Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Miracle Children: A World War II Story

by Cindy K. Stewart

Prague, Czech Republic - Former Capital of Czechoslovakia.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Přemysl Pitter served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during WWI. After returning home to Prague, he became a Christian and helped establish a children’s home in the city’s poorest neighborhood. The local children, many of them Jewish, stopped by Milíč House after school "where they would be fed and could safely play, read, listen to music, learn crafts, or participate in gymnastics."

After German troops occupied the western half of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939, Nazi laws prevented Jewish children from attending public school, and Milič House became a place for them to study in addition to the regular afternoon activities. Later it became a place to hide. Pitter rescued children whose parents were arrested, and parents also took their children to Milíč House to protect them from deportation. 


Milíč House in 1937 – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons & Milidu (Author)

As conditions worsened for the Jews of Czechoslovakia, Pitter took food to Jewish families in Prague. He sent children to safe houses in the country about fifty miles away. One day Gestapo agents picked up Pitter and took him to their headquarters. The Gestapo chief questioned why he would risk his life to help Jews. Pitter’s response was simple. "'From a human point of view, I’m sure you can understand why I’m helping these children.'" Pitter was released, and he and the staff who’d prayed together for his safe return, rejoiced at their answer to prayer.
He continued to assist Jews by raising money and warning those who were about to be deported to hide.


Premysl Pitter (left) poses with a group of young displaced children living in one of "The Castles" children's homes.

Pitter hid Jewish children for over six years. The exact number of children he saved from the Holocaust is unknown, but his job didn’t end after the fall of the Third Reich. After the war, the newly formed Czech government requested that Pitter "locate and care for Jewish orphans from Czechoslovakia." He located hundreds of orphaned children from several European countries and housed them in sprawling, abandoned chateaus around Prague.



Chateau Štiřín - the location of one of Přemysl Pitter's orphanages.Courtesy of Wikipedia & Radovan Zítko (Author).

Many of Pitter’s orphans were survivors from the concentration camps, including hundreds rescued from Theresienstadt in May of 1945. These children had been traumatized and were physically weak and ill. Under the care of Pitter and his assistants, the orphans healed in spirit, mind, and body and began to trust people again.

Young displaced children watching an outdoor program at one of "The Castles" children's homes.
Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum & Olga Fierzova.

Pitter’s goodwill extended to the children of incarcerated Germans living in deplorable conditions in Czechoslovakia after the war. Pitter petitioned the government not "to duplicate the sins of the Nazis" (Gragg) and provide better treatment for the Germans. In the end, Pitter began rescuing the German children too. He brought them to live with the Jewish children who put aside their fear and hatred and showed compassion to their former tormentors.

Eventually, Pitter placed many of the Jewish children in adoptive and foster homes and organized the departure of others for Israel. Seven hundred children were sent to Great Britain at the request of Jews in Britain. After the Soviets imposed a communist government on Czechoslovakia, Pitter was forced to flee his native country and continued his refugee work in West Germany. He later settled in Switzerland where he wrote several books and worked for Radio Free Europe. 


Pitter expressed great concern over Western culture's postwar shift from a God-centered worldview to a man-centered worldview. He "had experienced firsthand the horror and tragedy that had arisen when the German people and others abandoned biblical morality to embrace the state as savior and provider," and he spread the biblical message that "without Jesus Christ, man's inherent sinful nature would inevitably draw him toward a darkened heart" (Gragg). He believed that this darkness had opened the hearts of many to the swastika.


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Sources:

Gragg, Rod. My Brother's Keeper. Center Street, 2016.

Yad Vashem. "The Righteous Among the Nations - Pitter Family."
http://db.yadvashem.org/righteous/family.html?language=en&itemId=4016936

Knihovna. "Přemysl Pitter."
https://knihovna.pedf.cuni.cz/clanky/pitter.html

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Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, placed second in the 2019 North Texas Romance Writers Great Expectations contest, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s First Impressions contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-eight years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for this heartwarming post. Thank God for people like Mr. Pitter who did so much to help people and especially children.

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    1. Thank you, Connie! Mr. Pitter's story is truly amazing.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this. As much as I've read and studied about WWII, I am unfamiliar with Mr. Pitter and his work.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Linda! I only learned about Mr. Pitter recently myself and knew I had to share his story.

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  3. Cindy, thank you for informing us about the good work Mr. Pitter did. It's so unthinkable that the Nazis were willing to kill innocent children. I wonder how these children did as adults, with so much horrific memories.

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    1. Hi, Marilyn. I think spending some time researching what happened to these children as adults would be very interesting. You've given me a great idea. Thank you!

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