Wednesday, June 6, 2012

May 14 Afternoon - Terezin

After our morning's expedition and lunch we head back to the hotel to meet our tour bus.

We are a very small group going to Terrazin (Theresienstadt).

The town of Terezin was founded in 1780 by Emperor Josef II originally as part of a system of Late Baroque military fortresses to protect the Kingdom of Bohemia from attack from the north-west. It was named after his mother Empress Maria Theresa. The small fortress was later converted into a prison at the beginning of the 19th century.

This fortress gave Hitler a ready made camp for his use. The Nazis appreciated these pre-built, solid enclosures. They realized that the walls and structure which had originally been built to keep intruders out, could easily be used to keep their prisoners within.

Cynically, for Nazi propaganda purposes, the Gestapo presented the Terezin ghetto to an inspection delegation of the International Red Cross Organisation as an ideal, model Jewish settlement. In reality however the town and fortress of Terezin were being used by the Nazis as a transit camp for Jews, and all others deemed enemies of the Third Reich, from all over Europe.

Although only used as a temporary holding place before transporting victims on to other death camps, nevertheless 160,000 prisoners passed through Terezin of whom 36,000 lost their lives within the walls of this former Nazi concentration camp.

In 2002 the city was also struck by floods during which the crematorium was damaged. A plan was eventually developed in cooperation with national authorities. According to the Fund, a long-term conservation plan was conceived, which includes further repairs, documentation, and archaeological research.

Some photos of the fortress as we drive into town.

Early in the war Terezín was designated a ghetto for the aged and one of the bitterest tales is that of elderly Jews in Germany and Austria who were fooled or cajoled into signing over the deeds to their houses in exchange for guaranteed housing, board and medical support until the end of their lives. Something like a great Jewish retirement village. Imagine the disappointment and despair of the new arrivals when they found that their retirement village gave them only a slot in a hall filled with people on huge triple bunks like the shelves of a warehouse.

 The Nazis transformed the Small Fortress into a prison for their political prisoners and the Large Fortress into the Theresienstadt Ghetto. 
You can just see the railway tracks towards the bottom of this photo Trains arriving brought Jews into an already overcrowded Ghetto. Trains out of Theresienstadt delivered them to their deaths.
As you walk down a long path you come to both the cemetery and the memorial. The memorial, shaped like a large menorah, was placed here in 1972 by the Czechoslovakian government.
The cemetery was used in the beginning to bury the dead. There are markers scattered on the green grass, but there are no names or dates; they bare only a single, engraved Star of David.

 The crematorium

 We were told no photos allowed but our guide said we didn't hear that from her, so we took a few.

Terezin developed a deep feeling of family according to many of the survivors. As larger numbers of people were crammed into smaller spaces, a sense of community deepened. In the town of Terezin, the population had normally been around 5,000 people before the war. At the height of the war, Terezin held over 55,000 Jews. As a consequence, starvation and disease proved rampant. Thousands died of malnutrition and exposure. 
 The ovens were not used to gas people, no one was gassed at Terezin. By September 1942 the creatorium was built because the death toll was so great from starvation and disease that they were running out of room for graves.
 At top capacity the crematorium could cremate 190 bodies a day. The ashes were taken out of the back, searched for gold (from teeth), and then placed in cardboard boxes.
Near the end of the war, the Nazis tried to dispose of any incriminating evidence, so they dumped 8,000 of these cardboard boxes into a pit and 17,000 boxes into the nearby Ohre River.

Over the door to the museum is this sign that says Yizkor, the Hebrew word for Remember.
Formerly a school and during the Nazi years a boys’ home, the building now houses displays including original works of art from the ghetto and a detailed explanation of the way Terezín was used in 1944 to fool the International Red Cross into condoning the Nazis' treatment of the Jews. 
You can watch the film here.

 On this wall you can see the name of Hana Bradyova. Here is a fascinating timeline of Hana's life.
During the war 140,000 people were sent to Theresienstadt, and of those 15,000 were children. These children eventually passed through to camps like Auschwitz and less than 300 survived.

October 23, 1944
Hana is sent to Auschwitz on the second last transport to leave Terezin for Auschwitz. Hana is promptly sent to the gas chamber shortly after she arrives in Auschwitz.

This wall is covered in the names of children.

Jewish painters, musicians, and philosophers held secret classes in Terezin. The artists were determined to remind their students that despite the war, the world was a beautiful place and that they could add to its beauty. From these secret classes, some 4,500 children’s drawings survived the war and are held in the Jewish Museum in Prague. Again I was told no photos but I managed a couple.
The yellow star, inscribed with the word "Jude," has become a symbol of Nazi persecution. Its likeness abounds upon Holocaust literature and materials. But the Jewish badge was not instituted in 1933 when Hitler came to power. It was not instituted in 1935 when the Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of their citizenship. It was still not implemented by Kristallnacht in 1938. The oppression and labeling of the Jews by use of the Jewish badge did not begin until after the start of the Second World War. And even then, it began as local laws rather than as a unified Nazi policy.
The oldest reference to using mandatory articles of clothing to identify and distinguish Jews from the rest of society was in 807 CE. In this year, Abbassid caliph Haroun al-Raschid ordered all Jews to wear a yellow belt and a tall, cone-like hat.
But it was in 1215 that the Fourth Lateran Council, presided over by Pope Innocent III, made its infamous decree. Canon 68 declared:
Jews and Saracens [Muslims] of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress.

