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Our Family In Australia 1970 – 1975

Tom’s Family in Australia, 1970 – 1975

We Were Heckled at the Airport

In 1970 we arrived in Australia at the Sydney airport, where we met our hosts, and were taken by a yellow airport transport bus to our initial housing. As we got off the bus, we were met by a group of five or six men and women shouting at us in Czech, telling Rose and me to go back to Czechoslovakia. They told us we were making a big mistake by coming to Australia! We all assumed these hecklers were workers from the Communist Czechoslovakian Embassy, probably paid maybe $5.00 each to harass any arriving Czech citizens. Our hosts quickly led us away to our new housing. This new housing was in American built military dependent housing, then run by the Australian immigration Office, and it was quite nice

A Nicer Welcome, and Helen’s Birth

Suddenly someone called out “Welcome, Tom!” It was a young architect I knew from Prague, a younger engineer and architect from my school. It was fun, as we walked about later, to meet a number of other young people, old friends from Prague. Here Rose and I met neighbors and families, people we had known from old times and places. A while later we moved to a new apartment, near some Slovak engineers. Rose was about to give birth to our second daughter, Helen. When the time came a Slovak engineer family drove Rose to the hospital, and Helen was born.

Working in Australia

As new immigrants to Australia we were all treated well. Each new immigrant had some welcome skills, such as engineering or architecture. Immigrants with technical skills were arriving from all over. As well as Czechoslovakia, they came from India, England, Russia and Poland. As they were being processed,, they met a nice woman who worked at the bank from Europe and she helped them quite a bit. New immigrants also got unemployment and free food. Tom got a job right away working for the City of Sydney, and sometime later Rose got a job at the Sydney University.

Some of my jobs included building a gravity fed water aqueduct. All so much new construction, and repairs and infrastructures.

I reported to a city office in the morning every day for work, arriving by public transportation. Others I worked with included immigrants with technical skills from India, England, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Poland. There were a few locals, but not that many. The Australians were mostly in charge of the office. Everyone I worked with were engineers and technicians. There were no computers in use in those days, and this type of engineering had to be calculated manually by slide rule.

During my four years there, computers were just coming into use in the workplace. One of the projects we worked on were the calculations to establish how heavy a fully loaded to truck could be based of the weight bearing calculations for the roadway.

Eastern_Brown_Snake_Peter-WoodardWe later moved to a new apartment that a British engineer had vacated. This apartment had nice ground, but it also had snakes. (And not just any snakes, but Australian snakes!)


(An Australian Eastern Brown Snake, one of the most dangerous in Australia.)


Stopover in Germany, 1969

III. Life In Germany

Getting Ready to Leave Germany for Australia
“Nobody Can Give You What I Can Promise To You!”

As I have talked with my brother about our departure from Germany after three months, on our way to Australia, I was reminded of the saying, “Nobody can give you what I can promise to you.” Promises are easy, giving is not.

This phrase comes from a Jewish person from Ostrava who had become a Communist

A Soviet Gulag in Siberia

before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939. The day after the invasion he left his wife in Ostrava, and fled to Russia. When he crossed the border he was happy, and showed them his Communist ID papers. He told them he was ready to help win the war. The Communist officials thanked him very much, and put him on a train to go further east, to a concentration camp. The promise of freedom was far bigger than the giving of it!

Every morning he told the camp commandant there had been a serious error, that he was on their side, and should not be in the concentration camp. As a Czech, he was an ally. Perhaps he did not realize that as a Jew he was an enemy, As far as the Russians were concerned, freedom was not the same for everyone. The commandant told him to get back to work, and the authorities would “work” on the “error.”

Then, after the war, in Ostrava, he worked for my father in the textile factory that had belonged to the Germans. He finally ended up in Jerusalem, selling children’s clothing, using a better version of the rule had had learned in Russia, in the far East: “Nobody can give you what I can promise you,” meaning his goods were the best of all.

A Stopover in West Germany
Our Old Jailor Became Our New Refuge

On our way to Australia we spent about 3 months in Germany in 1969, arriving first by airplane from Prague on Lufthansa Airlines. When Rose, Hana, and I arrived by plane from Prague to Frankfurt we asked people at the airport how to find the train station and get to Munich by train. The directed us to the rail yard, and we arrived in Munich the next morning. Peter met us at Munich when we arrived.

