Terezin.

18 Oct

Marci had selected a few audiobooks for our drives on this trip.  The primary one is called “Prague Winter”, written and read by Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, and born in Prague.  The book does a remarkable job of teaching, through the story of her family’s life, the Czech experience leading up to and during Word War II.  One of the main arcs is the story of Terezin.

The tribute to the mass graves at Terezin.

The tribute to the mass graves at Terezin

Terezin turned out to be the perfect place for Hitler’s transition camp for Czech jews and later, jews from all over Europe.  Built in the late 1700’s by the Austrian empire, Terezin is located just south of the German-Czech border in an area that was primarily German speaking before the war.  We spent the day at Terezin yesterday with Pavel Batel, an excellent and knowledgeable guide.

For three years, over 150,000 jews were brought to Terezin.  Upon liberation in 1945, there were just over 20,000.  The majority stayed at Terezin for a few weeks to a few months before dying of disease or torture, or being transported to an extermination camp, primarily Auschwitz.

Train tracks into Terezin were added after the Nazis discovered jews talking to locals during the 3 kilometer walk to the train station when being transported to Auschwitz.

Train tracks into Terezin were added after the Nazis discovered jews talking to locals during the 3 kilometer walk to the train station when being transported to Auschwitz

The Nazis called it Theresienstadt.  It was paraded before the world as Hitler’s gift to the jews.  When it was built it originally served as a giant fortress with a town inside where up to 7500 soldiers would live.  It also had a prison.  For Hitler, the town served as the jewish Ghetto where as many as 50,000 jews would be forced to live at once.

The entrance to the Ghetto.

The entrance to the Ghetto

More would come.  More would go.  Czech jews were told that they were being permanently resettled in this jewish town, with their own apartment and spa services.

A street in Terezin.

A street in Terezin

The reality, of course, different.

At first glance, the ghetto looks like a lovely Bavarian town.  And as designed, for just over 7,000 soldiers, it was.  But put 8x that many people with little water, food and sanitation, and the ghetto became a typhoid infested, death trap.

Living quarters.

Living quarters

Still, the jews of Terezin found ways to live.  Some jews bribed the Nazis to be able to create the Hidden Shul.

“Hidden Shul”

But rules were strict, and changed often.  If the rules were broken, the offender was sent to the prison.

Entrance to the prison at Terezin

Entrance to the prison at Terezin

In the prison, jews were deprived of all basic human needs.  They were locked in cells, beaten, and worse.

Up to 40 jews would be locked in a cell. Many did not even have a window.

Up to 40 jews would be locked in a cell. Many did not even have a window.

They would be marched through the labyrinth of tunnels only to be shot or hanged at the other end.

There are 30 km of tunnels in the prison fortress

There are 30 km of tunnels in the prison fortress

As the world began to hear rumors of Nazi activities, the International Red Cross was dispatched to Terezin for a look.  The Nazis delayed the visit for several months while they staged a perfect “show” for the Red Cross inspectors which consisted of well dressed, well fed, happy jews choreographed into a show that completely fooled the inspectors, though some say they saw what they wanted to see.  To complete the charade of how well the jews were treated, the Nazis prepared a fake cemetary to show how well they treated the jews, even in death.

Fake cemetery created for the Red Cross visit

Fake cemetery created for the Red Cross visit

In this park in the center of Terezin, a bench sits empty as jews were not allowed even to walk into the park.MSC_8615

Nearby, this old tree was surely witness to the horrors that occurred all around it.  If only the tree could tell us its stories.MSC_8617

Visits like this shed light on the atrocities that our people experienced during the Nazi reign in Europe.  We must tell the stories so that we do not forget what people are capable of.  Yet, there have been other human tragedies, and still others go on even today.  Can you be part of keeping the light on?

A single bulb lights where jews lived in Terezin.

A single bulb lights where jews lived in Terezin.

Advertisements

6 Responses to “Terezin.”

  1. richard cohen October 18, 2015 at 9:07 am #

    glad your trip has been a glowing time and it sounds so exciting just to see the rest of the world lots of love

  2. Phil Holberton October 18, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    Michael, I am learning so much as you narrate and photo History. Thank you for doing this – quite eye-opening.

  3. Joanne October 18, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    Michael this is fascinating. ThAnk you . This past winter we went to symphony hall to see Defiant Requiem. It was the same musical score that was performed for the Red Cross on their visit. One of the original singers who survived the camps lived in newton and recently passed . The performance and the story telling that evening was profound. If you ever get a chance to see it I would recommend you go. It was a one night performance done in a few cities. See u soon, xo

  4. Dick Romanow October 18, 2015 at 10:18 pm #

    It is so unthinkable to think that any human could treat another so horrifically. Very moving pictures and comments……….thank you for educating all, in hopes that this can never happen again.

  5. C&C October 19, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    Moving story and great photography.

  6. Bruce Cummings October 19, 2015 at 9:25 pm #

    powerful pictures and can’t help feel sadness for all those who died there. We should never forget.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: