Aerial shot of the town of Terezin.
Terezin is a small town located about an hour outside of Prague (see map above). You are probably wondering why we or how we picked that town. Well, here is a clue it was an important city during World War II. Can you guess what happened in Terezin? Yep, that’s right, it was a ghetto for Jews. However, it wasn’t a normal ghetto, by the end of the war Jews were living in the same condition as other Jewish prisoners in death camps, like Auschwitz or Dachau.
So the story goes like this, during the Nazi occupation in the Czech Republic the Jewish population was put into ghettos around the city. At first the town of Terezin was used a prison for political prisoners that the Nazi’s arrested. Right outside of the town is a Small Fortress where these prisoners were kept. This Fortress what built back during the Prussian times to protect Prussia from the Russians. But during the Nazi occupation, the prisoners were first taken to the Fortress for interrogation (there are many torture and seclusions cells) before being imprisoned. However, soon the small fortress filled up and the Nazi started placing Jews and other prisoners into the town of Terezin, in 1941. The town of Terezin is as large as my current town, Bollullos with 13,000 some people, but there were about 58,000 Jewish prisoners along with 7,000 combat troops living within the town by 1941. To say the conditions were a bit rough is an understatement. As time continued Terezin became a transition camp for prisoners, meaning that the town was only a brief stopping point before they were shipped out to the different death camps located in Poland and Germany.
The town of Terezin. This was the ghetto for the Jews. The town was literally a functioning concentration camp.
Terezin was created as a model camp for other Concentration camps created by the Nazi’s. For the Red Cross visit, the Nazi’s made the town to look like a full functioning “retirement settlement” for elderly Jews. FALSE.
This was a “school” for boys. It was of course Nazi regulated. However, the Council of Elders (which was created by the Jewish prisoners) met here in secret.
The outside of the Small Fortress. This was first built by the Habsburg Monarchy to defend the are from the Prussians in the 1800’s. Then the Nazi’s used it as political prison during WWII.
It was presented to the world as a “Jewish settlement,” however that was all a farce. Once, the Danish Red Cross planned to visit to Terezin to check how the Nazi’s were treating the jews. So, Hitler and his gang decided that Terezin would be the “model” camp for this visit. The visit date was set for June 23,1944. During that time the Nazi’s shipped out more and more prisoners to the death camps to make it look as if the towns population was normal. Between May 16 and May 18, 1944 about 7500 people were deported to death camps. The Nazi’s also “beautified” the ghetto by having prisoners plant gardens, paint houses, renovate barracks to make it look as life there was normal. They even went as far as to have the artists of ghettos create artwork, plays, and music to be performed during the visit. One prisoner, the famous Kurt Gerron, a director and actor, was forced to create a propaganda video of the ghetto. The video shows staged orchestral concerts, football game, and even has voice overs of prisoners saying how happy they are there (forced voice overs). Of course the Nazi’s weren’t happy with the video, so Gerron and his wife were transported to Auschwitz. Here are some links to parts of the video:
The visit day came, and sadly the Danish Red Cross found the city of Terezin to be acceptable. Only because the Red Cross has expected the ghetto to be more like those in Poland, where starving people lined the streets and there were armed guards at every corner. Little did they know what was really happening (CLARO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).
This is the “welcoming area” of the Small Fortress. Here Jewish prisoners would wait hours in all types of weather to be registered. Then they would head to the next room where all of their personal belongings would be taken from them (suitcases, clothes, jewelry, teeth…you get the idea) and registered. Next was the physical room where prisoners would be examined for their level of health (you all know where the unhealthy ones went…). The next room they would receive their uniforms, blanket, shoes, and spoon. Then they would be lead by an officer to their block and to their room.
Here is the registration room. As you can see there are still registration booklets that were left behind!!!!
of course I opened every single drawer to see if there was anything left behind. Alas, nothing was. QUE LASTIMA!
REAL EVIDENCE! And no, I have no clue what it says. I barely speak Spanish…German is a whole other adventure.
A male uniform of a prisoner.
The officers housing. Many officers had their families living with them while they served in Terezin.
Block A area. In this block there would be about 1,000 to 2,000 prisoners held here. Trust me, there was definitely no sleeping space for that many people.
The wooden shelves were the lockers where prisoners could put their shoes, “clothes,” and their spoon. The small little furnace was the only thing to heat the whole room (it was a fairly large room) and they were only rationed a bit of coal that obviously didn’t last them very long.
Bunk beds with no mattresses. These were only suppose to fit 30 people, but many more were crammed in there. Remember the prisoners only had one blanket for them to keep them warm at night.
