The prayer book that survived Theresienstadt

I am probably the most a-technical person on the planet. Fixing things is just something I am not equipped to do, that’s why I admire people that can repair things. I love a show on the BBC called the Repair Shop. It is a British television show that aired on BBC Two for series 1 to 3 and on BBC One for series 4 onwards, in which family heirlooms are restored for their owners by numerous experts with a broad range of specialisms.

Last night they had Gary Fisher as a guest who brought in the prayer book he inherited from his grandparents Emanuel and Gisela Fisher.

They had been unable to leave Austria after it was annexed by Germany in 1938 and were eventually sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. They had been able to put their son, Gary’s father Harry, on the Kindertransport to England. Though many of Gary’s family didn’t survive the camps, at the end of the war Emanuel and Gisela were liberated along with the book. Signed by many of the camp’s other residents, it’s an important record of the era and a treasured family possession.

The book was in some disrepair when it was first brought to Jay Blades and his team at The Repair Shop, with the pages falling apart and faded and torn in some places. Repair Shop’s book binder Chris Shaw was tasked with fixing the item, brought in by Gary Fisher.

“My grandparents, they were in a concentration camp and they never knew when their time was going to be up, but they had their religion, they had their faith and that must have been a real comfort to them to never give up,” said Gary.

In 1942, Emanuel and Gisela Fisher and other family members were taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia . Gary Fisher explained that Theresienstadt was a “show” camp, often shown to foreigners as proof of fair treatment of Jewish people. Because of this, his grandparents were allowed to keep the prayer book with them rather than have it confiscated, as would have happened in other concentration camps.

But it was only a mile and a half up the road where people were murdered in a gas chamber, like there were in many other Nazi death camps. Mr. Fischer was clearly very emotional and his eyes filled as he described how his great-grandparents, his grandfather’s sister and a 10-year-old nephew were all murdered in the gas chamber. “My grandparents were very lucky,” he added.

Mr. Fisher wanted to get the book fixed so it could be shared in a proper place for others to see it too. While at the camp, Mr. Fischer’s grandfather wrote a poem and drew a picture of the Jewish star hidden behind a drawing of the camp. He read the poem to the experts at The Repair Shop, stopping halfway as emotion got to him.

Below is an extract of the poem read by Mr Fischer that his grandfather wrote in his treasured prayer book, translated into English:

” Do you know we were also there,

We stood together through summer and winter,

Bind our arms and legs together and ease the pain of sleepless hours,

And soon a new day will come when we will part from one another,

But you will be prepared for when we see each other again,

And on that day we will all be free from tyranny.”

Bookbinder Shaw got to work fixing the book. He was clearly nervous because it was such an important book, Shaw said it was the most important book he ever repaired. When the final reveal was made, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Mr Fischer said, ahead of the unveiling: “I feel like my grandparents are here with me.” Once the beautiful, renewed cover was revealed, Mr. Fischer broke down in tears. “Welcome back,” he said, adding, “It’s amazing – it’s just a complete work of art.”

Uniquely, the prayer book was signed by the other survivors who were liberated at the same time, with over fifty signatures immortalised in the book’s pages,including a German phrase from one prisoner: ” So it’s finally over.”

It is stories like this that indicate that the Holocaust is still near to so many people, and will be for years to come. It is still living history for many.

sources.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0017g52/the-repair-shop-series-10-episode-2

https://www.hellomagazine.com/film/20220519140673/the-repair-shop-viewers-sobbing-emotional-guest-fix/

https://www.geni.com/people/Emanuel-Fischer/6000000080814212826

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/uk-news/bbc-repair-shop-viewers-applaud-23999510

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