26 February 2011

Perspective: Terezín Concentration Camp

Thousand of names of those who died at Terezín.
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.

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