Karel Lipa

"My father hoped for peace. He didn't want wars or hatred. He hoped that all peoples could be friendly with one another and not hurt each another."

Name at birth
Karel Kraus
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Name of father, occupation
Vitezslav Kraus, Meat business and landlord
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Emma Traub, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and four sons: Leon, Oto, Egon, and me
How many in entire extended family?
large extended family
Who survived the Holocaust?
Only me
Sometime in 1941, my whole family was taken to a concentration camp including my 89 year old grandmother, my parents, and my brothers.  One or two of my brothers were married and had families as well.  The youngest was a baby, 2 months old.  All were killed.  I was in five different concentration camps including Theresienstadt, Dachau, and Auschwitz.
One of my assignments at one point was looking for mines in a minefield by listening for the ticking of mines.  I was actually hard of hearing and would laugh about it as I was looking for the mines in the minefield.   
After the war, I returned to Prague.  I was mentally devastated recognizing that my family and friends had been killed in the Holocaust.  After the war, my nerves were not good.   I did not want to be recognized as being Jewish because I did not want to be a target and be persecuted again.  I didn’t practice religion after World War II and I later married a Catholic woman.  
I changed my name to assimilate, as I was so fearful about my identity being discovered.  I never told my daughter that I was Jewish.  I changed my name to Lipa which means Linden tree in Czech.  My daughter remembers seeing a neighbor boy being taunted for being Jewish.  
After WWII, Czechoslovakia became a Communist State.  90 percent of Czechoslovakia was Catholic; no religion could be openly practiced.  My daughter Ema was baptized in 1947; in 1949 religion was banned in Czechoslovakia.  The family asked for a government issued birth certificate so that no one would know that she was baptized, her parents wanted her to have an education free of discrimination by the State.
I talk about being in the concentration camps, but not about being Jewish.  I can talk about how everyone in my family died.  
My daughter, Ema Balek, found out that I was Jewish when she was 16 years old from her maternal grandmother.  She realized that she missed the clues, that I had relatives in Palestine and that I was a concentration camp survivor. I am a stamp collector and collected stamps, especially from Palestine.  I explained to Ema how Palestine became the state of Israel in 1948.
My daughter was happy to learn that she was half-Jewish.  She was delighted and proud as she thought Jews are very smart and famous people.  At the same time she was afraid that no one would talk to her because she was half-Jewish.
In 1954, Czech currency was drastically devalued creating great economic hardship for the country including my family.  I was now divorced and had an opportunity to leave Czechoslovakia for Israel in 1963 and did so.  However, the adjustment to Israel did not go well for me given the language and cultural differences.  I remarried an American woman and left for America in 1965.  In 1984, my daughter later joined me in Detroit with three of her five children.  The other two were allowed to leave in 1987.  
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Occupation after the war
Accountant, Sinai Hospital
Ema Balek, teacher in Czechoslovakia and in Michigan she worked in management for the Detroit News; Victoria Lipa (1950-1976
What do you think helped you to survive?
My father always said that he felt he survived because the Nazis came for the family very early. After being in the camp for over a year, he had some “seniority” and therefore was able to get a good job working in the kitchen. My father always said, “If you work in the kitchen, you cannot die.” Later in a different camp, he talked about how in the morning he and the others would receive two slices of some kind of bread for the whole day. He would put it in his pocket and would then go to work. He saved his bread till he went to sleep at night. He would chew the bread very slowly to mix it with his saliva to make sure he got all of the nutrition. After that he was able to fall asleep for the whole night. Other people all around him were unable to do that. They ate their bread in the morning. At night their stomachs were empty. Many would get stomach cramps at night and could not sleep. As a result he said many could not do their work and were killed.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
My father hoped for peace. He didn't want wars or hatred. He hoped that all peoples could be friendly with one another and not hurt each another.
Biography given by Mr. Lipa’s daughter, Ema Balek
Interview date:

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