Towards the end of November 1941, the Nazi authorities began to deport the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia (the Protectorate) to the fortress city of Theresienstadt, about 60 km north of Prague. The city’s 18th century fortress now served as a ghetto. Thousands of deportees were housed in the army barracks under terrible conditions. By depicting Theresienstadt as a "model of Jewish settlement" and thus concealing its role as a transit camp for Jewish deportees, the Nazis were able to camouflage their true objectives and policies namely, the mass annihilation of the Jews.
Commencing in January 1942, transports began to leave Theresienstadt for Riga. Later, some of the transports were sent to extermination camps and murder sites, including Auschwitz, Treblinka and Maly Trostenets.
At the Wannsee Conference on January 20 1942, Head of the RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) Reinhard Heydrich announced that Hitler had authorized the evacuation of the Jewish population in Europe to the East. Heydrich added that the evacuation of the Reich’s Jews would be given priority because of housing problems and other socio-political considerations. Jews over the age of 65, war invalids, or Jews decorated with the Iron Cross would be sent to the newly established “old people’s ghetto” – Theresienstadt.
On 6 March, following Heydrich’s announcement, Adolf Eichmann, Director of the Department of Jewish and Dispossession Affairs (Department IVB4) in the RSHA, convened a meeting of Gestapo delegates from all over the Reich to discuss the measures necessary to carry out the deportation of 55,000 Jews from Germany and the Protectorate. Eichmann stressed not to include elderly Jews in the transports. Jews of this category would be deported to Theresienstadt. Eichmann also warned the Gestapo not to notify the Jews in advance about their deportation in order to prevent attempts to elude the transport.
On 15 May 1942, Department IVB4 issued new guidelines signed by Gestapo Head Heinrich Müller, regarding the deportation of Jews to the “old people’s” ghetto in Theresienstadt: The evacuation of the residents from old age homes was cited as the top priority. Jews of foreign nationality or those enrolled in the war industry were exempt from deportation.
In the month of July 1942 the Gestapo launched eleven relatively small transports from Munich, consisting of 550 Jews altogether.
This transport departed from Munich on July 17 1942 and arrived a day later in Theresienstadt. The transport consisted of 50 elderly Jews, the majority being female. Ten persons were living in the Berg am Laim camp and 40 were taken from their Munich apartments to the Milbertshofen camp prior to their deportation.
The Gestapo had forced Munich’s Jewish community to assist with organizing the transports. A card index with the names and addresses of all Munich’s Jews existed in triplicate at the Aryanization department, the office of the Jewish community and at Munich’s Gestapo headquarters. This index was used to assemble the different transports. The Gestapo determined the criteria of the transports based upon age, ability to work and other factors. About a week before the planned transport, the Gestapo instructed the Jewish community to inform the victims of their forthcoming “evacuation” to Theresienstadt.
The community also had to finance the transports, provide food for the deportees and pay helpers to deal with the luggage. One or two days before the deportation, the deportees who were not yet living in the Milbertshofen assembly camp were picked up from their apartments by the Gestapo in large, closed removal vans and taken to the assembly camp. This usually took place during the night or in the early morning. In Milbertshofen they stayed for a day or two. They were searched and their last valuables were confiscated. The deportees had to endure bureaucratic procedures and undergo the final stagess of expropriation. Their declarations of property were collected and they were informed that because they were “enemies of the Reich” their assets had been seized.
On July 17, the day of deportation, they were woken up and had to leave the assembly camp in Milbertshofen in the morning. Every transport was accompanied by Gestapo members and members of the uniformed police.
Closed furniture trucks or buses were used to transport the Jews approximately 10 kilometers from the assembly camp to the train stations where the transports departed for Theresienstadt. These were Munich’s central train station and the freight train station located in the Munich-Laim district. It is still disputed whether the majority of transports left from from Munich’s central station or from Munich Laim station. Historian Andreas Heusler argues that the majority left from the central station, but several testimonies indicate otherwise.
At the station, one second-class passenger car awaited them. The deportees were ordered to board the train, usually at around 9 in the morning. If it left from Munich central station the car was connected to a regular, scheduled passenger train that left Munich every day at around 12 for Marktredwitz. The car was then attached to several other local passenger trains in succession and travelled via Moosach, Freising, Landshut, Regensburg, Schwandorf, Marktredwitz, Eger, Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and Usti nad Labem (Aussig) to Bohusovice (Bauschowitz), where it finally arrived a day later. If it left from Munich Laim freight station, the car would have been shunted to Munich central station, from where the procedure would be as above.
The deportees were taken off the train at Bohusovice station and forced by the awaiting SS personnel and Czech gendarmerie to walk the approximate 3 km to Theresienstadt, carrying their backpacks. Only people who were unable to walk were taken in trucks.
The transport was given the reference II/17 in the Theresienstadt ghetto listings where the Roman numeral II refers to Munich. In Theresienstadt many of the elderly Jewish deportees who had arrived on these transports died of hunger and disease during the summer months. Others were transferred in the following months to extermination camps in the East where they were murdered.
Freifrau Gabriele von Waldenfels was on this transport. She was born in 1869 in Vienna and had received high honours during WWI due to her considerable charitable activities. She was also in contact with the Bavarian royal family. In Theresienstadt she was among the “prominent” prisoners. Being “prominent”, she had relatively better living conditions and also received relatively better food.