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Nesharim

16/12/16 06:22:01

Dec16

I want to share an uplifting story with you. This past September I was in New York for the wedding of my nephew, Richard Hochroth, and Rachel Maier. I had met Rachel’s parents, Peter and Rene Maier (who live in Los Angeles), about a year earlier, when they visited Sydney after attending a simcha in Melbourne. I think the simcha was the bat mitzvah of the granddaughter of one of the “Nesharim.”

Peter’s father, Franta (short for “Frantisek,” in English “Francis”) (1922-2013), came from Brno and was a talented soccer player. When he 18 years old, he went to Prague to do a teacher training course, soon becoming a teacher at a large Jewish orphanage. He saw that the children needed someone to listen to them and care about them; he sought to be a leader who instilled discipline while demonstrating concern.

In March 1942 the entire orphanage was transported to the Terezin concentration camp. He was assigned to be the madrich (leader) of Room 7 of school building L-417, housing 40 boys aged 12-13. This bunkhouse was called “nesharim,” the Hebrew word for eagles. As other Czech boys were sent to Terezen, some were added to Room 7. Franta made sure that the boys kept themselves clean, checked for bedbugs, cleaned the toilets and participated in the “program” (makeshift classes because school was forbidden). They formed a ragtag soccer team that he coached. The structure kept them alive. He told them, “you are all brothers now.” Franta told the boys that they had three duties: to survive, to respect their parents, and to be ready for a new life when the war was over. He encouraged them to love life, no matter what hardships they endured. They developed a sense of community and formed strong friendships.

Franta was deported to Auschwitz in September 1944. He survived a death march in January 1945. His entire family was killed.

While most of the boys Franta looked after were killed at Auschwitz, some survived. Many of them credit Franta Maier for their survival. He profoundly touched their lives, providing order, stability and compassion to the young boys. The survivors called themselves Nesharim.

One of the survivors is Michael Gruenbaum. He dedicates his recent Holocaust memoir, Somewhere There Is Still a Sun, to “our leader, Franta, who at the age of twenty overcame the most unimaginably difficult circumstances and became father to some eighty rambunctious boys, teaching them how to survive by forging a team spirit which has lasted until today.”

After the war the Nesharim became like family to one another. At my nephew’s wedding, there were many Nesharim, one survivor and the rest children and grandchildren, coming from the United States, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Israel and France.

May we all see each other as brothers and build our community.

 

Mon, 10 December 2018 2 Teves 5779

Why Didn't You Take the Money and Run? - https://t.co/oyVOhl8cPM

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