People really only remember Auschwitz, but there was more than one concentration camp that harbored terror during the holocaust.
Situated 70 km from the German border in the small quiet town of Terezín in the Czech Republic lies a concentration camp not many people have heard of. The Theresienstadt (its official name) or “camp-ghetto” existed for three and a half years, between November 24, 1941 and May 9, 1945. This so called “paradise ghetto” housed no gas chambers, no mass machine-gun executions, and no medical testing rooms. Instead it primarily served as a transit camp for European Jews on their way to the more “severe” camps of Auschwitz and Dachau.
While it was in no way as big as the likes of Auschwitz or Dachau, what went on behind the walls of this fortified concentration camp were just as horrific and inhuman as all the others. The 33,000 lives that were lost here are not any less important than the hundreds of thousands of lives that were taken in the bigger camps either and they deserve to be remembered too, which is why the town of Terezín has dedicated itself to the remembrance of those who suffered and died there and the education of the Nazi occupation of this ghetto fortress.
The history of the fortress dates back as far as 1780, originally built as a defensive fort to defend against the Prussians. It became obsolete and was only revived during the First World War it was turned into a political prison with famous inmates such as Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip, who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife June 28, 1914. It was only turned into a prison camp once the Nazi’s invaded Czechoslovakia in 1940.
Divided into two, the small fort was used as a Gestapo prison and the main fortress adapted into a ghetto. It is estimated that the prison processed over 32,000 prisoners and the ghetto some 140,000 Jews, 90,000 of which were deported to further points in the east almost certainly facing death.
Terezín is probably most known for its use in many of the videos that the Nazi’s produced as propaganda. In 1944 the camp received an inspection from three people, two of which came the Red Cross. Their visit was to see if the rumours of ill treatment and abuse were true or not. What they left with was a pleasing impression of happy children putting on shows and learning in staged schools, prisoners reading newspapers, women exercising and well stocked supply shelves of goods.
What they didn’t know was this was all purposely staged for their visit. Prisoners were forced to build new bathrooms for the inspections that were closed down and never used post inspection and 7500 of the elderly and the sick were shipped off to Auschwitz to avoid the impression of overcrowding. Once the inspection was over, the horrific life of living in a concentration camp resumed.
Conditions Inside Terezín Concentration Camp
Conditions inside the camp were unimaginable. Cells were overcrowded, there was a severe lack of water and many people died from starvation and sickness. Healthy inmates from the ages of 16 – 60 were made to work up to 70 hours per week and those were weren’t fit for work were shipped off east to face even ore horrific living conditions and eventually death.
This first courtyard is where prisoners and Jews would have been ushered into for administration purposes. Men would have been stripped of their belongings and their heads shaved and everyone including the women and children would have been given clogs, a metal bowl and a spoon. Administration offices line both sides of the courtyard.
The second courtyard is where some of the men’s cells are located. Visitors to the camp can see 17 cells. Each small cell was used for 60 to 90 people at a time. Wooden planks made up bunk beds that were three tiers high and very little blankets or pillows were provided, even in the depths of the winter. There was one toilet and one sink, and water had to be reused. It was extremely common for men to suffer from poor hygiene, hypothermia and disease from living in these conditions.
The last courtyard you visit makes up the largest space in the ghetto. Built in 1943, these cells often housed up to 400 to 600 people who all shared one table and one single heater.
“Learning the Holocaust is not meant to scare you but to deepen your understanding about the world.”
― Sarah Enchanted
On 3 May 1945, three days before the ghetto was liberated by the Red Army, the Nazis handed over control of the ghetto to the Red Cross. The last Jews left Terezín on 17 August 1945. Of the remaining prisoners when the camp was liberated, 1,633 were children under 15 years old, half of them having only just arrived on “evacuation” transports” from the death camps being liquidated by the retreating Nazis.
Visit As A Day Trip From Prague
Terezín is just a short one hour drive from Prague and it is very easy to visit on a day trip from the city. The best way to reach Terezín by public transport is by bus. Buses regularly leave from Nadrazi Holesovice and Florenc bus stations (both of which can be reached by tram or metro).
Alternatively Get Your Guide run a tour that departs from the centre of Prague or from your hotel for 44 Euros/$50/£33 per person.