Historical Background: (Feel free to skip the first paragraph to get to the good stuff!) After the successful 1938 invasion of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) by Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The eventual goal of the occupation was to eradicate the Czech nationality through a combination of assimilation, deportation, and extermination. In 1939 the deportation of Czechoslovakian Jews was organized and the town of Terezín was designated as a ghetto for Jewish families. During Nazi Germany’s occupation, the Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia was virtually annihilated.
Unfortunately, there were very few non-Jewish individuals or groups that attempted to hinder the Nazi’s efforts throughout the duration of the Holocaust. That is why the story of Alena Divisova is so powerful.
Alena Divisova worked as an apprentice at a dressmaker’s shop in Prague, Czechoslovakia. There, she met a young, Jewish woman named Charlotte who, in turn, introduced her to many other young Jews. When deportation to Terezín began, Charlotte and nine of her friends decided against reporting to be deported. It was at this point that Alena risked her own safety to provide false identification documents for the group of young men and women. With Alena’s help, her friends were able to avoid deportation, find work, and receive much-needed food rations.
Unfortunately not all of Alena’s acquaintances were able to escape deportation and, in her continuing service, she would routinely sneak into the Terezín ghetto to deliver food.
Ms. Divisova was finally arrested in 1944 for hiding two wanted men from the Gestapo for several months. She was detained in the Pankrác prison in Prague and then in Terezín. Eventually, Alena was deported Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp in northern Germany, and then again to a camp in Altenburg, Germany. In 1945, Alena managed to escape while on a death march and journeyed back to her home in Prague.
Alena’s service to the Jewish cause during the Holocaust saved seven of the original ten friends she aided in addition to many others whom she fed or hid from the Gestapo. The activist Alena is still alive and continues to reside in Prague.
Alena Divisova is my shero because she was an upstander. For me personally, the Holocaust is a reminder of the dangers of apathy and the importance of empathy and action. During a time of confusion and gradual, learned discrimination, Alena refused to be a bystander to immoral standards. As a second-class citizen- a woman- she recognized the need for someone to say, “No- I will not allow this.” When I read about historical events, I like to believe that I, too, would have taken a moral stance were I alive during said period. In fact, I judge my moral compass by asking myself whether I would be ashamed of my current actions/or lack thereof if a particular situation were written about in a history book. Would I be remembered as admirably as Alena Divisova?