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Michael J. Kraus papers

The Michael J. Kraus papers are arranged as a single series.
Michal (Miša, now Michael) J. Kraus was born on June 28, 1930, in Trutnov, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), the only child of Dr. Karel Kraus and Lotte (Lola) Goldschmid Kraus. His father was born in Nachod in 1891 and received his medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1910. While serving as a physician in the Austrian Army during World War I (1914-1918), he was gassed and wounded. After the war, he returned to Nachod and opened an office as a general practitioner. His mother was born in 1898 in Nachod, where her family had lived since the 1600s. Both parents were from large families and they often visited relatives in Prague. They spoke Czech at home, but were fluent in German. They were well off and, until he was eight, Michal had a nanny who was from the Sudetenland region bordering Germany. This region was identified by Hitler as ethnically German territory to be reclaimed by the Third Reich. In summer 1938, the Czech Army mobilized because of this threat. Nachod was near the border, so Michal and his mother left to stay with relatives in Hlinsko. That fall, Germany met with Great Britain, France, and Italy at Munich and it was agreed that Germany could annex the region. Michal and Lotte returned home. On March 15, 1939, German soldiers invaded the Bohemia and Moravia provinces, where Nachod was located. Michal’s aunt committed suicide after seeing troops camped outside her windows. The Germans enacted antisemitic ordinances. Michal was expelled from school and his father was prohibited from practicing medicine. The family's valuables were confiscated. In mid-1940, two families were moved into their house. In September 1941, Michal’s family was evicted and forced to live in a single room in a house without running water. In December 1942, the Kraus’s were sent to Hradec Kralove and on December 12 were put on the CH transport to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp near Prague. Men and women were housed separately, but Michal was allowed to stay with his mother in L-425. In March 1943, he was moved to the boy's dormitory B-IV, the Hanover Barracks. In June, he had an abridged bar mitzvah in the attic of a former army barracks. In September, Michal was moved to Q-609 with about two dozen 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old boys. One of the boys, Ivan Polak, a friend of Michal’s from Nachod, got the others to contribute stories and poems which he illustrated and with string and scrap paper made into a magazine, “Kamarad” [Friend.] Michal contributed a poem about a mouse that rescues a captured lion and a serial story about trappers looking for fortune in the Canadian northwest. On December 15th, Michal and his family were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Michal was tattooed with the number 168497, his father with 168496, and his mother 71253. For six months they lived in the so-called family camp B 11.b. In June 1944, his mother was sent to Stutthof concentration camp in German occupied Poland. His father was ill when they liquidated family camp and was sent to the gas chambers on July 11, 1944. On July 6, Michal was one of 89 boys between the ages of 14 and 16 selected by Dr. Mengele and sent to a neighboring men’s camp, Maenner lager B.II.d. Later known as the Birkenau boys, they were housed on the punishment block number 13 under the command of the Blockelteste Bednarek. Michal was eventually moved and assigned to work in the Unterkunft where he ran errands. From here he could occasionally see neighboring camps as well as communicate with and provide minor assistance to recently arrived prisoners from Theresienstadt. In January 1945, as Soviet forces advanced towards Auschwitz, the camp was evacuated. Michal and other prisoners were put on a death march in extreme cold and snow to a railway station in Gleiwitz. Those who could not walk were shot. They were then put on open rail cars arriving after four days in Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. After a short time, they were shipped to Melk, a Mauthausen subcamp, where they worked peeling rotten potatoes. As the front advanced, Michal and the other boys were returned to Mauthausen. On April 28, they were put on a nearly forty mile death-march to Gunskirchen concentration camp. On May 5, the German guards fled and American troops arrived. Michal was severely ill with typhus, and was taken to an American-run hospital in Hoersching. In mid-June, he left for home, travelling by boat, on foot, and by train, reaching Prague on June 28. Michal learned that his mother was transferred from Stuffhof after two months to Danzig-Praust, then, in November, because she was ill, back to Stutthof where she perished in January 1945. Of Michal's large extended family, only an aunt and one cousin survived. Michal spent another six weeks in a sanitarium in Stirin, and then went to live with a friend of his parents, Vera Loewenbach, in Ceska Skalice. In September, he returned to Nachod to resume his schooling. He lived with family friends, Rudolf and Vilma Beck, who had survived the camps but lost their son who was Michal’s age. Rudolf was involved with Bricha, the organization which helped Jews from Eastern Europe travel illegally to the West and eventually to Palestine. That fall Michal began a memoir of his war years to honor the memory of his parents which he completed as a three volume work in 1947. In summer 1948, Michal's guardian arranged for him to join a Joint Distribution Committee orphans' transport to Canada. He sailed from England on the S.S. Aquitania and was sent to Montreal where he completed high school and attended McGill University for two years. A cousin had come from New York the week he arrived to register Michal for US immigration and, in September 1951, Michal immigrated to America. He enrolled in Columbia University's School of Architecture in New York and lived with his cousin’s family in New Jersey. After working for a NY architectural firm for two years, Michael returned to Europe in September 1957. He traveled until June 1958 when he accepted a position with an architectural firm in London. In October 1959, Michal took job in Geneva, Switzerland. He married Ilana Eppenstein, an Israeli medical student, in May 1963. During their honeymoon, they visited Nachod and Prague. In 1964, they moved to New York. They eventually settled in the Boston area and raised two daughters. Michael’s memoir was revised and published in English as “Drawing the Holocaust: A Teenager’s Memory of Terezin, Birkenau, and Mauthausen” in 2016.
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