During the autumn and winter months of 1942-1943 Nazi Germany suffered a series of major military setbacks signaling a shift in the course of the war: The defeat at El Alamein, followed by the landing of Allied forces in North- Africa (Operation Torch) and the encircling of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad.
However, despite these setbacks the Nazis proceeded with their extermination policies. On February 7, 1943, several days after the German surrender at Stalingrad, Hitler addressed a group of Gauleiters (district party leaders) assembled at Rastenburg. During his speech, he repeated the threat to exterminate the Jews of Europe.
From summer 1942 onwards, the city of Hamburg became a target for large-scale bombing raids. During the night of July 26 - 27, just a few days after the first two transports to Theresienstadt had left, the first of these raids involving more than 400 aircraft severely damaged the city infrastructure. It was the first sign of what was to come. Several larger bombing raids followed during the autumn and winter of 1942 and the beginning of 1943.
The Jewish community of Hamburg had been one of the largest in Germany. When the Nazis took power, it numbered nearly 20,000 people. In 1941, on eve of the deportations, there were only 7,985 people left. Following just seven transports in 1941 and 1942, this number was further reduced to 1,792. In the autumn of 1942, the Jewish community lost all independence and the remaining structures were incorporated into the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland).
From January 1943 onwards, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Theresienstadt were the main destination for the transports from the German Reich. The Gestapo picked up its efforts to seize and deport Jews, including Jews from mixed marriages that had ended due to divorce or the death of the non-Jewish spouse. The last deportation from Hamburg to Auschwitz left on February 12, 1943. After that, all transports from the city went to Theresienstadt. These deportations were smaller and usually consisted of 50-100 Jews.
On February 20, 1943, the Jewish department of the RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) issued new directives regarding the deportations of German Jews to the East. These new guidelines now permitted the deportation of Jews who had been employed in the war industry.
The fifth transport from Hamburg to Theresienstadt left the city on March 24, 1943. It consisted of 50 Jews. Three of the Jews had been residents of other cities (Bremen, Guestrow and Rostock) and were brought to Hamburg for their deportation. Several days prior to the transport, all the deportees were assembled in the buildings of the Jewish community in Beneckestrasse. Their luggage, which was limited to 50 kilograms, was searched at the assembly site. They were forced to provide an inventory of their property and to sign a document transferring all their remaining assets to the Reich.
On the day of the transport, the Jews were moved to the Hannoversche Bahnhof (Hanover Station), an isolated cargo station located in the harbour area, which served as the embarkation point for all deportations leaving from Hamburg. They were forced to board one or two train cars, which were then attached to a regular train.
The train ride took two days. Due to the fact that the tracks into Theresienstadt had not yet been constructed, the train stopped in the nearby town of Bohusovice. The deportees had to walk the remaining three kilometers to the Ghetto carrying their luggage. Only people who were unable to walk were taken in trucks.
The transport arrived on March 26, 1943, and was listed as VI/5 in the Ghetto records. The Roman numeral VI represented Hamburg as the city of origin, the number 5 referred to the fifth transport from that city. In Theresienstadt, many of the elderly Jewish deportees died of hunger and disease. Others were later transferred to extermination camps in the East where they were murdered. Not a single one of the 50 Jews who arrived with this transport survived.
An anonymous survivor who was deported in March 1943 described the conditions on board in her testimony:
"There were 50 of us in one cattle car. Everything including a makeshift lavatory was put on that one wagon. And then, in the evening, we arrived in the vicinity of Theresienstadt. What followed was a march on foot. We entered the camp at night. We rested on the floor, on the bare floor. And the next morning, we were divided up and put into barracks."