We then board the bus to Terezin Small Fortress – Former Gestapo Prison. I found this even creepier than the Museum.

You walk down this massive walkway surrounded by green grass where the cemetery lies with thousands of political prisoners buried. 
These political prisoners were both Jews and non-Jews of all nationalities. Many of the dates on the tombstones were later than May 1945; many of Terezin's prisoners were beyond medical help at the time of the camp's liberation by the Russians, and died before they could be repatriated.

The Small Fortress is surrounded by tall brick walls which are covered with a green grass on top. To get to the entrance, you must walk across a bridge (over what used to be a moat) which leads you to an entrance surrounded by a black and white striped design.

This is the administration court. To the left is the reception office (where the records of the prisoners were kept), the guards' office (where inmates were interrogated), and the prison commander's office.

During its tenure as a Nazi prison, the Small Fortress was run by only one prison commander, SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinrich Jöckel. He was greatly responsible for the terrible conditions within the prison, thus he was sentenced and executed in 1946.

The gate at the end of this courtyard states "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Makes One Free"), the same phrase that was repeated often by the Nazis within their concentration camps. Going through the gate, leads you to "Courtyard I."

The Nazis targeted Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists, twins, and the disabled.

 You walk through the prison barracks, execution grounds, workshops, isolation cells and a cemetery which was built after the war .

This is one of the mass cells in Courtyard I. Approximately 60 to 100 prisoners were housed in each one of these mass cells, giving each prisoner only 30 cm of room on the bunks. The proximity of the prisoners made it easy for the lice and fleas to hop from one prisoner to another, aiding the spread of disease.
Within each of the mass cells were three-tiered bunks, one sink, a very small shelf, and one small toilet for all the prisoners to share.

 Most of the prisoners of the Small Fortress were considered "political" prisoners - accused of resistance, violating anti-Jewish laws, labor offenses, or giving support to persecuted peoples.* The first prisoners that came to the Small Fortress arrived on June 14, 1940.
At that time, two courtyards (I and II) were used to house prisoners. Courtyard II consisted largely of prisoner workshops (currently closed to the public). Courtyard III was opened in June 1942 with the addition of female prisoners to the Small Fortress.
Courtyard I consists of Blocks A and B (the door with the white sign over it is the entrance to Block A) and holds 17 mass cells as well as twenty much smaller cells used for solitary confinement.
Roll call for the prisoners in Courtyard I would be held on this dirt area. At one time, there were up to 1,500 inmates held just in this Courtyard.

 This room was built as a men's bathroom in case the International Red Cross decided to visit they would see that the men were treated well. However, if you look closely there isn't any plumbing installed.
You can see where the Nazis chipped the ledge off the wall after a successful escape by Milos Esner, Josef Mattas and Frantisek Marsik by climbing out the window and walking along this ledge, which goes around the corner of the building to the opening between the walls.
 Gate of Death

A woman prisoner with her hands tied behind her back. 

 This guard tower overlooks courtyard IV.

On the way back to Prague we passed the town of Lidice.
On May 27, 1942, SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, had been attacked in Prague by Free Czech agents who were trained in England and brought to Czechoslovakia to assassinate him. They shot at Heydrich as his car slowed to round a sharp turn, then threw a bomb which exploded, mortally wounding him. Heydrich managed to get out of the car, draw his pistol and shoot back at the assassins before collapsing in the street.
Heydrich survived for several days, but died on June 4 from blood poisoning brought on by fragments of auto upholstery, steel, and his own uniform that had lodged in his spleen.
Meanwhile the Gestapo and SS hunted down and murdered Czech agents, resistance members, and anyone suspected of being involved in Heydrich's death, totaling over 1000 persons. In addition, 3000 Jews were deported from the ghetto at Theresienstadt for extermination. In Berlin 500 Jews were arrested, with 152 executed as a reprisal on the day of Heydrich's death.
As a further reprisal, Hitler ordered the small Czech mining village of Lidice to be liquidated on the fake charge that it had aided the assassins.
In one of the most infamous single acts of World War Two, all 172 men and boys over age 16 in the village were shot while the women were deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp where most died. Ninety young children were sent to the concentration camp at Gneisenau, with some taken later to Nazi orphanages if they were German looking.
The village of Lidice was then destroyed building by building with explosives, then completely leveled until not a trace remained, with grain being planted over the flattened soil. The name was then removed from all German maps.

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