The transport set out.  No one knew where It was headed.  As for our trio - we were determined to seize upon the first opportunity to flee.  At one of the stations, when our train halted alongside a coal train, we exchanged glances.  The identical thought ran through our minds: This is it!


As one man, we leapt from our seats; vaulting to the coal train, we flung ourselves fiat on the heaped coal.  The Germans had not spotted us. (We learned subsequently that the train we had fled continued to shuttle to-and-fro for a whole month.  The Germans planned to blow it up, but did not get around to it.  As Allied forces moved into the area, the guards fled.)


The coal train arrived at the rail station in the seventh district of Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia.  This station, located in the area known as Holishovitza, was at the time the site of coal stores.


We arrived in the morning.  Still wearing our prisoners' uniforms, we stood behind one of the station buildings. amidst the heaps of coal, uncertain what to do next.


Prague teemed with German soldiers and Gestapo agents, as well as the occasional Czech still willingly collaborating with the occupation, even in its twilight hours.  In our striped prisoners' uniforms, with our heads shaven and our bodies emaciated - all three of us together weighed less than 300 pounds! - we did not venture to leave our hiding place.


Dawn broke, bringing a growing risk of discovery by some passerby.  Suddenly, we spotted a boy and girl, whom we took for high school students on their way to class. (We learned subsequently that the boy was headed for a pharmacy where he was employed as messenger and apprentice pharmacist.) Taking our lives in our hands, we stepped out of our hiding place and stopped them.  Addressing the boy with gestures and words of Polish and Russian - languages which bear a considerable resemblance to Czech - we conveyed our need of food and clothing.  The boy replied in Czech accompanied by gestures.  Pointing to his watch, he said "Pockai".  'Czekaj' in Polish means "wait".  We understood that he was advising us to wait for him.  He hastened to return the way he had come.


The boy was Jindrich, only son of the midwife Jirina Sobotka and her husband Jindrich.  Jirina was the sister of Vlasta Koushova, the secretary of Czech foreign minister Jan Masaryk.  The family were Czech patriots connected with the anti-German underground.


Jindrich returned home, where he took three suits of clothing from the closet, packed them in a small valise and walked out.  His mother, surmising that he was doing something of a clandestine nature, asked no questions.  Her family had a patriotic tradition: her father had been a senator for the Social Democratic party in the prewar Czech parliament.  When war broke out, the family went underground and was subsequently hunted by the German authorities.  One of Jirina's brothers, Jaroslav, though without a single drop of Jewish blood in his veins, was punished for underground activity among postal employees by being dispatched to a forced labor camp and on to Buchenwald.


Likewise active in the ranks of the underground, a second brother, Waclav, had been sought by the Gestapo ever since the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.  Forced to seek haven in the forests, he had acquired forged documents and lived in a small wooden cabin, posing as a forest warden.  His relatives learned one day that someone had informed against Waclav, and the Gestapo was on his track.  Jindrich, 16 at the time, was sent along with his girl cousin to the distant cabin, to warn his uncle.  The children took dry bread with them, having been cautioned that, in the event of encountering strangers in the cabin, they were to say they had brought it for the family's cat.


They reached the cabin to find it shut.  Sensing danger, their uncle had abandoned it.  On their way back home, the children were stopped by Gestapo agents who demanded to know what they were doing there.  Their story failed to convince the Germans.  "Come along with us to the cabin," they said angrily.  "lf we don't find a cat there, you'll have to give us the true reason!"


They returned to the cabin; when they opened the door, out leaped a cat, overjoyed at its release... The children, aware that their uncle had concealed his pistol under a heap of straw, turned and strewed it with the dry bread they had allegedly brought for the cat.


Mother Sobotka's brother-in-law - the husband of her sister Vlasta Koushova who was secretary to Jan Masaryk - likewise went into hiding from the Germans.  At the outbreak of war, Vlasta was in the United States - a hostile country from the viewpoint of the Third Reich.  Worse yet, she worked in New York for the Czech government-in-exile.


lt required great courage to operate underground in occupied Czechoslovakia, particularly after June 1942.  That month, members of the Czech resistance assassinated the so-called "Protector" of Czechoslovakia, Nazi police commander Reinhard Heydrich, whose cruelty had earned him the nickname "Hangman". The Germans responded by eradicating the assassination site, Lidice, a mining village near the Kladno mines.  On June 10, 1942, German units surrounded the village, promptly executing all males, as well as 56 women.  The remaining women were dispatched to concentration camps, while the children were consigned to closed institutions for juvenile offenders.  The village's houses were all demolished, and its name was erased from the map.


Not resting content therewith, the Germans henceforth stepped up the repression of the captive Czech population.  Like numerous other Czech patriots, the Sobotka family refused to he deterred by German repression, persisting in service with the resistance.  Inspired by the spirit of his parents and other adult relatives, their son Jindrich came to our aid.


Jindrich brought the clothing to our rail station hideout.  While he served as lookout, keeping an alert watch in all directions, we discarded our prisoners' uniforms for the ill-fitting civilian clothes.  Beckoning to us to follow him, he led us by way of the alleys to his family's modest home - a two-room apartment which also housed his grandmother.  Mother Sobotka gave us one swift glance and hastened to put the kettle on the stove.  Then she instructed us to undress, and, applying her midwife's skills, took brush, soap, alcohol disinfectant and hot water to scrub us clean of our accumulated concentration camp filth.  Since we were circumcised, she must have guessed that we were Jews, but said nothing.


Jirina spooned concentrated baby food into our emaciated bodies.  Having brought over 10,000 babies into the world, she now regarded us - the trio of "rail station foundlings" - as three more of "her infants".  With maternal concern, she put us to bed in the bedroom belonging to her husband and herself.  Overwrought, we wept like babies; finally, trembling with fear, agitation, cold and exhaustion, we fell asleep.


Right from the outset.  Jirina treated us like her own children.  She shared her family's scanty food rations with us, and saw to it that friends and neighbors who visited the flat held their tongues about our presence.  Although quite willing to conceal us and help us out with food and clothing, the Sobotkas immediately set about seeking a haven safer than their own apartment.  Hrstka, a family friend and an officer in the prewar Czech army, owned a shop which sold artificial flowers.  With times hard, the lack of raw materials and the absence of potential customers had led Hrsteka to close down the shop; he now consented to harbor us in its storeroom.


Shortly after we exchanged the apartment for the storeroom, the Germans conducted a search of the Sobotka home, which was under constant surveillance.  Fortunately, they did not demand explanations about the food prepared in the kitchen for delivery to us.


We spent about three weeks in the flower shop.  Sobotka family members and friends took it in turns to bring food to our hideout.


The German military machine was now in its final stages of disintegration, on Eastern and Western fronts alike.