A non-functioning sink. It may have worked during that time…but there is no evidence of pipes.
Non-functional toilet. One broken toilet and one sink. FOR 30-40 people!
The “hospital.” Yep, those are the original beds. So no one was really sent here unless you were truly truly sick. And this room wasn’t utilized as a hospital until 1943…
The doctor’s office. Notice that it is barred off.
Indoor labor room. Prisoners inside the Small Fortress as well as prisoners living in the ghetto were assigned jobs.
The de-licer. It only sanitized the clothes…it didn’t disinfect them.
This was the interrogation area. Officers like to have beatings of prisoners here because of the high walls. No one could see what was happening.
Showers that were used to either wake up an unconscious person before their beating, or to “clean” them up after their beating before they were returned back into their solitary confinement.
A larger solitary confinment cell. This one was used for larger groups of prisoners. The window was the only source of light. There was a small cabinet door for food to be passed through.
This is another solitary confinment cell. This one has no windows, no lights, nothing. Imagine being put in there for the small crime of “looking at an officer the wrong way.”
This was built for the sole purpose of the Red Cross visit in 1944. It was a fake bathroom for prisoners. However, if you try to turn the nobs on the sinks, you find that there is again no piping. ALL A FARCE!
This was the womens block. It is the only part of the Small Fortress that was built by the Nazis.
This raised patio area is where 3 women were shot dead when 3 men tried to escape the Small Fortress and were caught. Also officers forced prisoners to stone other prisoners for breaking rules.
You can see the bullet holes. The women were suppose to be an example to the other prisoners.
The only watch tower…located in the women’s block.
Some rooms in this block were smaller.
And then some rooms were much larger. This room held 100 to 150 people. However, there were only 4 sinks, 2 toilets, and one small furnace.
You can literally see that the rungs of the ladders are worn away from prisoners using them.
At this point, I got really creeped out. Not like bad creeped out, but just the realization that I was standing in a place where people really did live here and just how much they suffered. It was just mind blowing.
After the Jews were liberated, the Small Fortress was turned into a prison for Nazi Officers who were awaiting trail. These are what the cells looked like.
Guess what this is? A swimming pool for officers families to use. It was built by the prisoners (por supuesto) with their SPOONS. YES SPOONS.
The prisoners also built a cinema for the officers families as well.
This is on the other side of the knoll from the swimming pool. This is the execution area. Here prisoners were killed after their “trials.” Can you imagine being a child of an officer, swimming in that pool and hearing people being killed behind the knoll?
This is the area the officers practiced shooting. It is located in front of the execution area.
We were inside the many tunnels that surround the Small Fortress and the town. These tunnels were built when the fortress was built. Of course these tunnels were blocked off during the Nazi’s occupation.
Handmade games from the prisoners.
Handmade Valentine from one prisoner to another.
Many of the prisoners in Terezin were Jewish artists, musicians, writers, etc. Within the ghettos these people didn’t allow their imprisonment stop their creativeness. Many prisoners created artwork to reflect the way of the life in the ghetto.
This area is behind the main buildings of the Small Fortress. Here the Allied forces found 2 mass graves with over 600 bodies buried in them. The flower pot is a memorial to those graves.
So, Terezin continued to be a transport camp until May 9-10 of 1945 when the Soviet Forces came and liberated the Jews. In the end 73,500 some Jews were deported to the Terezin Ghetto. Out of that 60,300 some were deported to the “East,” meaning Death Camps, and 6,100 some died within the Ghetto. Finally, 6,800 some Jews were liberated from the Terezin Ghetto in 1945.
A little blurb about the liberation of the town.
This is a memorial to all of the Death camps during WWII. In each little section is soil from the death camps.
This is where the bodies of the mass graves are buried. It is in front of the Small Fortress.
Some of the bodies were identified. The grave has the number of the plot, the name of the person, the prisoners number, and when that person died.
Many bodies were unidentified and only have a number for the plot. People put on stones as a sign to the dead that they are still present in our hearts (stones never disintegrates), as well as a belief in Judaism that a persons grave is never finished being built.
This was honestly the highlight of the trip for me. I’ve always been interested in this time period, and to physically be in such a historical area was mind-blowing. I was literally a kid in a candy shop (well, a historical candy shop that is…). This is something I will never forget, and I can only hope that those reading will take a second to remember this event. This is why I love history so much: Things that occurred in the past can’t be changed, however we can change the way we think to make sure that these same events will NEVER happen again. We can’t change the past, but we can always change the future.
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I think… peace and tranquillity will return again.” -Anne Frank