Munich-GermanyFor the short time in Germany I had a small series of engineering jobs. I learned of them through various technical work solicitation ads and Industry newsletters. During that three months in Germany I had two or three jobs. One of them was working for a gentleman who had an engineering background, but also had been an SS officer. I needed the job, so I accepted, and I shook his hand. As I did, I remembered that my own father would not have shook a man’s hand who was previously an SS officer.This said that he had been stationed in Paris for the Nazi occupation there, and he had not been in the Czech lands, or at Terezin or Auschwitz. He said he had good relations with the French and that he still had contact with them after the war.

One of the projects I remember was building a large dome and it had a lot of mathematical calculations to support all the concrete. I used to slide, which was all we had before computers were invented! Fortunately, one of the projects that I worked on was exactly the same as the exercise we did at the University in Prague, learning how to do this type of engineering calculations.

Another thing I remember from the time in Germany was weekend trips over throughout Europe, with Peter sometimes, by car. Peter also was a very fast driver and often got speeding tickets. He later he assigned those speeding tickets to his brother (me!) who had left the country for Australia. When returning to German to visit, they had a record of these speeding tickets, but I did not get in trouble.

Before even getting to Germany we always knew that we wanted to go to America. We tried to go directly there, but found that there was a long waiting list and it was very expensive. Through another friend we found out that Australia would gladly welcome us. Then we learned that Australia said they would pay for everything, and help us pay for the tickets. With one little girl (Hana) and a pregnant wife (Rose) we made the very long and crowded flight, stopping in Singapore and Karachi on the way. All of the flights and travel arrangements were at no cost to us, because of Australia wanted us to immigrate there. This was because we had promised to a two year commitment to work for the Australians in order to have them pay for all of our travel there. Our biggest priority was that Rose did not want to have her second baby girl be born in Germany, so getting out quickly was important


Prague Spring 1968

Escape to Freedom
Posted 21 November 2017

At the beginning of Part II

Prague Spring

Prague Spring 1968
Conditions Improve for Our Escape

The citizens of Prague woke up to the sound of rumbling tanks through their streets. It was August 21, 1968. Still, I went to work in the morning as usual. But when I saw people lining up at the food store, I knew it was the first signal that spring was over, and our dreams of freedom were gone.

Some Historical Background

To be able to understand the happenings of the Prague Spring of 1968, it is necessary to understand the geographical and historical background.

Prague is now the capital of the Czech Republic, since the country divided itself in 1992 into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. But in 1968 it was the capital of Czechoslovakia. The country was located next to Germany on the west, and the Soviet Union on the east, among others, two giants that had played conflicting roles in our land during World War II. Lots of people outside of Europe used to mix up Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, which was in the south of Europe, next to Italy. Two different countries, but with somewhat parallel histories.

Czech history goes back to about the year A.D. 600. The late Senator Henry Jackson, of my home state of Washington, once surprised me by pointing out the modern history of Czechoslovakia could be quite simply summarized in major events in twenty (or so) year increments, beginning with 1918 and the end of World War I. So:

* Czechoslovakia was established as a sovereign nation at the end of the First World War in 1918, when the treaty of Versailles ended the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

* In 1938 Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany, disestablished as a country, and split into the German Protectorates of Bohemia and Moravia, ancient territorial names. With liberation in 1945, Czechoslovakia again was free. But it quickly became a satellite of the expanding Soviet Union.

* And then there was the happening of the Prague Spring in 1968, which was in fact a movement to re-establish a free and independent Czechoslovakia. But the movement failed when Red Army tanks invaded.

* Finally, twenty-one years later, the Soviet Union would collapse, and Czechoslovakia would be free again.

The Political Situation in 1968

It was a hot year in the history of the Cold War between East and West. There were demonstrations all over the world. However, the significance of demonstrations in Czechoslovakia was especially outstanding. A massive demonstration of truly democratic ideas was highly unusual within the Soviet Union’s hard fist of dictatorship. This was due to the past experiences of those who tried it, if they survived at all.

The Communist world was expanding after Leonid Brezhnev consolidated his power in the Soviet Union after the toppling of the previous leader, Nikita Khrushchev. So the Governors of all the satellite countries had to be changed as well. This was a practice proven as a survival necessity for dictatorships. There was an internal struggle for power in the Czech Communist Party leadership, and Alexander Dubcek emerged as the leader.

With such changing of the guard, it had been customary to seek the approval of the general population, and to loosen the screws of dictatorship a little bit. However, things got out of hand. The common people got involved in politics, even those who had no association with the Communist Party governing on behalf of the Soviet Union. There were discussions in the streets, and some changes were promised. These changes mainly involved the policy of governing, the economic system, and basic freedoms.

