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Terezin - The ghetto


 

Arrival usually was orderly

Departure however, always was chaotic 


       Terezin was called Theresienstadt during WW II. It is known today in the Czech Republic as Teresín. It is located north of Prague, close to the German border. Theresienstadt was set up as a model ghetto between 1941 and 1945 albeit one might just as well have referred to it as a Transit camp, because a staggering 62.6% or 88,196 were deported from this ghetto to several death camps or other ghettos and concentration centres. They were sent to Auschwitz (44,693), Treblinka (8,000), Sobibor (1,000), Riga (2,000), Zamosc (2,000), Izbica (3,000), Lublin (3,000), Warsaw (1,000), Minsk (1,000), and to other unknown destinies (22,503). Most were exterminated or worked to death. Records indicate that only 2,971 of all those incarcerated in Theresienstadt survived the war. A noteworthy survival rate compared to other camps. However, of the 149,037 Jews that reached Theresienstadt, 33,529 died in Theresienstadt of starvation and disease, or execution.

       Theresienstadt was in fact a Jewish ghetto. The original inhabitants of Terezin were forced to leave the town in order to make room for thousands of Jews coming from many areas in Europe. They were compensated for the loss of their poor level housing. Of course with Jewish money confiscated from the hapless Jews the Nazis intended to house there.

 

Gate to the ghetto of Terezin           photo: Ghetto Fighters House


       The ghetto was administered by the SS. Its first commandant was SS-Offizier - SS Officer Dr. Siegfried Seidl. He was commandant from November 1941 until July 1943. He was replaced by SS-Obersturmführer - SS-1st Lieutenant Anton Burger on orders of Eichmann. Burger, who acted as commandant from July 1943 until February 1944, was ordered by Himmler and Eichmann to change the appearance of Theresienstadt. This was done to accommodate and fool the Red Cross members who had requested access to a Nazi concentration camp. The changes were cosmetic in nature. Nothing worked, all was fake. The scheme worked. The Red Cross gave her thumbs up following inspection. The third and also the last appointed commandant was SS-Obersturmführer - SS-1st Lieutenant Karl Rahm who held the reigns from February 1944 until May 1945 when the camp was liberated by Soviet Red Army. Seidl and Rahm were executed after the war for war crimes against humanity. Burger was sentenced to death in absentia. He died in 1991 having lived in Germany under an assumed name, as a "free" man. 

       The first deportees arrived at Theresienstadt from Prague in late November 1941. During the first months life in the ghetto differed little from that of other Nazi ghettos. Hopes that the ghetto served as safeguard against further deportation soon evaporated. In January 1942 the first two thousand victims were deported to Riga ghetto where they were shot in a nearby forest by Einsatzgruppe A.

       When initial information on the extermination centers began to filter through to the free world, the Nazis decided to show off Theresienstadt to an investigation committee of the International Red Cross. The external appearance of the ghetto had to be changed for this purpose. Serious overcrowding condition was reduced by additional deportation to Auschwitz. A bank, false shops, a cafe, kindergartens, and schools were set up in the ghetto and the town was beautified by adding flower gardens. Communal bathing facilities were built as well. Had the Committee Members tested the water faucets they would have discovered that none of the faucets were attached to plumbing. They were fake.

 

 Daily life seemed aimless


       Following the visit of the committee members, the Nazis filmed a propaganda movie on, "The new life of the Jews under the protection of the Third Reich." When filming was finished, most actors, including most of the ghetto children, were deported to the Birkenau gas chambers.