would soon expand the Reich throughout Czechoslovakia, encouraged their teenagers to learn a universal trade. An aunt suggested I become a cook, as I might never go hungry, and as an apprentice in an excellent restaurant where  I worked until 1941, I learned this trade, from butchery to fine pastry.

By March of 1939, the Czech lands were occupied by the Germans. Yellow stars had to be sewn on each piece of outerwear with the word “Jew,” in a humiliating Hebrew-type lettering, in German. All Jews had to turn in their valuables, including wedding rings, to help finance the war effort. Next, radios had to be given up, to prevent exposure to foreign news. Musical instruments followed, then access to public areas such as movies, theaters, parks, and playgrounds, and finally, students of all ages were not allowed to attend school. Three types of ration tickets were issued, with no restrictions for Germans, some restrictions for Czechs, and nearly total restrictions for Jews.

Group portrait of cooks in a kitchen in Prague during the Nazi occupation. Among those pictured is Edgar Krasa, who was working as an apprentice chef.

Group portrait of cooks in a kitchen in Prague during the Nazi occupation. Among those pictured is Edgar Krasa, who was working as an apprentice chef.

Since I was working six cays per week and could eat well at the restaurant, I was not greatly affected by these decrees, and my parents had my food ration. My aunt had been correct. But by the spring of 1941 my boss was pressured to let me go. Thet only job I could get was at a dining hall operated by the Jewish community for Polish immigrants. I become one of only two Jewish cooks in the entire area that is now the Czech Republic.

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