I had never been to the Holešovice area of Prague, but had arranged to meet Jirka there. We had met before on previous trips to Prague and he had given me all of Alice’s photographs. I was happy to see him again and he suggested we should go and look at a memorial to those deported to Terezin. It was a short walk along from the tram stop, past stunning Secessionist apartment blocks to a bleak modern building, with a plaque on its wall. It was a bronze relief in memory of the more than 45,000 people, mostly Jewish, who had been gathered in that particular place before being marched to Bubny railway station and transported to Terezin.
We then walked along the route they had taken to the railway station and reached a scene resembling a waste land. It is a vast area with many tracks and rusted fences, pitted paths and thorny bushes. There have been several plans for redeveloping the site, but it still stands bleak and abandoned, used as a temporary car park. The wall facing you as you approach, is covered by a photograph from the war showing people hurrying to that very railway station with their 50kg bags, as instructed on their deportation papers. It is a reminder to anyone who passes, of the significance of this station, but I am not sure how many people pay attention to it.
However, the photograph is not the first thing you notice. Even before entering the scrubland in front of the station, a huge sculpture commands your attention. It is of railway tracks extending high into the sky and is called The Gate of Infinity. Perhaps it is intended to suggest a journey up to heaven, but I couldn’t help feeling that the descent into hell would have been more appropriate.
Nearby is another, more recent, sculpture of a boat made up of thousands of small laths of wood nailed together in an open fretwork. The accompanying explanation references the journey made in 1940 by a boat filled with Jews and sent by the Nazis to Palestine. It was Eichmann’s idea, as he thought it would destabilise the British. When the boat arrived in Palestine, the British did not allow it to dock and sent it on to Mauritius, but it never completed the journey as it was bombed at sea. The symbolism of a boat that could never float underlines the futility of the journeys made by so many.
For me, the boat was also symbolic of the diaspora. It is made up of many separate pieces of wood tacked together to form a harmonious shape and it reminded me of all of us who lost family and the stories of the past in that Holocaust and who are now trying to fit our separate missing pieces into a narrative, into a form that will help us make sense of what our ancestors were and who we might have been, had they and their world not been destroyed.
That is what a museum or a memorial can help people to do and posters on the dilapidated walls of Bubny railway station explain the desire to use the buildings to create a museum to the Holocaust and its victims in Prague. There are other memorials in Prague, including the names of the thousands of victims from Bohemia and Moravia on the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue, the museums of Jewish history in the Maisel and Spanish synagogues and, of course, Terezin itself.
Yet seventy years on, this space cries out for attention. There are only the windblown posters, the two sculptures and the intention to name a street after Nicholas Winton, the Briton who was one of many to help evacuate Jewish children from Prague in 1939. But the wheels are in motion and funding has been promised. Who knows how long it will take, but I look forward one day to visiting the finished site.