Our group consists of nine girls and the teacher. We joined the Neighbors Who Disappeared project in August 2006, although we have already been pursuing the events of World War II for several weeks before that and we have been assembling the tragic story of one Jewish family. You wonder why we do this? It all started thanks to our meeting with someone who has been studying the holocaust for several years, and who managed to spark our interest. Our teacher also helped in this, as she took us to a place closely linked to the suffering of thousands of people - in May 2006, we had a school trip to the Terezín Memorial and, a few days before that, we also went to see an exposition at the Jihlava Jewish cemetery. There we met the Jihlava archivist, Ladislav Vilímek, who suggested we set up an exposition in the abandoned ceremonial chamber in the cemetery. We enthusiastically agreed and called our first meeting within a few days. There were quite a few of us at that first meeting - at least twenty - but the number gradually fell, at first to fifteen then after the elementary school girls left us, to the current nine.
We had absolutely no idea where to start. We knew that much hasn't yet been recorded in this area and that there are probably many stories to be discovered, but also that one local historian had already treated the topic of the Jews of Štoky several years ago. It is however, only twelve kilometers from Štoky to Havlíčkův Brod, where the topic of the local Jews has been left untouched to date. We still didn't know where to start our search though. Fortunately, our teacher recalled the Pachner family, a mention of whom she coincidentally encountered in the Havlíčkův Brod town archives during her university studies. This gave us a starting point, and it is the reason why we chose this family for our research. We did not know how much information we would manage to assemble, but we believed we would find something at least.
Our first steps led us to the study room of the county library of Havlíčkův Brod. It was during the summer holidays, at the beginning of July. Our classmates were enjoying their holidays, while we were delving into books, journals and almanacs. We found advertisements for a company and a shop owned by the Pachners and an article about the building they lived in. The almanac of the local high school contained mentions of several students named Pachner.
On the next meeting, we set off for the Havlíčkův Brod town archives. There were fourteen of us, so we filled the entire study room. Fortunately, the archive workers had great understanding for our endeavors and even helped us find various sources of information. We enthusiastically browsed the crates they brought us with high expectations. We started with the records of a break-of-the-century census, which has allowed us to assemble all the family members, their full names, dates of birth and their birthplaces. We began comparing this data with the Terezín book of records and found the first few names of holocaust victims from this family. We scoured the newspapers and journals of the time, which were often filled with nonsensical antisemitic articles. The wartime edicts aimed against the Jews were also a terrible read - library bans, cinema bans, eight o'clock curfews, the obligation to wear the Star of David... there were quite a few.
Another great source of information were letters, written before and during the war by the Pachners. The letters are deposited in the archives, in the legacy of writer Josef Jahoda (1872 - 1946). Jahoda and Pachner were close friends, having both studied at the Německý Brod high school (Německý Brod was renamed Havlíčkův Brod in 1945). The greatest number of letters were written in 1935, although there are letters from as early as World War I, and some were written during World War II. Arnošt, Artur, František and Oskar Pachner are the authors of most of the letters.
Initially, we didn't even dare hope that we would find photographs. The archives only contained pre-war shots of the Pachners' house. This took a turn when we managed to find a descendant of the family and contact him. This was in no way simple either, the way we made this discovery was slightly out of the ordinary - it was over the internet. We simply googled the name and found several links. Most of these forwarded us to "Peter's Rum Site", in several languages! Thanks to this website, we obtained our first image: a Rum label, designed by Josef Pachner. This find made us very happy and we kept observing the label itself as well.
It still wasn't what we wanted to find, however. We didn't know how the people looked, what made them happy and what their worries were. One of us gave in in the end and sent a polite, explanatory email to all the email addresses she could find for this name, about who we are and what we are doing. After several responses that were of no help to us, we received one response which finally satisfied us. A man wrote to us to say that he was a descendant of the Pachner family and that he would be glad to cooperate with us. This was a great breakthrough for us, as we got to know a lot of information and a couple of weeks later, we were in contact with nearly all of the living members of the family. We have been very lucky, because all of them supported (and still support) our work and were very glad we were doing it. Virtually all the photographs and various documents we have, we obtained from them.
Meeting and speaking with the witnesses was also part of the project. Every meeting with them was very interesting and often even emotional. These people didn't always tell us exactly what we needed, but we were grateful for every piece of information we obtained. At first, we found a few witnesses with the help of our teacher's mother. Eventually, we met a woman, who continued her schooling after elementary school in a shop owned by a local Jewish family. She lives in a retirement home in Havlíčkův Brod and knows a good many people there. The other meetings were set up thanks to her.
At the opening of the exposition at the Jihlava Jewish cemetery, we met a very friendly elderly lady, who recognised a distant relative of hers who married a Pachner while looking through our works. Thanks to her, we established contact with another member of the family and got to know certain details which would have otherwise been forgotten forever.
We also had a meeting with a man who used to live in the pre-war Havlíčkův Brod as a little boy. He moved to Prague along with his parents, from where he was deported to Terezín, where he lived through the war. His relatives, however, weren't as lucky. Another interesting meeting was with a woman, whose father was the mayor of Německý Brod in the 30's and ended his own life at the beginning of the war in order to protect his family from Nazi persecution. Thanks to these people, we obtained a lot of information about the life of Havlíčkův Brod citizens before the war. The topic of our work, however, was still the Pachner family, which we initially selected.
For clarity, we also add that quotations from the correspondence and journals of the family have been left in their original form, just as their respective authors wrote them. The grammar and syntax often do not correspond to the contemporary usage. We believe, however, that the original form of these written legacies perfectly forms the ambience of the time.
Translation © Jan Vančura