Several individuals established a new citizens independent organization in an effort to assure permanency of the promised reforms. The organization was named the Club of Non-communist Advocates, and it was growing fast. Under the rule of the communist government, the establishment of a new opposition party was unthinkable. So a club trying to help foster popular support for needed government reforms seemed to be unacceptable. This club would probably be recognized today as a grassroots democracy movement.

The leaders of the Soviet Union saw quite well what was going on in Czechoslovakia, and understood that what was happening in one of their colonies was not in their best interest. There was talk that Czechoslovakia would separate from the Soviet Union as a free country, and maybe as a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) as well. In addition, if this were allowed, other satellite countries would follow.

So, in August of 1968, the Soviet Union, with the token help of other satellite countries, invaded Czechoslovakia with an overwhelming force. They took Dubcek and other Czech communist leaders to Moscow for a frank discussion.

And that was the end of the Prague Spring of 1968.

After the Invasion

There were hard times after the invasion by the “friendly” armies under the Red Army command. A new “loyal” government was established. A “normalization process” was initiated to finalize the fight against all those who had promoted the reforms. They were branded as “counter-revolutionary” forces, and the new loyalists were called “conservatives,” or “conserves” for short.

There was also an organized effort to make the troublemakers disappear. This was so the newly established “conservative” government would not have any difficulties with the real government, in Moscow. It is said that 10% of the population, some 140,000 people, emigrated; however, not all of them permanently.

There was some resistance within the means of unarmed citizens, after the invasion. A free underground press, radio and television for maintained for a while. But there was no hope for a democratic government once the Red Army had settled in.

I believe that the realistic struggle, with all the hope attached to it, was during the several months from the start of the Prague Spring in 1968 until August 21st of that year. Perhaps also the year before, also, leading up to those events, to a limited extent. Meaningful reforms had been planned and promoted, new politics were fostered, and dreams of independence seemed closer to reality than ever before.


When speaking of the Prague Spring, I am talking about events that happened nearly 50 years before our present time (2017). But I believe that what happened in Prague at that time has substantial significance for today. It was a struggle for democracy, specifically the struggle for freedom of individuals to be able to control their own destiny. We probably all agree the struggle for democracy, for the personal freedom of individuals, is a perpetual struggle. So it is important to remind ourselves that we have to guard our freedom with everything available to us.

In September of 2001 (just a year before I wrote this presentation in 2002) the world was shocked by a massive attack upon civilians of the United States. In the eyes of those who have fought for freedom, the United States has always been the world symbol of democracy, and its defender. This, I think, was one of the reasons for the attack. The terrorist organizations which instigated these attacks are in principal anti-democratic movements which promote dictatorships. As such, they will fight us because we stand in their way to governing by terror for the pleasure of the few.

We should never forget how lucky we are to live in a country which stands for its democratic principals, and which is dedicated to defend them. We should never forget what an effort it takes to be free. – Thomas O. Lenda, May 15, 2002

Names that Chill the Blood

From the Introduction to “Children on Death Row” A reminder of the horror of institutionalized, unchecked anti-Semitism:

death march 3

Even after more than seventy years, the names of these camps still chill the blood:


The fate of the prisoners in Terezin was not fully known inside Terezin. But a clue was the fact that nobody returned from “Transports to the East.” A substantial part of the horror in Terezin was the waiting for death, to be always on the Death Row.

