“When the German troops started to retreat, they shot around 2,000 people in the camp. Many of them were Jewish men, women, and children. My family survived because of Finnish people who helped us to escape to Finland. My whole family survived.” Viktor Teyder is a concentration camp survivor and I am here to tell his story.
During the Holocaust, millions of Jews were forced into concentration camps, such as Auschwitz, and killed there. It was a devastating time, filled with genocide, prejudice, and anti-Semitism, to say the very least. Many of my Jewish ancestors on my father’s side were burned alive or starved to death in these death camps, but on my mother’s side, my Finnish-born grandfather was placed into a concentration camp at a very young age. Despite his appearance depicting what Adolf Hiter would consider “the Aryan race” with his light blonde hair and blue eyes, he was still taken along with his family.
When Teyder was four and a half years old, he and his entire family were placed in the Klooga Camp, a concentration camp in Estonia. The German troops marched into and took over parts of the Soviet Union and many Jews, as well as Finnish people, were captured. According to the official documents in Finland, Teyder and his family were there from the summer of 1942 until February 15, 1943.
He described the camp as a very long, narrow wooden room, “There were about over 2,000 people in the concentration camp. The adults had to work every day and they were led out by German soldiers with dogs in a specific order. The elderly and children were staying in the barracks.” He remembers either sitting or laying on the floor with the others; there was nothing else to do in there but wait for the adults to come back. There was very little food, so sometimes his family would go a day or two without it, and there was also no healthcare, so many people died because of that as well. Teyder discusses death in the Klooga Camp, “Not only [was their death] from illness and starvation, but the Germans also shot many people.” Despite the odds being against Teyder and his family, and in the most brutal way, they all survived.
After his fortunate and miraculous escape from the Klooga Camp, Viktor Teyder graduated Saint-Petersburg University of Culture and Arts, earned a PhD from the Russian Institute of Theatre Arts, and taught at the Academy of Choreography for the Bolshoi Ballet. He also wrote numerous books about dance and its history. In addition to his many successes career-wise and academically, he had two children, Maria and Andrey. Today, he is retired and lives in the industrial city, Korolev, in Russia, with his wife, Valentina. And despite the horrors of his early childhood, he is known by all of his students and family members as one of the most vibrant, caring, and kind people to be around. I admire him not for everything he has gone through, but for the person, he is in spite of it, successful and determined, yet good-natured and compassionate. In my eyes, he is a true hero.