Following a major corruption and embezzlement affair at the Judenreferat in Berlin (Department of Jewish Affairs) involving the theft of confiscated Jewish property, personnel changes in the Gestapo headquarters in the capital were implemented during late 1942. The pace of the deportations was too slow in the eyes of the Nazi authorities, and they decided to take a different approach, adopting the system that was successfully used in Vienna. To that end, a team from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna, which included SS-Hauptsturmführer Alois Brunner, SS-Hauptscharführer Weisl, SS-Hauptscharführer Krell and Alfred Slawik arrived in Berlin in the middle of November 1942. During their earlier work in Vienna, these men conducted massive deportations of Jews in a violent manner.
Brunner set up his headquarters at the Grosse Hamburger Strasse assembly camp. Following his arrival, he made several changes to facilitate larger and more frequent transports. He had all furniture removed from the rooms save for mattresses, and had straw used as bedding when mattresses were not available. Gestapo officials took residence in one section of the building. The doors to the toilets were removed, iron bars were fixed to all windows, and the basement rooms were converted to holding cells. The building was fenced with barbed wire and illuminated at night with floodlights. Policemen were stationed in the building, with orders to shoot anyone attempting escape. A Jewish patrol force was established to maintain order. From now on, the camp not only had the appearance of a prison, but the deportation procedure also became much more brutal.
Brunner required the Jewish community to appoint an additional camp administrator, Max Reschke. Like Simon Werner (the first director the Jewish community was forced to appoint), Reschke was in charge of the Jewish orderlies, sanitation, food rationing and preparation of the transports based on the lists he was given. The community officials who worked there were given the task of compiling lists and assisting deportees in filling out the Declaration of Assets form which was the means through which the Reich confiscated Jewish property. Following Brunner’s arrival, Grosse Hamburger Strasse served mainly as an assembly camp for transports to Auschwitz.
Until mid-March 1943 deportees to Theresienstadt were held in the former old age home in Gerlachstrasse 21. However, some of these deportees were first detained in Grosse Hamburger Strasse. Several days prior to their deportation, usually in the early morning, they were forced to walk from there to the Gerlachstrasse assembly camp. The sick, the infirm and the luggage were transported by truck. In Gerlachstrasse, they waited a few more days until they were deported to Theresienstadt.
In order to gather more names for the lists of deportees, Jews eligible for deportation were hunted down in the streets and in their homes.
Around the end of January 1943, Brunner and his men left, and authority over the deportations returned to the Gestapo in Berlin.
During the month of January the Gestapo launched six “small” transports from Berlin to Theresienstadt, each consisting of 100 persons.
This transport departed from Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin on 26 January 1943 and arrived in Theresienstadt in the early evening of the same day. The transport consisted of 100 Jews, of whom 56 were women and 44 were men. The average age of the deportees was 59.5. The youngest of them was 7 years old and the oldest was aged 87. Three of the deportees were under 12, two of them were between the ages of 13 and 18, fifteen of them were between 19 and 45, twenty-two were between 46 and 60, and fifty-four of the deportees were between the ages of 61 and 85. Four of the deportees were over 85 years old. Dr. Paul Eppstein, a leading member of the Reichsvereinigung who became chairman of the Ältestenrat in Theresienstadt, was also on this transport.
Dr. Paul Eppstein [b. 4 March 1902 in Ludwigshafen – d. 27 or 28 September 1944 in Theresienstadt] studied sociology and graduated in 1924. Subsequently he worked as sociology lecturer and from 1929 was director of the Volkshochschule (Community Evening School) in Mannheim. In 1933 he was forced to step down and assumed the Chair of the Reich’s Deputation of the German Jews (Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden). There he became one of the most important negotiators with the authorities. From October 1940 onward, he was engaged in administrative matters after the Gestapo had prohibited his activities dealing with matters of emigration. He was arrested and released several times until he was deported to Theresienstadt on 26 January 1943 together with his wife, a social worker in the Jewish Youth Welfare Board. Eppstein succeeded Jakob Edelstein as Jewish Elder. His role in Theresienstadt is disputed. After the liberation, some former inmates claimed that he alienated himself from the other prisoners. Others valued the work he was able to do within the bounds of life in Theresienstadt as beneficial to the ghetto community. Eppstein was arrested and shot on 27 or 28 September 1944. His wife was deported to Auschwitz and murdered on 28 October in the gas chamber.
A couple of Gestapo men, members of the Jewish desk, would usually show up, in order to round up the Jews destined for deportation. The Jews were requested to hand over the apartments in tidy form, after they had paid all taxes. The Gestapo men searched the deportees’ luggage, and the apartment, and often confiscated valuables. Subsequently they sealed the apartments. Jewish wardens who assisted the deportees in packing and carrying their belongings accompanied the Gestapo men. Trucks drove the Jews to the assembly site. This process usually took place one day prior to the actual deportation. At the assembly site the Jews were forced to sign a declaration, authorizing the transfer of their property to the state.
Usually the deportees were woken up at two or three in the morning. They received a small breakfast, and between four and five in the morning they had to leave the assembly camp in Gerlachstrasse. From there they had to walk a few hundred meters to the tram station at Alexanderplatz, where a BVG streetcar (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe - Berlin transportation company) awaited to transfer them expeditiously to Anhalter Bahnhof located on Schöneberger Strasse where they arrived at 5:15 AM. There, through a side entrance, they were led to the platform and were ordered to board two old third-class rail cars which were connected to a regular train that left the station every day at around 06:00 for Dresden. In Dresden the cars with the Jews were connected to another regular train headed for Prague.
The train's route took the deportees from Berlin to Dresden and along the river Elbe to Decin (Tetschen), Usti nad Labem (Aussig) and finally to Bohusovice (Bauschowitz). 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 I/86 in the Theresienstadt ghetto listings; where the Roman numeral I refers to Berlin. In Theresienstadt many of the elderly Jewish deportees who had arrived on these transports died of hunger and disease during the following months. Others were later transferred to extermination camps in the East, where they were murdered.
According to historian Rita Meyhöfer, 18 deportees from this transport are known to have survived.
This was the 86th of 123 transports from Berlin to Theresienstadt during the war that were made up mainly of elderly Jewish deportees (Alterstransporte).