Antonín Kalina, saviour of children

17 February 1902 – 26 November 1990

Antonín Kalina was born on 17 February 1902 in Třebíč, Kočičina Quarter. He came from a poor family. His father was a shoemaker, his mother was a housewife. He was born as the second of twelve children, his eldest brother died in World War I, another child died immediately after birth.

Antonín Kalina completed his apprenticeship as a shoemaker and worked at the Busi factory in Třebíč. On November 28, 1925, he married Karolína Dítětová, and a year later their daughter Blanka was born.

In 1923 Antonín Kalina entered the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. After the elections to the municipal council in Třebíč in 1931 and 1938, he became one of the members of the municipal council for the Communist Party and was elected to several trade unions.

early life of Antonín Kalina

Before World War II, Antonín Kalina appeared several times in court, most often for his political activities. He was sentenced only twice. He received his very first punishment in Znojmo on September 18, 1920. He was sentenced to four weeks' imprisonment, postponed for two years. In 1933, he was sentenced to three days' imprisonment with a probationary period of one year for offending and ridiculing constable Svoboda, who on June 18, 1933, was maintaining public order, on the way from Slavická Street towards Kostelíček during the Švec Memorial Day at the Sokol Stadium in Třebíč.

Following the Munich Agreement on September 29, 1938, and after the conquest of the borderland in favour of Germany, political and cultural organizations were banned. Thus, on October 20, 1938, activity of the Communist Party was also stopped. In December, the Communist Party was finally dissolved.

On December 26, 1938, Antonín Kalina resigned from the Communist Party and on January 2, the following year, he was deprived of the mandate of a member of the Town Council. As the only dismissed deputy in the whole district, he appealed against the dismissal of the mandate up to the Supreme Administrative Court.

Lists of Enemies of the Reich were created and Antonín Kalina also appeared there. The Sokol members, the intelligentsia, the Czechoslovak officers, the Communists and the Socialists were arrested. More than four thousand people were arrested during the first two months. In Moravia it made 1500-2000 people. Antonín Kalina was arrested on September 1, 1939, the day the World War II broke out. At 6 o'clock in the morning, he was going to his work at Baťa factory, where the policemen arrested him just a while after. Having passed Jihlava and Znojmo, he got to the concentration camp in Dachau on September 8, 1939.

In Dachau Antonín Kalina did not spend much time. He met here one German prisoner who was also a communist. His task was to introduce new incoming prisoners to the order in the camp. However, he spoke only German, so many prisoners did not understand him, which made him furious so much that once he threw a chair at them. However, Antonín Kalina stopped him grabbing his neck and asked him why he was behaving like that when these people did not understand him. The confused German explained to him that when Kalina was in the camp for as long as he had been, Kalina would also forget about decent behaviour. Kalina, quick-witted, replied: "If we survive this time, they will ask you how many people you have killed!" Later Kalina met this prisoner at Buchenwald, and he helped Kalina get him things for children.

Kalina could speak German really well, so he was respected by Czech prisoners. At Dachau he got to know the leadership of the camp and how to manage illegal party work. He had no contact with his family during the entire stay in the camp. Only sometimes he could send some things to his wife Karolína. He was at Dachau until the end of September 1939.

Buchenwald concentration camp

The Buchenwald Work Camp, where the incarcerator's password was "extermination through labour", was founded in July 1937 several kilometers from Weimar. Its purpose was to intimidate and deprive the Reich enemies of freedom.

The Buchenwald Concentration Camp was about half a square kilometer large, and around it there were barbed wires charged with electricity. Buchenwald also included buildings for SS, weapon workshops and a crematorium with a mortuary and the Little Camp.

The dying prisoners were originally moved to the Little Camp. By the end of 1944, many people had arrived there. The men were originally housed in tents, and later, wooden barracks started to be built. Blocks 65, 66 and 67 were built in this way.

The Buchenwald Concentration Camp had its subdivision bearing the code name of Dora. The purpose of the subdivision camp was to secure underground production of V2 missiles. Twenty thousand people died in Dora.

Shortly after arriving at Buchenwald, Kalina joined the Czechoslovak National Committee – an illegal organisation which came into being just when the camp was founded after the arrival of the first political prisoners from Germany.

So as to reduce the risk of being disclosed, the committee was divided into the Romance and Slavic sectors. Each sector consisted of several nationalities. The Slavic sector included Czechoslovaks, Russians, Poles, Yugoslavs, Austrians and Germans. The Romance one included Dutch, Belgians, French, Spaniards and Italians.

Prisoners in the illegal organization collected and spread materials about the political situation, organized events, gave lectures, tried to create more tolerable conditions for all prisoners, and organized rescue operations. Even Antonín Kalina had to inform the illegal organization about rescuing the children.

In Buchenwald there was a system of “Prison Self-Government”, and from the beginning the SS units started forming the staff made up of those prisoners who could represent them in their day-to-day work, enforcing the camp regime.

