January 22, 1999
Kurt Horner, father of my first wife Stella Horner.
Today, Daniel Terna, our son, is a pupil in the sixth grade of the Middle School. Rebecca Shiffman, Daniel’s mother, is the daughter of survivors of the Shoah. I, Frederick Terna, Daniel’s father, am a survivor.
Kurt Horner, my former father-in-law, was the father of Stella Horner, my former wife. Stella was a survivor of the Shoah. She died early in the 1980’s.
In my preceding, sixth, set of notes about the sons of Cecilie Horner I mentioned that I would write separately about Kurt Horner and his family. Kurt Horner was probably born in Prerov, in German called Prerau, in Moravia, in the last decade of the 19th century. Soon after the end of World War I he married Adele, born Seidel, who came from the same general area. They had three children. Eva was born about 1920, Stella, born in 1922, and Frederick, or Fritz, born about 1926. All three children were born in Vienna.
In the preceding set of notes I mentioned how Cecilie Horner had moved her family to Vienna, and how they successfully expanded their business, and became wholesale coal dealers. Kurt Horner was the son who managed the business, while the other sons pursued careers in their own fields. Upon the occupation of Austria by Germany in February 1938 the Horners escaped into Czechoslovakia. The Germans confiscated their properties, homes, assets, anything of fixed value in Austria. Two of the six sons, and their families, managed to emigrate to the USA before the beginning of World War II. All the others eventually were caught by the Nazi occupation.
I first met the family of Kurt Horner late in 1940 in Prague. Stella Horner was my girl friend, we were both about seventeen years old then. The war had been in its second year. Nazi oppression of the Jewish community had become more severe from day to day. Kurt Horner was under considerable stress, as were other heads of Jewish families to solve day-to-day problems within a brutal system that tried to crush all aspects of Jewish life. Nazi chicanery, constantly changing edicts, random, and unexplained new regulations, were designed to terrorize individuals, and the community, to make Jewish life unbearable. At times Jewish men, women, and even children were seized on the street, or in their homes, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and often executed. Fear of what the next day would bring, more trepidation, and dread were the only assured certainty.
Today, more than half a century after the events, I’m aware of my inadequacy to describe in detail occurrences, people and characters, their feelings and attitudes I observed in the 1940’s as a teen-ager. I hope that I can do justice to the memory of the Horners.
Kurt Horner was a short, balding man, quite rotund then, with a self-assured look reflecting physically the image he had of himself. He knew the ways of the world, the order of importance of what came first, and what had to wait. He virtually oozed authority that was beyond questioning. He exhibited love and kindness to his children, and also to his wife. That love did not include insight into their individual emotional needs. If reminded of this lack he probably would have been quite puzzled. Such cognizance was outside his field of consciousness.
Kurt Horner had spent his adult life as a manager of an enterprise that was initiated by his mother. He was a take-charge person, ready to solve problems as they arose. He had accomplished this by intelligence, hard work, and an intuitive insight into the world, and the people around him. Until shortly before my first meeting him he was dominated by his mother’s ideas, and her power over her sons. Though Cecilie Horner, his mother, was an old lady by then, her needs, and her ideas ruled the family. World events interfered grimly, and were at odds with emotional obligations, the need of the son to prove his devotion to his mother.
Kurt Horner was well trained to do a fine job as a businessman, but probably not much more. I don’t recall having seen him reading a book, or discussing other than quite mundane matters. Ideas, reasoned doctrines, metaphysical considerations were outside his field of interests. His forte was business, but modified by compassion, and thoughtful care for the tangible, practical needs of those around him. Adele, his wife, had a peripheral place in the family, not much different from that of a child. She was in terror of her mother-in-law, and, I would say, with good reason. None of Cecilie Horner’s daughters-in-law could ever do anything right in her eyes. Their positions were doomed from the day of their wedding. None of them brought forth six sons, none of them had built a small business into a major enterprise, failures all of them, barely good enough to produce a grandchild here or there.
Today, looking back to the life of Adele Horner I feel sad for more than one reason. Adele was depressed, and she did not know it, neither did anybody else in the family. While they lived years and years in Vienna, they may not even have been aware of the term depression. Moreover, Adele may have inherited her predilection to depression from her mother, who was known to have “strange dark moods”. This was family hearsay. When I met Adele’s mother briefly in their home in Prague I saw only an old lady, somewhat absentminded, but not much different from other old folks. Was the tendency to depression handed down from one generation to the next? Adele’s daughters Eva and Stella both suffered from bi-polar depression. Both Eva and Stella survived the Shoah; both were hospitalized many times. Eva committed suicide, and Stella made numerous attempts to do the same. I may want to talk about them further down.