(C) 2017 Thomas O. Lenda

A Death March Reaches Terezin

death march 3(C) 2017 Thomas O. Lenda

Towards the end of the war there was something new for us to see almost every day. However, one of the events impressed forever on my mind was an encounter with a death march. It was one of those “Come and look!” events. As usual, the word would spread around, and then somebody would say we should go and see.
It was at the main incoming road from outside the ghetto, right on the street along the main square near the SS Commandature. There was a wall of onlookers: Terezin prisoners of all ages. They were mostly silent, just standing and watching. It was a scene hard to believe and hard to forget. A group of about fifty people, dressed in dirty uniforms with blue and white horizontal stripes, were drifting slowly along the street. Some of them were falling down as they went. There was a cordon of Terezin prisoners holding hands and walking alongside the drifting people to separate them from the onlookers. The fallen people were picked up by other Terezin prisoners, placed on stretchers, and carried away. Suddenly one of the onlookers threw a little piece of Terezin cake, a pound cake, into the midst of the drifting people. Those who were close to the fallen piece of yellow cake grabbed it from the road, and those who did not get it tried to take it away from them. It was like a chicken fight at feeding time. They had forgotten any sense of human dignity, or any other feelings, long before. All that remained was a living creature’s sense of survival. But most of the people kept on drifting along, with the apathy of drifters who just keep doing what they had been doing a little while ago. It was the only thing they could do without thinking about their next move. Just drifting along, pushed by an effort to survive.
We were told these poor people were mostly Polish Jews from concentration camps in the East, survivors like us, but in much worse shape. They were placed into isolated housing, quarantine, because they were sick, mostly with typhus. Should we see them on the street, we should avoid contact with them. Indeed, several days later we met some of them who seemed to be more industrious than the others. Apparently they had broken out of the quarantine and started to walk the streets, wearing the civilian clothes they had been given in place of the dirty stripped prison uniforms. They would approach us and ask for food, mostly in Polish, with some German and fragments of Czech. We did not avoid them, because we were very curious as to who those people were. However, our intention to communicate with them was always interrupted by some local adults. Mostly they would tell those people that they should be ashamed to do that, as they were spreading their disease to the last few surviving children of Terezin. (In fact, the typhus spread anyway. Terezin was isolated from the rest of the outside world when the war ended. Nobody was allowed to leave the camp.)
It was probably at that time that my mother made a promise to God. She would not leave the hospital, even if she could, and stay and take care of the patients, if only my father returned to us safely after the war.

The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Young Survivor

TomTom Lenda
Child Survivor

Tom Lenda was born Tomas Lustig on May 25, 1936 in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). Tom’s father, Pavel (Paul) Lustig, was born in Domazlice, Czechoslovakia in 1904. The Lustig family moved to Pilsen shortly after Paul was born. Tom’s mother, Irene Spitz, was born in Austria in 1909. Her family later moved to Decin, a city north of Prague. All of these places were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time. This changed in 1918 after the First World War when Czechoslovakia was established.

The Lustig family was warm, loving, and hard working. Tom’s father Paul was educated in commerce and also attended a textile college in England. His mother worked as a certified nurse in a hospital until her marriage. Paul was an established textile manufacturers’ representative at the time when Tom was born.

The Lustig family was part of a close-knit family clan that was well established within the Czech community; they considered themselves proud Czechoslovakian citizens of the Jewish religion. Involved in the local Pilsen Jewish community, Paul was known for his anti-Nazi feelings.

The Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia became a reality for the Lustig family on March 15, 1939. Little Tommy was almost three years old at that time. Paul escaped the same day to the east, to the suburbs of Prague. Irene and Tom followed two weeks later. On September 12, 1942, three years later, they were sent to the Terezin Concentration Camp some 40 miles north of Prague. Paul’s brother Fred escaped to Slovakia where he joined the anti-Nazi underground and later the Czechoslovakian army. Paul’s youngest brother Otto escaped to Shanghai and settled in Canada after the war. Irene’s two brothers and mother had been sent to Terezin earlier, though only one of the brothers was still in the camp when the Lustigs arrived. Irene’s mother and other brother had been sent on to extermination camps in the East.

Lustig family was separated shortly after their arrival at Terezin. Tom was placed into a “Heim” (home) with otheThe r little boys and girls. Irene started work as a nurse in the camp hospital, also her living quarters. Paul was assigned to a Transportleitung (transportation) group and was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in fall of 1944. Toward the end of the War, when the Red Army approached the camp, he escaped with a little group and joined the Czechoslovakian army. He did not know that his brother Fred had also joined. Paul met Fred later and learned that he routinely changed his name to avoid difficulties for other members of the family should he be caught by the Nazis.

Paul and Fred took part in the liberation fights. They both received medals for their courage and efforts. Paul came back to Terezin to retrieve his family on May 25th, 1945. Tom was just nine years old on that day. They traveled to Prague together. Irene returned to Terezin to continue her duties as a nurse in the hospital to help the victims of the typhoid epidemic. This was in accordance with her promise to God, should her husband return unharmed. Tom traveled with Paul to his army unit and started to attend a regular school. The family united again one month later.

Tom’s writing and presentation is primarily about his experience as a little boy living in Terezin. He has been telling his story to students and community members for about five years with the Holocaust Education Center’s Speakers Bureau. Tom has written a book, Children on Death Row, available on Amazon Kindle.