Dr Jan Řiha

How to cite: Falgowski, Józef. Dr Jan Řiha. Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, Teresa. Medical Review – Auschwitz. November 21, 2021. Originally published in Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. 1970: 272–273.


Józef Falgowski, MA, historian, contributor to Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim.

Last year saw the sad, twenty-sixth anniversary of the death of Dr. Jan Řihà, commemorated by his closest family. Dr. Jan Řihà died in Majdanek concentration camp in 7 June 1943. He was one of the prisoner doctors who forfeited their life in that camp. Jan Řihà was born on 29 April 1894 in a place called Protivínin the Okres of Písek, in what would later become Czechoslovakia. He was the son of a physician from a family with one of the longest lines of medical practitioners in the locality. In 1920 Jan Řihà graduated in medicine, obtaining the Doctor Medicinae Universae degree from the Charles University of Prague. He practised in several specialist fields of medicine, furthering his qualifications and skills in several hospitals in Prague and other cities.

When the Gestapo arrested him, he was working in Ostrava municipal hospital in Moravia and serving as a railway, school, and prison physician as well as a consultant for children’s diseases. He also took an active part in local cultural affairs.

Dr. Jan Řihà spent the whole of his short life in the service of people and looking after their health, and it would be impossible to present his full biography in just a few sentences. He spent his leasure time on social work on behalf of children and young people. One of the guiding principles in his professional activities was early diagnosis. As head of the Ostrava children’s health centre, he organised summer holiday convalescence periods for his patients. He worked with teachers organising school drama productions, in which children playrd all the parts. Dr. Řihà asked them to put on plays which showed the causes and effects of various diseases. He also wrote newspaper articles and broadcast radio talks.

Dr. Řihà held regular health inspections in the schools. Each child had a medical card set up, and every month an entry was made for the child’s weight, an observation on his or her heath, physical condition, and family background. Whenever he found that a child needed hospital treatment, he would handle the matter himself and supervise it until the end of the treatment. After a few years of working with children and young people, he drafted a set of guidelines for the treatment of particular children, and sent it to the Czechoslovak Ministry of Education. Other schools started to follow his example and set up individual medical records for their pupils. Eventually Dr. Řihà’s scheme was adopted as the official system to be implemented in all the schools in Czechoslovakia. He was also a prolific author of books and calendars on health matters.

The Gestapo arrested Dr. Řihà on 5 October 1939 on political charges and for providing aid to prisoners held in Ostrava jail. He was put on trial and sent to a concentration camp, first to Sachsenhausen–Oranienburg, and later to Dachau, where his prison number was 17759.

He arrived in Majdanek on 8 December 1941 in a group of five doctors, one of whom was his compatriot Zdenko Wiesner. At this time, the camp had just been established and was in its early phase, so there was no prisoners’ hospital. All that the prisoner doctors could do was to keep an eye on sanitary conditions for the camp’s first inmates, most of whom were Soviet POWs, who were extremely debilitated due to hunger and infectious diseases leading to a high mortality rate. Typhus was spreading at an alarming rate. Every day the doctors collected scores of corpses, which they had to bury in mass graves.

To the crematorium. Artwork by Marian Kołodziej. Photo by Piotr Markowski. Click the image to enlarge. Click the image to enlarge.

The spring of 1942 saw a massive influx of prisoners, which meant that epidemics proliferated even more. The camp’s management was panic-stricken with fear of typhus and gave their consent for the establishment of a prisoners’ hospital. Patients had so many different diseases that several wards had to be set up in the hospital. Dr. Řihà, who was a qualified internist, was appointed consultant for internal diseases, and worked with Dr. Wiesner as his assistant. Dr. Řihà was head of the internal diseases consultancy until he went down with typhus himself. By this time his body had become so debilitated that it did not recover. He died on 7 June 1943.

Dr. Tadeusz Kosibowicz wrote the following description of Dr. Řihà in his memoirs:

He was a very calm and composed person, and a good colleague. After work he used to play sad Czech tunes on the harmonica. He used to sing to make life in the camp less dreary. His songs took him back to his homeland, his wife and his beloved only son.

At times of the greatest hardship in the camp, songs were a balm for Dr. Řihà’s heart and soul, just as they were for many other concentration camp prisoners. The words reminded him of his country. When he was not working, he and Dr. Wiesner used to play and sing arias from The Jacobin, an opera by AntonínDvořák, the Czech national composer. Alas, disease took the better of him and Dr. Řihà never returned home, to the country he missed so much. His ashes were laid to rest in a fraternal, international grave of Majdanek victims on Polish soil.

The management of Majdanek sent a letter dated 15 June 1943 to Dr. Řihà’s widow Antonina Řihova, informing her that he had died in the camp at 8.30 a.m. on 7 June 1943 and had been cremated on the 10th of the same month.

Dr. Jan Řihà was faithful to the end to those whom he treated, defended, and tried to save from the clutches of Death, until he fell into those cruel clutches himself at the age of 49.


Translated from original article: Falgowski, J. “Dr Jan Řiha.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim, 1970.

  1. Until 1918, the Czech and Slovak territories were part of the Habsburg Empire. Czechoslovakia was created after the First World War and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. In 1993, following the political transformation of Central Europe, Czechoslovakia split amicably into two sovereign states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. For developments during the Second World War, see Note 3.
  2. Doctor Medicinae Universae was the title of the degree awarded at the time to students graduating in medicine in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  3. Germany annexed the Sudenteland part of Czechoslovakia in September 1938 following the Munich Agreement, and subsequently invaded and occupied the whole of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, splitting the country up into two puppet states, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the Slovak Republic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_occupation_of_Czechoslovakia
  4. Thereafter, physicians Dr. Aleksander Burse, Dr. Otto Hett, Dr. Roman Pawłowski, and Dr. Zdenko Wiesner arrived in Majdanek along with Dr. Řiha on 8 December 1941.
  5. Dr. Wiesner as well as Dr. Řiha and the other physicians mentioned in this article are on the list of prisoner doctors held in Majdanek, online at http://lekarze-w-pasiakach.majdanek.eu/pl/lekarze-lekarze-stomatolodzy-i-studenci-medycyny-na-majdanku/

Note 4 translated from the original. Remaining notes by Teresa Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, Head Translator for the Medical Review Auschwitz project.


Kosibowicz, Tadeusz, “Wspomnienia” {Recollections}. Archiwum Państwowe na Majdanku {Majdanek National Archive}, Ref. No. VII-24, p. 8.

I used information from my exchange of letters with Dr. Řihà’s widow to write this article.

Entry No. 1009 in the Register of Deaths for 1943, preserved in the Office of the Parish of St. Peter and St. Paul, Lublin.

A publication funded in 2020–2021 within the DIALOG Program of the Ministry of Education and Science in Poland.

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