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Frantishek Zelenka, Sketches to The "Last Bicyclist", 1943




The Last Bicyclist

I remember the beginning: 'Everyone who has been a pedestrian for four generations, is no longer bicyclist. Bicyclists are enemies. They should be erased from the face of the earth.' Especially, it concerned smart Jews, such as Abeles Bozhivoj. Such types never fight. In Terezin, revolt would be ridiculous. Everybody had faith for possible survival, God knows where they found it.

Bozhivoj fell in love with Manichka. She asked him to present her a bicycle. This innocent request triggered the whole chain of events. Bozhivoj the bicyclist was arrested and exiled to the Horror Island, where he met 'prominents' [prisoners distinguished for 'services to the Reich']. The 'prominents' were concerned only for their own skin, and Abeles desperately dived into the sea to escape, but was caught.

Miss Crazy, the dictator, realizes that if all bicycle riders are destroyed, she would have nobody to blame for all bad things happening in the state. So she decides to put the last bicyclist in a cage and show him to the citizens as the root of all evil and the inciter of unrest.

There was another excellent scene: Abeles finds a professor who transforms bicycle riders into pedestrians. I remember one blonde with typically bicyclist nature being turned into an ordinary foot-passenger.

Finally, the last bicyclist Bozhivoj has to be flown to the Moon. He bids farewell to Manichka. Miss Crazy inspects the rocket. Abeles lights a cigarette — his last wish. From the match, the rocket is launched and carries miss Crazy and all her suite to the Moon, and Bozhivoj remains with his Manichka. At the end, the first notes of International were played. We sang and then the melody abruptly stopped. Everybody became silent.

I was made an Aryian Frau. I had a wig with light brown hair. I sang very badly. 'What a pleasant view on this God's world. Oh, the mountains are blue and the valleys are green, tra-ta-ta-ta.'

 Jana Schedova, actress, Prague

Schwenk read us The Last Bicyclist. The Council of Elders banned the play — the implication was too obvious. But the play was read in the rooms. Sometimes, Karel did it himself, sometimes his friends did. In our room, for example, it was Otto Toepfer. Clearly, the rooms were too small to collect an audience the performances usually did. I remember that after the Bicyclist was banned, Schwenk started another play, a situation comedy, nothing serious...

Hana Malka (Fialova), Haifa


Long Live Life!

The show featuring the song that became ghetto anthem was premiered early in '43 and shown 20 times. The plot was very simple. A Capitalist solemnly dedicates a statue to the Unknown Worker. The Statue is so ashamed of the hypocritical speech that it flees from the podium. It hides among people and tries to live as them, but soon sees how empty their life is. Disillusioned, the Statue returns to its podium. In the performance Cajlais, the Capitalist, wore tailcoat and cylinder. He had animal masks; addressing people at the Monument opening, he said: 'Dear cows and buffalos'—and changed the masks. Karel, the Statue, wore blue overalls. E.M.

The Broken Harmonium

In Terezin, Schwenk found an old broken harmonium. He had it repaired, and it stood in his little room. I remember, he had a huge volume in Gothic German, something about Niebelungs. Karel put it on a music stand instead of the notes, and improvised. He liked to play around some simple melody, as if it was played by Mozart or Beethoven.

…Do you know how Schwenk went to the transport? He took a book by Brothers Grimm with him and told us: 'Finally, I'll have time to study German!'   Margit Silberfeld


Schwenk's Last Days In Terezin

I think I was the last one who stayed with Cajlais and Schwenk. Cajlais had a love, a medical nurse, and she didn't come to say goodbye. Cajlais was very depressed. Schwenk tried to persuade him, perhaps something happened in the hospital and she couldn't make it. Karel was also very quiet and sad. I remember him saying to me that he was fit for nothing, that everything was lost, that he deceived everybody when he sang 'we shall laugh on the ruins of the ghetto'…

We went to walk to the ramparts. It was after Otto had left. There were parallel bars. Schwenk made exercises, raised himself on his hands. 'This I'll take for my new piece', he said. He still had hope in his heart.     Hana Malka (Fialova)

 Poster for All Like This But Different. 1944


There I saw him for the last time. At the roll call. An SS-man asked who could drive a locomotive. Schwenk and Toepfer made one step forward. We choked with laughter: they — engine drivers? After the roll call they were sent somewhere. To a locomotive depot? This evades me. Tomi Pollak                     


The Last Show

I was with Karel Schwenk in Meuselwitz. Many had only rags on their feet. Nobody had warm clothes for protection from the piercing cold. And we were working with steel sheets… We collected bread as much as we could, and persuaded Schwenk to sing… 'Everything is possible, if you want it very much. We can hold each other's hands and laugh on the ruins of the ghetto. Only man is given immortality…'

Schwenk was waning before our eyes. It was his last entrance. His song meant more to us than bread.                  Arnost Lustig, writer, Washington

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