The positions in the Prison Self-Government first came to the hands of criminals. A frequent struggle was between prisoners marked in green and political prisoners marked in red. A major change occurred in the second half of the war, when the greens began to rob the prisoners of food. It got revealed, and the reds were appointed to the self-governing positions.

Block 66 in the "little camp"

Antonín Kalina was moved to Buchenwald on September 28, 1939. Exactly one year after his stay in the camp, he was transferred to political Block no.39, where he acted as a “štubák”, a deputy block commander.

Due to his political activities before World War II, he was often interrogated. The Nazis wanted to know who were the members of the District Illegal Committee in Třebíč. However, Antonín Kalina never revealed it to anyone.

In the summer of 1944, he moved to Block 66 in the Little Camp, where he was named “blocker”. In Blocks 66, 67 and 68, prisoners did lighter work, and some even did not have to, for example, because of illness, appear at the roll call.

On August 24, 1944, allies raided Buchenwald. Some weapons factories, as well as office buildings, where personal files of prisoners were stored, were destroyed.

If a prisoner was to be sentenced to death or to be sent to another concentration camp, it was possible to change his file for someone else's who had already been dead. This is how Antonín Kalina began rescuing children from Block 66. One day he learned that six Belgians from his block were to be sent to the gas chambers. So he sent them another day to work with different names and numbers. Antonín Kalina met these Belgians in 1948 at the celebration of the liberation of the concentration camp.

Antonín Kalina found out that in every transport to Buchenwald there were twenty to fifty children – boys. He persuaded the commander to put all the kids together. However, the Czechoslovakian National Committee, one of the illegal organizations, disagreed with Kalina. They thought that if the Jewish children were together, it would be easier to send them to the gas chambers. Antonín Kalina, however, placed a sign with the inscription "typhus" in front of Block no. 66. The Nazis were really afraid of this disease, so they did not even come close to the block. The age of the boys ranged from four to eighteen, but Antonín Kalina spoke about the youngest child aged three and a half.

Antonín Kalina took to his block doctor Jindřich Flusser, who helped him prepare lists of children. One list included their real names, on the second one they changed the Jewish names to Christian ones.

Antonín Kalina repeatedly told the children that they were not Jews. Even if someone asked them if they were, they had to answer that they were not.

saviour of children

Before the end of the war, an SS officer asked Kalina where he had his Jews. Antonín Kalina told him he had no Jews, and those he had yesterday had left for transport. It was successful and Antonín Kalina saved other children.

At the beginning of April 1945, the Germans had a list of 47 prisoners, supposed representatives of the resistance organization in the camp. The following day, these prisoners were supposed to enter the gate to be killed. However, the prisoners were disguised and hidden.

Antonín Kalina hid Petr Zenkl, a politician and Prague Mayor between 1937 and 1939, in a bunker near Block 66. After the liberation, Zenkl gave Kalina a gold watch.

On Saturday, April 7, 1945, the SS officers wanted to send the Jews to the death march. They also came to Block 66 for them. But Antonín Kalina convinced them that he had no Jews in his block. According to official sources, he saved over nine hundred children, according to him it was up to thirteen hundred.

One of the rescued children was Elie Wiesel, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, or Imre Kertész, who in 2002 won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Imre Kertész died on March 31, 2016.

Other rescued children are e.g. Pavel Kohn, Israel-Lazslo Lazar, Alex Moskovic and Naftali Fürst, who became the protagonists of Kinderblock 66, a film describing a stay in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Return to Třebíč

Antonín Kalina returned to Třebíč in the summer of 1945 and became the administrator of the Factory of Gustav Kliment in Třebíč, where he had worked before. For some time he kept in touch with his rescued children. However, when Europe split into East and West in 1948, the correspondence with the children gradually ceased.

In 1951 he broke up with his wife Karolína. He moved to Prague and, after some time when the first marriage became invalid, he married nine years younger Anna. He became the head of the production and technical department at the then Ministry of Light Industry and often travelled to European countries. After the death of his wife he retired and spent the rest of his life in Prague.

Antonín Kalina died on November 26, 1990 at the age of 88.

Twenty-two years after Kalina's death, on July 3, 2012, he was awarded in memoriam the title “Righteous Among the Nations” in the Yad Vashem Israeli Memorial. His name is also carved into the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous. The award was handed over to the relatives by the Israeli Ambassador in the Czech Republic, His Excellency Garry Koren.

In June 2014, the town of Třebíč awarded Antonín Kalina the honorary citizen of Třebíč in memoriam.

On October 28, 2014, the President of the Czech Republic awarded Antonín Kalina the state award. He gave him the Medal of Merit of the first degree in memoriam. The award was received by Kalina's nephew Jaromír Slavík.

The actions of Antonín Kalina are commemorated by a memorial plaque located on the wall of the former Jewish School in Leopold Pokorný Street in Třebíč. It was unveiled in September 2015 in the presence of his granddaughter, Alexandra Bodamer, who travelled from the United States of America just to take part in the ceremony.