Following the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany in March 1939, and the declaration of a Slovak republic on March 14, Hitler announced on March 15 the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Between 1939 and 1941 the Nazi authorities in the Protectorate carried out various anti-Jewish measures, which included the harassment of Jews and of Jewish institutions and the confiscation of property.
On October 10, 1941, the newly appointed Reichsprotektor, Reinhard Heydrich, summoned several SS officers, among them Adolf Eichmann, to a meeting in Prague (Praha). Heydrich, who was also chief of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA), revealed a plan to deport 5,000 Jews from the Protectorate to Eastern Europe and in addition to expel the remaining Jews of the Protectorate to an assembly camp in Bohemia. Theresienstadt, a garrison town built in the 18th century, located about 60 kilometers north of Prague, was chosen to serve as the place for concentrating the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia. Mass deportations of Jews from Prague and soon afterwards from other large cities began in late November 1941.
Transport R left Plzen for the Theresienstadt Ghetto on January 18, 1942. It was the first of three big transports that left Plzen for the Ghetto, which had been established in November 1941. The transport consisted of 1000 Jews, residents from Plzen as well as from towns and villages in the region, among them Kralovice (Kraltowitz), Blovice (Blowitz), Radnice (Radnitz) and Rokycany (Rokitzan). The deportees were assembled at the local Sokol building (a national gymnastics organization), which served as a collection point.
Prior to the train’s departure, several staff members of the Prague Jewish community Transports Department arrived in Plzen to carry out administrative measures according to the orders they received from the Central Office for Jewish Immigration. They prepared a list of deportees, registered Jewish property, issued notices regarding the date of deportation, and assisted in packing and carrying luggage.
The Jews were transferred from the Sokol building to the train station and put on a train. Upon arrival in Bohusovice, the deportees had to disembark and were forced to march the remaining 3 km to Theresienstadt.
In his post war testimony, Freidrich Klein recalls:
“Following the departure of the first transports from Prague to Theresienstadt, it is made known that Pilsen (apparently due to the eagerness of the Gauleiter) is next. Up until the last moment it is uncertain whether this transport is really going to Theresienstadt - the "good" ghetto. Officials from the Jewish Community, among whom are also friends, remain silent. […] The elderly in particular are very intimidated. […] The hysteria is so strong that I can only fulfill part of my plans. My family, consisting of 3 older people in addition to my mother, are asked to enter the Sokolhaus. After standing and waiting for hours, an official from the Jewish Community pushes us into a room where an SS officer decides our fate. […] I can barely make out the blurred silhoutte of the SS man. A short question: "All five?" ’The eager Jewish Community clerk quickly replies in the affirmative. I hear a number, and we are taken outside. […] No one sleeps during the night as the lists are so complicated and because the elderly fill them out so exactly. Something has to remain in the apartment - food, clothes! Finally my mother prepares an extra suitcase with things for my father. She has been assured that he will receive it. The last meal in our kitchen. I take another (last) warm bath. […] Slowly we go to the Sokolhaus, number cards hanging around our necks, heavily dressed, layer upon layer. People look at us. We have to report at nine o’ clock and have been threatened if we don't. […] We wait in front of the large door. We are being housed in the big hall of the Sokolhaus. The room is overheated. We sweat under our heavy clothing. Everbody has two mattresses. I am with mother and 3 older relatives. […] There is no space. The days pass with unbearable nervous pressure. There is nothing to do. From time to time we are called up - for a haircut, for food. They are looking for men who speak both Czech and German. I volunteer, mainly to stop the unbearable boredom. I am being made an "orderly". I keep guard and try to keep things in some kind of order. […]
The uncertainty whether we will get to Poland or Theresienstadt persists. […] Finally we all have to hand over our valuables and documents in a barrack. I receive my ID back with the notation "Ghettoized". [...] In minus 20 degree weather we stand in rows of 5 and drag ourselves through the empty town. I glance backwards and feel that this is the last time I will ever see it all. The streets are almosty empty. At the freight train station we board an old train car. Stern Schutzpolizei guards shout at everybody. Places on the train are numbered. In every carriage there are two ushers. I am supposed to keep order. It is difficult. People want to switch places to be with their family members. In one case I let them. A policeman checks the numbers. They don't add up. In the train's corridor he hurls the glasses of my face and screams: "You damned Jews, our brothers are fighting outside in the ice and snow. I will teach you! Be careful or it will end badly." I say nothing and take out my spare glasses. This incident marks a valuable lesson that I will need for my time in the camps. Do not stand out.
The train travels all night. At Praha station I hear orders in Czech regarding the special train. We still don't know our destination. Finally the train stops. At the small station of Bohusovice I see the first prisoners with a strange badge on their sleeve made from shoelaces, and also the Ghetto guards. We have arrived, we are [not] in Poland! General relief. Not yet, I think to myself.