HUNTLEY – Lisl Bogart remembers a teacher spitting at her face and calling her a filthy Jew before kicking her out of class.
It happened the morning after German Nazis seized her hometown of Prague in the former Czechoslovakia. Bogart, 13 at the time, scrambled to make sense of the situation, fearing she had done something to upset the teacher.
“He got angry at me for one reason only. He was mad at me because I was Jewish,” Bogart said. “That was the first time I felt anti-Semitism on myself.”
Bogart shared her story of survival and prejudice with more than 150 Huntley High School students Wednesday, nearly 68 years after being freed from the Holocaust. She was introduced by Katie Szarzynski, a school social worker who is a family friend of Bogart.
The Nazis invaded Prague, the capital city of the now Czech Republic, on March 15, 1939. Bogart, 86, returned home from school to discover her dad no longer could own the small business in town that represented the family’s way of life.
Soon after the invasion, the family was treated as second-class citizens. The Jewish Czechs couldn’t use public facilities and transportation. They weren’t allowed to walk the streets past 7 p.m.
By June 1942, Bogart found herself with hundreds of other Jewish Czechs in a concrete holding room, living off a few slices of bread for 2 1/2 days. They were then huddled a hundred at a time into train cars typically reserved for transporting cattle.
“We no longer were treated as human beings,” Bogart recalled. “We were treated worse than the animals.”
Her train car opened to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, commonly referred to as the Terezin ghetto. The camp primarily served as a transit area for the Nazis deporting Jews to forced-labor and death camps such as Auschwitz.
The Theresienstadt camp at its peak confined 60,000 prisoners into an area that barely stretched 700 yards long. It was well-known for lacking adequate living conditions, food and medical supplies.
Nearly 35,000 people died at the camp, although it contained no gas chambers. The Nazis also used the camp to host the International Red Cross, which in 1944 wanted to investigate the gruesome reputation of the Nazi’s camps.
Bogart was among the 960 prisoners selected to manufacture fake housing and public areas during the months leading up to the visit. The Nazis went as far as creating a bank with artificial money to try and fool the Red Cross.
After the hoax was successfully completed, many of the prisoners were sent to Auschwitz to be killed. But Bogart was one of the dozen prisoners spared.
She avoided death earlier in September 1942 when a Nazi guard inexplicably pushed her off a ramp that was loading nearly 5,000 prisoners – including her parents and brother – onto a train destined for Auschwitz.
She later learned family members were placed in gas chambers and killed. To this day, she does not know why the guard pushed her off the ramp.
When the Soviet army liberated the Terezin ghetto in May 1945, Bogart was unconscious in an isolated area with typhoid fever. She recalled waking up to see her friend holding a large piece of white bread outside the window of the room.
She knew they had been freed. A year later, she immigrated to the United States.
“Every morning when I have a slice of bread, I remember freedom,” Bogart told the students.