A Contemporary Witness for All Alike

Patricia Käfer

Die Presse (03/26/2008)

Concentration camp survivor Rudolf Gelbard visits places spent during his life in Vienna, along with Theresienstadt.

Today people live where the concentration camp of Thereisenstadt once stood. Children are riding bicycles on its former streets that have now been repaired. Rudolf Gelbard was also once such a child in 1942. He was twelve years old. He remembers that during a street fight with members of the Hitler youth, he was called a “Jew boy” and given a “kick from behind” so that Gelbard would be aware of his place within the hierarchy. He also had to wear the yellow star.

Due to the progress made in schools today in terms of education, one can assume that every Austrian child knows what is meant by the yellow star. But what everyone doesn’t know is that everyone who was Jewish was given an additional name, such as “Israel” for the men and “Sarah” for the women; that they were forbidden to go to the cinema, outdoor swimming pools or use public transportation; that they were not allowed to own pets or own bicycles. As a present-day witness, Gelbard has to remind the many children who no longer have a living grandfather or great grandfather of the horror of such harassment.

The documentary made by Kurt Brazda shows Gelbard visiting various places of his life history, including that of the concentration camp at Theresienstadt. When the street car stops at Karlsplatz-Oper, he is reminded of the time when university professor Taras Borodajkevic had held lectures on National Socialist ideas, the results of which led to the death of former concentration camp prisoner Ernst Kirchweger, who was killed during a protest.

When cuts are made between Gelbard’s tales of the original scenes of historical photo material, one fully believes to be a part of the events described. Also scenes taken from today’s everyday life help illustrate that even during that time people lived their lives as usual, even if it was next to the concentration camp or in Leopoldstadt. In a radio report following the November pogrom of 1938 and destruction of the Jewish Temple in the 2nd district, a reporter claimed: “The Jews took to their heels, escaping in time,” followed by: “But that won’t be the case next time.”  

The film documentary by Kurt Brazda is entitled, “The Man on the Balcony.”