Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Alive by a thread

TARPON SPRINGS -- Lisl Bogart was 13 when the Germans invaded her hometown of Prague. ¶ The next morning when she went to school, her teacher confronted her, called her a filthy Jew, spit at her and slammed the classroom door in her face. She never was allowed back.

Two years later, the Nazis took her and her terrified family to a holding cell where they stayed for two and a half days living on a slice of bread each. From there, they were crammed into a cattle car and transported to a ghetto called Terezin in Czechoslovakia.

Bogart suffered there for three years. Every day she wore a cardboard pendent etched with an identification number she will never forget: AAR395. If the pendent's string broke, she said, she had to repair it fast. Any prisoner caught without ID was shot immediately.

At 18, she contracted typhoid fever.

She was lying on a mat in an isolation area where she and others were left to die. On May 8, 1945, she was unconscious, corpses all around her.

She was in a nightmarish haze between life and death and didn't understand when her best friend appeared at the window waving a slice of bread in her hand, shouting "We are free!''

"I couldn't hear her,'' Bogart said.

The Russians had liberated the ghetto.

It was her 19th birthday.

Roughly 33,000 people died at Terezin, which was a transit camp to Auschwitz. Only about 100 children survived.

Tears ran down the faces of some in the audience at Tarpon Springs High School who listened to Bogart's story Friday.

Two people in the crowd had faded numbers inked into their forearms like so many Holocaust victims.

Billy Vasilakis' was 080490.

Kaitlin Weber's was 010890.

But Vasilakis and Weber are not Holocaust victims. They are teens who are involved in a Tarpon Springs High production about Terezin called I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Celeste Raspanti.

The two students wrote the numbers — their birthdays — in permanent ink on their forearms to find out what it felt like to be concentration camp victims.

A sign on the stage read "Work Makes You Free'' in German, the same words that were displayed at the camps.

"It was a lie,'' said Vasilakis. "Trains would come and they would be shipped off to the death camps.''

Both Vasilakis and Weber said it was an honor to meet a woman who endured so much torture at the hands of the Nazis.

"I was almost weak in the knees (when I heard her speak),'' Weber said. "I could never possibly understand what she went through living in Palm Harbor, Fla. That's a chapter of life I'll never know. When we eat a piece of bread, we can taste it and we can rub off these tattoos because we are free.''

During the program, Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris presented Bogart with a key to the city.

At 81, Bogart is a tiny woman with a kind smile and bright outlook on life. She emigrated to the United States in 1946 and has lived in Delray Beach for the past nine years with her husband Hank, 87, who was born in Austria.

Bogart said she was overwhelmed by the affectionate reception she received by the students and faculty of Tarpon Springs High.

"The children were wonderful,'' she said. "They were so warm. They had good questions.''

The play's director, drama teacher Sara Buckley, 36, said she was inspired to produce the play when she saw the drawings and poems in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

"Art is how many of them survived,'' said Buckley, who is also an opera singer. "If, God forbid, I was ever imprisoned, it is my art that would help me survive.''

After the event, the Bogarts, Buckley and Billiris all had lunch at Mykonos restaurant on the Sponge Docks.

The lunch rush was on. The restaurant was bustling. There was a basket of bread in the center of the table.

Bogart didn't touch it. She waited for her chicken instead.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

>>fast facts

If you go

The Tarpon Springs High School Drama Department will present I Never Saw Another Butterfly at 8 p.m. today at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, 324 Pine St. Tickets are $15. Call (727) 942-5605.

Alive by a thread 03/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 5:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bar review: Attic Cafe and Bar, brews with views of downtown Tampa

    Bars & Spirits

    It's ironic that Tampa Bay WaVE — an entrepreneur incubator with an eye on growing Tampa's tech startups — keeps its offices in a century-old building originally used as an auditorium for the adjacent Masonic Lodge.

    One big plus at the Attic Cafe & Bar is its patio and balcony, where you can spy City Hall and a few other landmarks in downtown Tampa. Local history also figures prominently.
  2. Local craft beer of the week: Joosy Froot IPA from Tampa Bay Beer Works

    Bars & Spirits

    Tampa Beer Works has always been a bit of an odd duck. Originally opened as ESB Brewing Co. by the owners of the adjacent homebrew supply store, the company rebranded and reopened last year with a new name, new head brewer, new recipes and a new brewing philosophy. This includes a range of beers treated with novel …

    Photo by Justin Grant/special to tbt*
  3. 'There's nothing left': $253,000 worth of missing pianos stirs outrage

    Crime

    Lisa Williams was going through a messy divorce. Money was tight. She had to move to a smaller house, but there was no room for the beloved Schimmel baby grand piano she bought for her daughter two decades ago.

    Lisa Williams of Pinellas Park is one of several people who had their pianos stolen, and then lost the money they were supposed to get for them. Largo police are saying they were ripped off through a scheme run by the owner of a defunct piano shop in Clearwater.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  4. MacDill tanker crews keep fighter planes in the air during the battle against ISIS

    Macdill

    AL UDEID AIR BASE, QATAR — Settled into the cockpit, headed for the combat zone of Iraq, the three-man crew from MacDill Air Force Base can't wait to get in the air.

    But wait they must.

     Air Force Capt. Doug Karl (L) and Maj. Ryan Jahnke check landing coordinates on their tablets as they fly toward Royal Air Force Mildenhall from MacDill Air Force Base. [HOWARD ALTMAN  |  Times
  5. Lifestyle changes to stave off Alzheimer's? Hints, no proof

    Health

    WASHINGTON — There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer's, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine key risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases around the world.

    In this Oct. 7, 2003, file photo, a section of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease is on display at the Museum of Neuroanatomy at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, N.Y. There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer's, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases. [AP Photo/David Duprey, File]