Why did Kurt Horner, a matter-of-fact, and practical man pick the ineffectual, delicate Adele? There were the usual criteria: A bride from a good family, from the same social setting, the same general community, it may have been arranged the old-fashioned way. Picking Adele assured the continued power of Cecilie Horner over the home of her son, where she continued to live. Poor Adele.
In 1941 my contact with the Horners was brief, and intermittent. I was in hiding with false papers north of Prague, and only on a few occasions dared to get in touch with Stella. While in hiding I was betrayed, had to return to my family, and was shipped to my first camp, Lipa, on October 3, 1941. That ended my contact with the Horners until 1943. In March 1943 I was transferred from Lipa to Ghetto Theresienstadt. In the summer of 1943 the Horners, Kurt, Adele, and their children, Eva, Stella, and Fritz arrived in a transport from Prague. I saw the Horners nearly every day in Theresienstadt until I was shipped to Auschwitz in the fall of 1944.
The story of the constantly changing chronicle of Ghetto Theresienstadt, in Czech Terezin, from December 1941 to its liberation in May 1945 has been well researched, and recorded in many books. There exist fine accounts of every facet of life there. It would be preposterous here to attempt even an outline.
In Theresienstadt Kurt Horner, and Fritz Horner were housed in different barracks, Adele and her daughters were housed in a women’s barrack. That is where we met, usually after work, until it was time for the men to leave so as to be back in their barracks before curfew at 8 p.m. Adele and Eva were working in a shop that was slicing mica into thin sheets. Mica was used in electrical devices as insulation. Stella worked on an assembly line packaging spare parts of military equipment. Fritz was employed in the “gardens”, an area between the fortification walls, raising vegetables for the Nazis. I don’t remember Kurt Horner’s job.
It was mostly small talk that was exchanged; this was not a family that discussed larger subjects. One of the subjects that was not discussed before me was the fate of the older generation. I don’t know when Cecilie Horner and Adele’s mother were deported. They probably were put into transports that went east directly from Prague. Adele Horner was as helpless as I remembered her in 1941, asking at every turn what she had to do next, shaking her head in amazement. She did, however, take care of her own physical grooming. Kurt Horner found ways to find extra food to supplement the totally inadequate rations in Theresienstadt. In his accustomed way he provided that extra ingredient to make life a little easier. He was rather quiet, uncommunicative, obviously troubled by the prospect of transports east to an uncertain future. It was Eva, the first-born, who tried to assume a leading role, seeking to become a substitute wife, a substitute mother, indeed to become a substitute Cecilie Horner. She was displaying the traits of a person who feels the need to manage everything lest chaos overtakes life. It was not a role appreciated by the rest of the family. In later years I wondered whether her behavior then was an early manifestation of her manic depression.
Fritz Horner, still a somewhat gawky teen-ager made fun of her, her father tolerated her conduct, her mother did not understand what was going on, and Stella tried to find an excuse to go anywhere else, usually in my company, so as not to be hectored.
Except for occasional irrational actions by the Nazi commanders life in Terezin was survivable for a reasonably healthy person. By 1944 it was obvious to just about everybody that Germany would collapse within a foreseeable time. Transports east had stopped since the ones connected with the visit of the International Red Cross. There was little that changed from late spring 1944. The threat of being shipped east remained, but that was a potential threat, and not an expected one. The Russian front-line had advanced deep into Poland, in the west the Allied armies were at the Rhine River. Life in Terezin remained tense and uncertain, hunger and disease, the irrational and unpredictable actions by the Germans continued, but these were constant ingredients. Then, suddenly, in October 1944 transports were resumed on a large scale. Except for a small group of very prominent persons, the Danish prisoners, and some technical personnel, everybody was shipped east. All transports went to Auschwitz. These were the last transports to Auschwitz. Tens of thousands were driven into the gas chambers. Shortly thereafter, with the Russians approaching, Auschwitz was closed, and all inmates still alive, selected to be slave labor were shipped to other concentration camps inside Germany. I was one of these.
Arriving in Auschwitz Eva and Stella Horner were sent to one side to become slave labor in a different concentration camp. Both survived the Shoah.
Kurt Horner, his wife Adele and his son Fritz perished in the gas chambers.