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Vedem

Vedem

Vedem (meaning In the Lead in English) was a Czech-language literary magazine that existed from 1942 to 1944 in the Terezín concentration camp, during the Holocaust. It was hand-produced by a group of boys living in the Home One barracks, led by editor-in-chief Petr Ginz. Altogether, some 800 pages of Vedem survived World War II.

History of the magazine

The magazine was written, edited, and illustrated entirely by young boys, aged twelve to fifteen, who lived in Barracks L417, or Home One, which the boys referred to as the Republic of Škid. Altogether, just under one hundred boys lived in the barracks, which they named after an orphanage, informally called "Republic of Shkid", established in the Soviet Union for orphans of the Russian Civil War and described in the book with the same title. Most of the boys later died in Auschwitz: only about fifteen survived the war.

The content of Vedem included poems, essays, jokes, dialogues, literary reviews, stories, and drawings. The last eleven pages are a play, Looking for Ghosts, by a boy named Hanuš Hachenburg, who later died in Auschwitz. The issues were copied manually and read around the barracks on Friday night. For some time, they were also posted on the barrack's bulletin board, however, it was decided to discontinue this because of regular SS inspections. The satirical nature of many of the articles could have endangered the boys.

The inspiration for the authors of Vedem was their teacher, the youth leader of the compound, "Professor" Valtr Eisinger (died 1945 near Buchenwald) who lived in the barracks and supervised the boys, together with Josef "Pepek" Šťastný. Eisinger had originally been a school teacher before he was removed from his position by the Nazis and deported to Terezín in 1942. In the school system, Eisinger had taught Czech language and literature. In Terezín, he used his training to foster a deep appreciation of literature among the boys. He encouraged them to express themselves creatively, describing both what they witnessed (often in a humorous tone) and their hopes for the future. It was probably under his influence that the boys adopted a rocket ship, inspired by Jules Verne, flying past a book to a star, as the symbol of their barracks and of their magazine.

Eisinger and Šťastný never contributed directly to Vedem, but did add the occasional editorial and in Eisinger's case, some translations from Russian. The writing was done entirely by the boys, many of whom wandered around Terezin looking for themes. Each boy took a nickname to sign their articles. This might have been obscure initials, a pseudonym, or some personal quirk like "Dummy" or "Bolshevik." Sometimes, the nicknames would change. For instance, one prolific contributor, Jiří Grünbaum, called himself "Medic Šnajer," "Socialist Šnajer," or just "Šnajer," depending on his mood. Today, many of the contributors can only be identified by their nickname, and we no longer know who they really were. At some point in 1943, ten of the most prolific contributors began to refer to themselves as the "Academy."

One of the outstanding contributors to Vedem was "nz," or Petr Ginz (1928–1944), who at fourteen became the first and only editor-in-chief of the magazine. At fifteen, Ginz was deported to Auschwitz, where he died. (Holocaust survivor Leo Lowy, who also worked on the magazine, said as they entered Auschwitz, Petr was sent directly to the left, to the gas chamber, and he was sent to the right, to the camp.) A copy of a drawing by Ginz of the planet Earth as seen from the Moon was taken by Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon onto the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon its reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.

The boys tried as much as possible to create a real magazine, even jokingly adding a price on the cover. The material included poetry, adventure stories, essays, and book reviews, as well as popular features such as the "Quote of the Week," chosen from among silly things the boys said. For instance, "Medic Šnajer" was once quoted as saying, "I am afraid to speak. I might say something stupid." "Embryo" was quoted as saying, "Football is the best game, right after Monopoly."

In one edition, a book review on Uncle Tom's Cabin compares the fate of African American slaves with that of the Jews in Terezín, noting that until the deportations began, African-Americans had it worse because their families were torn apart: now that there are deportations, the two groups are suffering about the same. Another popular feature was the 'Rambles through Terezín, by Petr Ginz, in which he visited various institutions throughout the ghetto and interviewed people there. His rambles include visits to the bakery, the maternity hospital, the fire station, and a very chilling ramble to the crematorium.

Preservation and publication

By 1944, most of the inhabitants of Barracks L417 had been deported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, and no more issues were produced. Of the one hundred boys who participated in the effort to produce Vedem, only about fifteen survived. Only one of them, Zdeněk Taussig, remained in Terezín until its liberation in May, 1945. He had hidden the manuscript in a blacksmith shop where his father had worked, and brought it back with him to Prague after he was liberated.

After the war, the few survivors returned to their homes in Czechoslovakia, though some later emigrated to the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. The manuscript remained in Czechoslovakia. Efforts to publish Vedem were thwarted under the communist regime of Czechoslovakia, but excerpts were smuggled to Paris, where they were printed in the Czech émigré magazine Svĕdectví. A type-written samizdat version was published in Czechoslovakia that same year, and re-released in the 1980s. This version was exhibited in the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1990.

Selections from Vedem, illustrated by art that appeared in the magazine and that was created by other children in Terezín, were published with an introduction by Václav Havel as We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine of the Boys of Terezín in 1994. The editors of this selection included Kurt Jiři Kotouč and Zdenĕk Ornest, two of the original contributors from Terezín.

Today, the entire collection of Vedem documents is kept in the Terezín Memorial in the Czech Republic.

References

External links

Further reading

  • Terezín. Council of Jewish Communities in the Czech Lands, 1965.
  • We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezin. Ed. Zdenek Ornest, Marie Rut Krizkova, et al. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1995. ISBN 0-8276-0534-X.

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