Terezín is 50 minutes northwest of Prague and provides a different perspective on the horrors of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. It is by no means easy to get there but thankfully my travel companion Rick Steve's gave perfect instructions.
Terezín was built in the 18th century as a military fortress by the Habsburg Empire and as part of a adjoining garrison town. Later it was transformed into a political prison where Gavrilo Princip, assassin of Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand and his wife, was kept until death.
When the Germans came through Czechoslovakia, Terezín was transformed into a concentration camp practically overnight. It wasn't a typical camp like what I found at Dachau outside of Munich. Instead, Jewish prisoners were held behind these brick walls before being transfered to extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were no gas chambers at Terezín but still thousands died of disease, exposure, malnutrition, excecutions, etc.
"Work will set you free"
Terezín was used in Nazi propaganda, which made concentration camps look like happy Jewish communities. The camp got a facelift before a Red Cross inspection in 1944. Prisoners worked to spruced the whole place up with a café, flowers, fake sanitary facilities, a soccer stadium, etc. Needless to say, the Red Cross was impressed by their 6 hour stay (every minute was performed and scripted to please the guests.) The Museum of the Ghetto shows clips of Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer Gives a City to the Jews). Kurt Gerron, a Terezín prisoner, was forced to make the film showing the camp as a happy Jewish settlement. The soccer games, concerts, and dances depicted in the film were far from reality. This propaganda and trickery that the prisoners were forced to accept must have been just as painful as physical torture. It opened my eyes to a different perspective of the Nazi Final Solution and the atrocities that prisoners suffered in this region of the world during World War II.
Before now I've never had a "quick visit" to my home country. It's always the other way around- a quick visit to Europe or Mexico. But 2 weeks ago I took a "quick trip" to Texas and Oklahoma to visit my family and friends. A quick 10 days to fight jet lag, catch up on X's and O's that just aren't the same over skype, meet a new human being who was born after I left in September, stuff my mouth with Mexican food, and say goodbye again. It was a huge change from my lifestyle here in the Czech Republic but it is surprising how easy it is to adjust to the numerous luxuries of being home where everything is comfortable and communication comes easily.
A quick visit is enough to fall in love with my new nephew. I had seen him before on skype but to hold him and kiss his soft cheeks was an experience that can't be digitalized. He's a spunky and vocal little chunk and I'm so excited to see how he has grown and changed when I see him again in 4 months.
During my quick visit I got to spend my birthday with my family and boyfriend- the only thing I requested for my birthday. As a bonus I got to watch American football! Yes, the Super Bowl was conveniently scheduled on my birthday.
The only surprise of my quick visit was the weather in TX and OK. Usually you can count on sunny skies and 65 degrees (F) even in February. But upon my arrival there was a freak ice storm so all of North Texas promptly closed down for about a week. The outdoor jogs I dreamed of where quickly out the window but I definitely don't mind snuggling in front of a fire with my family and boyfriend. In actuality it couldn't have been more perfect.
A great quick trip was followed up by a great first week back in Prague. School is in session again. The familiar faces of my students were a welcoming sight upon my return. I'm looking forward to another great semester of teaching my students and learning from my students.