The terrors of Terezin

By Chloe Hewitt 

Despite its seemingly picturesque scenery, a dark past of one of the great atrocities of the Nazi regime remains at Terezin.

Constructed back in 1780 as a fortress to protect against a potential attack from Prussian troops, the complex never came under direct siege.

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The fortress was used as a prison for a time, with one of its most notorious prisoners being Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife and thus was the catalyst for World War I.

Under the Munich Agreement of 1938, the land which the fortress lies on was absorbed into Germany.

Regardless of the fact the town is steeped in other history, it is its Nazi past that overwhelms you when you visit.

In 1940, Germany assigned the Gestapo the task of transforming Terezin, or Theresienstadt as it is known in German, into a ghetto and concentration camp for Jews, a form of transit depot from which they were then transported to the more notorious death camps such as Auschwitz.

Primarily it housed Jews from Czechoslovakia as well as tens of thousands from Germany and Austria, plus hundreds from the Netherlands and Denmark.

More than 150,000 Jews were sent to the camp, including 15,000 children – only 132 of those children are known to have survived the holocaust.

Yet the outside world was being told Hitler had built a city for Jews to protect them. Propaganda films were made showcasing this idyllic city and that all was well.

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One of the transport tunnels

The ruse worked, with the Red Cross paying visits to the camp and deeming that while war-time conditions made all life difficult, life at Terezin was acceptable and that the Jews were being treated acceptably.

Despite not being an extermination camp, about 33,000 people died in the ghetto – mainly due to population density, malnutrition and disease.

However, according to many survivors, as conditions became more cramped a sense of community, almost family-like, developed.

The Small Fortress at Terezin served as the largest Gestapo prison, housed separately from the ghetto. About 90,000 people went through it and 2,600 died there.

Few remained at Terezin until its liberation with 88,000 people transported to Auschwitz and the other Nazi extermination camps.

As late as 1944, people were still being transported off by train to the death camps.

Out of more than 150,000 Jews sent to Terezin, only 17,247 survived the war, including some who survived the death camps.

The International Red Cross took over operation of the camp on May 2, 1945, with the Commandant and SS guards fleeing within the next two days, although some were later captured. The Soviet Army officially liberated the camp on May 9.

 

Following the war, the small fortress was used as an internment camp for ethnic Germans, arriving on May 10. The camp was officially closed on February 29, 1948.

A number of notable prisoners were interned at the camp, one of which was one of the women who had lived in the annex with Anne Frank, in Amsterdam.

Auguste van Pels was being moved from Bergen-Belsen to Raguhn and from there she was sent to Terezin and is believed to have been murdered on the journey, by Nazi guards who threw her onto the tracks in front of the train.

Whilst walking through the city of Prague, I spotted this gold plaque on the floor. After some research I found that it was in honour of somebody who used to reside there who had ended up in the Terezin camp before being moved onwards to Auschwitz where he ultimately met his fate. IMG_8037

Walking through modern-day Terezin gives you a peculiar feeling. You are walking down the same streets where people met a tragic fate and yet there are pubs and a pizzeria as though none of that atrocity ever happened.

The fact Terezin looks so quaint and frankly beautiful is what makes the horrors of what went on there all the more disturbing.

No matter how chilling it is, reading and seeing things to do with the Holocaust, the number of children who lost their lives will never cease to be heartbreaking.

It may not be one of the more pleasant places to visit whilst in the Czech Republic but it is worth a visit to simply reflect.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. John Dilley says:

    Excellent feature with a perfect balance of information and respect

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Margaret Hewitt : says:

    Excellent reading, well done! Really informative.

    Like

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