Israeli graduate finds a piece of family history – thanks to Muni

When fresh graduate of Masaryk University Roye Mauthner, who comes from Israel, was interviewed by Muni two years ago, he could not have imagined just what it would bring to him and his family. In the interview, he mentioned his grandfather and as the interview was also published in English, it came to the attention of German provenance researchers who were looking for the relatives of a Viktor Mauthner – a name signed in some of the books in their archives.

Did you have any idea that this mention of your family in the Muni interview could lead to this new link to your family history?
No idea at all. I just briefly mentioned that my grandfather came from Prague. And this piece of information in the interview was one of the clues that led a German provenance researchers to contact me on Facebook and ask if my great-grandfather was by any chance called Viktor Mauthner. I was intrigued by the question and I said yes, he was. The researcher was looking for Viktor’s descendants because they had found a book in the archives of a library in Hamburg with an inscription saying it belonged to Viktor Mauthner from Vinohrady, Prague.

How did it get there?
It was probably stolen by the Nazis when my great-grandfather Viktor and his wife Anna were deported to Terezín. They took everything from his family home in Prague as they needed money to finance the war. We were not able to trace how the book got into the library archives; it was probably sold by the Nazis and changed hands several times before it got there, maybe as a donation from some organisation – it’s hard to tell.

It is a book by Theodor Herzl, born Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl – the father of modern Zionism, who supported the creation of the Israel state as the home of the Jewish people. My great-grandfather was a great admirer of his and even named Benjamin, my grandfather, after him.

While the book doesn’t have any great financial value now, it was very important for us to get it back and it was very emotional for the whole family. We don’t have many mementoes of our ancestors. My great-grandparents, Viktor and Anna, along with their son Pavel, were transferred from Terezín to Auschwitz and murdered. All we have left are a few photos that my grandfather was able to take with him. Fortunately, he managed to flee just before the war broke out, on the last train to Germany and then to Denmark; from there, it was a complicated journey on an icebreaker through the Scandinavian countries and then through Turkey and Syria to Israel.

So your grandfather managed to reach Israel in those difficult times?
Yes, he arrived in 1941. His eldest brother Shlomo was already waiting for him in Haifa. They both registered for an educational programme in Ben Shemen, where they met many young immigrants from Europe including my grandmother. Together with a group of young people, Benjamin and Shlomo founded the Gezer kibbutz, a farm settlement where Shlomo worked as a guard, while my grandfather was active in the agricultural and farming part.

However, the War of Independence broke out in 1948 and my grandfather’s brother was killed. My grandfather and grandmother, who was called Malka and came from Vienna, then moved to Ra’anana in central Israel where their second son was born. Afterwards, my grandfather started working in education, teaching primarily about agriculture. He then worked in the World Bank, which is a UN agency, and finally becamethe Head of the Education department at Israeli Ministry of Agriculture. He travelled throughout the world, sharing the experience, methods, and scientific discoveries made in Israel.

What happened with the book from the German library that contacted you?
They sent it to us in Israel and it is now where it belongs. For our family, it brought some closure to a tragic story. We are overjoyed that the book is back in the family. There was also one more surprise in store for us: the researcher, Anna E. von Villiez, gave a talk about this wonderful story at a German national library conference, and another researcher from a different Hamburg library approached her and said that the surname Mauthner rang a bell.

And this is how they found another of my great-grandfather’s books, by Ben Zion, in a different archive – and this one is even more important and symbolic to our family. We have them both at home now, but we are planning to donate them to the Israeli Holocaust museum. It was by pure chance that we were able to find what could have stayed hidden in the Hamburg library archive. We are very grateful that they got in touch with us and we hope that one day we’ll be able to thank Anna and her colleague in person.

You were interviewed by the Muni magazine two years ago as a fresh graduate of the English-language medicine programme at Masaryk University. What are you doing now?
I enrolled in a PhD programme at Masaryk University right after graduation, so I didn’t entirely leave Brno. I am in the Hygiene, Preventive Medicine, and Epidemiology programme. But I also occasionally work as a locum doctor in the UK.

Who is a locum doctor?
These are doctors who temporarily substitute for other doctors. There is currently a lack of doctors in the UK and so hospitals hire – at no little cost – temporary agency doctors for as long as they need them. Agencies can send doctors anywhere although I have been sent to the same place three times in a row: to the Isle of Wight, which is a small island in the south of England and a popular tourist destination.

There aren’t many young people living on the island, as they mostly move to large cities for work, so most of the population are old or retired. This past winter, we had a crisis at the local hospital – there were more patients than places, so we had to transfer them to different wards or discharge them early. There were no free beds or people to take care of them.

Is the healthcare crisis in the UK really that bad?
The UK isn’t the only country that struggles with a lack of doctors. As medicine gets better, people live longer, but that also means there are more patients (with long standing medical conditions). The European population is getting older and new diseases that didn’t use to exist, such as cancer, keep appearing. We also have a lack of doctors in Israel, even though the reason there is mostly that the government doesn’t want to open new positions, so doctors have to work 26-hour shifts once a week as hospitals are understaffed, which means starting at 8 a.m. one day and finishing at 10 a.m. the next day. You get one rest day and then you go back to work as usual. As opposed to a number of countries, Israel also only has one weekend day – Saturday; Sunday is a regular working day.

Working 26-hour shifts with one-day weekends? That doesn’t make Israel sound like a dream destination for doctors.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of crazy Israelis just like me, who just dream of becoming doctors.

Are you planning to go back to Israel, then?
Probably. Israel is my home and it’s where my family lives. But you never know where you might end up. I have just moved back to Israel after a long time, as I want to start working on earning my licence, which requires one year of hospital internship. In March, I started a one-year internship at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, about 20 minutes from Tel Aviv, which is one of the biggest hospitals in Israel. I am happy to be doing my training in Israel as the quality of healthcare and research there is really remarkable. I’m now halfway through my training and still have several multiple-week rotations in different departments to complete –surgery, internal medicine and emergency Department. As soon as I’m done, I will have to pick my specialisation.

Do you know already what you would like to specialise in?
I am gravitating towards otorhinolaryngology – that is, the diseases of the ear, nose, and throat. It also includes head and neck surgery. But we’ll see whether I change my mind during my year in the hospital.

The hospital training must be very time-consuming. Will you have time for your PhD studies at Masaryk University?
It is not that easy to combine academic research with working in the hospital but I am lucky to have the support of my thesis supervisor, assistant professor Jindřich Fiala from the Department of Public Health at MU, and the department head professor Zuzana Derflerová Brázdová. Fortunately, I have completed most of the courses that required my presence in Brno. Now I “only” need to write my dissertation and publish articles.

Do you have a topic already?
Yes, I will write my thesis on prevention of medical errors. It is a very wide ranging topic and I haven’t yet decided what type of errors I will focus on. The most common mistake is medication errors, for example wrong drug and dosage, switching medications. Another common mistake is wrong sitesurgery, such as wrong patient or side of the eye instead of the one that needs to be operated. My objective is to find out whether medical errors could be prevented using advanced technologies. So far, I have been collecting information: the next phase is collecting the data itself. I will probably do that in Israel as that’s a very good place for this type of research – both the technologies and the healthcare in Israel are very advanced. Some even say that Israel is the second Silicon Valley.

So your dissertation research will take place in Israel. That sounds like you won’t have to go to Brno that often anymore.
Not so often, but I will certainly look in every once in a while. I like to come back, it is my second home. I spent part of my life here and some of my good friends live here as well. I also still keep in touch with my former students, who I used to teach Hebrew in my free time. So I definitely have a reason to keep coming back to Brno other than just for my studies.

You enrolled at Masaryk University almost nine years ago. Has Brno changed in the meantime?
Very much. It is now full of foreigners and it feels like I hear English everywhere, not just in the city centre, but also in the suburbs – even the runners or people riding their bikes on the cycling paths speak English to one another. Brno is becoming an international city. It’s no wonder, really – the Czech Republic is still a very cheap country and attractive to foreign students and companies. And why not? Brno is perfectly situated in the centre of Europe, it is not as expensive as Prague, plus they have cheap draught beer. I love Brno and the Czech Republic – after all, I am half Czech.

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