NAZI Ghetto/Concentrtion Camp: Terezinstadt (Czechoslovakia, 1941-45)

 Terezinstadt
Figure 1.-- Terezinstadt was the NAZI show camp, used to show the Red Cross and foreign journalists how well the Jews were being treated. Here are children playing in Theresienstadt during the Internation Red Cross visit (June 23, 1944). Notice the Star of David badge one of the boys is wearing. Many of the children after the IRC inspection were tansported to Auschiwtz where they were murdered.

The Terezin Concentration Camp was actually a small ghetto because families were permitted to stay together. It was located in what is now the Czech Republic. Terezinstadt, a former fortress near Prague turned into a concentration for Jewish families. The Gestapo after the NAZIs seized Czechoslovakia (March 1939) converted Terezin's Small Fortress into a police prison for the Prague Gestapo (June 1940). The next year the SS established a ghetto and concentration camp for Jews in the Large Fortress and town of Terezin (November 1941). Nearly 140,000 Jews werev deported to Terezin from the Czech lands, as well as the Reich, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Slovakia. About 34,000 of those Jews died at Terezinstadt. It was a so-called show camp that the NAZIs used for propaganda purposes. Conditions at Terezinstadt were somewhat better than at other camps. The NAZIs used the camp to show the world how well they were treating the Jews. As reports began to leak out about the killing of Jews, the NAZIs used Thereisenstadt to show to the Red Cross and Western journalists on fact-finding missions. Here the NAZIs used the camp to prove that deported Jews were being treated well. Terezinstadt was a rare ghetto/concentration camp that foreign obsevers were allowed to see. A Swiss Commission wrote a glowing report. These inspection/fact finding visits, however, were infrequent. Camp authorities carefully briefed the Jewish inmates as to howthey were to behave beffore these visits. Terezin played a key role in the Czech holocaust. The Jews at Thereisenstadt, of course, were not well treated. The camp, however, was not a death camp. Conditions were superior to Auschwitz. The Jews were stripped of their property upon entering. Rations were limited, but they were allowed a degree of cultural life. The prisoners were allowed to organize classes for the children. They could put on plays and give concerts. They were even allowed to publish a camp newspaper. About 35,000 people there died from starvation and disease. The Terezin Jews were gradually transported to the death camps once they became operational in 1942. About 87,000 Jews are believed to have been transported from Thereisenstadt to Auschwitz and other death camps during 1942-44. The transports only ceased when the Red Army forced the NAZIs to close the death camps. About 83,000 of the deportees are believed to have perished. Most were murdered at Auschwitz. Drawings from some of the children survived. Gabi Freiova painted a colorful pictures of butterflys fluttering free over the countryside as she no doubt wished to do. Gabi and the other was transported to Auschwitz in 1944 where they were murdered. One little boy who miraculously survived asking his mother for a pet that he saw. She was horrified when she saw the animmal--a large rat rummaging for food. [Joel Fabien] One of the best descriptions was written by a girl, Jana Renee Friesova, who did not even know she was Jewish until the NAZIs occupied Czechoslovakia. She was a rare survivor. The Red Army liberated the camp (May 8, 1945). A handful of Danish Jewish children survived at Terezin, in part because the NAZIs were not sure they were Jewish.

Background

It was located in what is now the Czech Republic. Terezinstadt, a former Austro-Hungarian fortress near Prague. The Gestapo after the NAZIs seized Czechoslovakia (March 1939) converted Terezin's Small Fortress into a police prison for the Prague Gestapo (June 1940).

Establishment

The Terezin Concentration Camp was actually became a small ghetto because families were permitted to stay together. The SS turned the Large Fortress and town of Terezin into a concentration holding camp/ghetto/labor camp for Jewish families (November 1941).

Usage

Nearly 140,000 Jews were deported to Terezin from the Czech lands, as well as the Reich, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Slovakia. About 34,000 of those Jews died at Terezinstadt. It was a so-called show camp that the NAZIs used for propaganda purposes. Conditions at Terezinstadt were somewhat better than at other camps. The NAZIs used the camp to show the world how well they were treating the Jews.

Show Case

As reports began to leak out about the killing of Jews, the NAZIs used Thereisenstadt to show to the Red Cross and Western journalists on fact-finding missions. Here the NAZIs used the camp to prove that deported Jews were being treated well. Terezinstadt was a rare ghetto/concentration camp that foreign obsevers were allowed to see. A Swiss Commission wrote a glowing report. These inspection/fact finding visits, however, were infrequent. Camp authorities carefully briefed the Jewish inmates as to how they were to behave before these visits.

Czech Holocaust

Terezin played a key role in the Czech holocaust. They were fie first Jew interned there. It became a holding camp for them for transport to the death camps. As they were transported, space became availble for Reich and other Western European Jews.

Treatment

The Jews at Thereisenstadt, of course, were not well treated. The camp, however, was not a death camp. Conditions were superior to Auschwitz. The Jews were stripped of their property upon entering. Rations were limited, but they were allowed a degree of cultural life. The prisoners were allowed to organize classes for the children. They could put on plays and give concerts. They were even allowed to publish a camp newspaper.

Deaths and Transports

About 35,000 people there died from starvation and disease. The Terezin Jews were gradually transported to the death camps once they became operational in 1942. About 87,000 Jews are believed to have been transported from Thereisenstadt to Auschwitz and other death camps during 1942-44. The transports only ceased when the Red Army forced the NAZIs to close the death camps. About 83,000 of the deportees are believed to have perished. Most were murdered at Auschwitz.

Drawings

Drawings from some of the children survived. Gabi Freiova painted a colorful pictures of butterflys fluttering free over the countryside as she no doubt wished to do. Gabi and the other was transported to Auschwitz in 1944 where they were murdered.

Inividuals

One little boy who miraculously survived asking his mother for a pet that he saw. She was horrified when she saw the animmal--a large rat rummaging for food. [Joel Fabien] One of the best descriptions was written by a girl, Jana Renee Friesova, who did not even know she was Jewish until the NAZIs occupied Czechoslovakia. She was a rare survivor.

Danish Jews

We are not sure why the Danish Jews were sent to Theresienstadt in the first place, who issued the orders and why. A number of Jews during the Holocaust received special treatment, either because the Germans believed that they had some valur as bargaining chips or came from countries which the Germans saw as having valuable 'racial mterial' and were finding useful in their war effort. Transport to Theresienstadt required a long journey away from the death camps in Poland. And one there Danish officials persisted in inquiring about the Danish Jews. So NAZI officials were aware that they were being watched. People died at Theresienstadt, but it was not a death camp where people were murdered industrially. Somehow the Danes seem to have convinced Adolf Eichmann presumably through Reichsbevollmächtigter (Reich Plenipotentiary) Werner Best not to deport the Danish Jews in Theresienstadt on to the death camps in Poland. We are not sure just why this worked. Best was interested in a stabilizing the situation in Denmark. Perhaps he thought the murder of the Danish Jews would be disruptive. It is likely that Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop was involved. He was complicit in the Holocaust, involved in arrangements with foreign governments regarding Jews, primarily arraning for deportation. But he also intervened on occassions when neutral countries like Sweden and Turkey attempted to protect Jews, especially their nationals. Ribentrop was also involved attempts to maintain relations with neutral countries as the War turned against Germny. He even protected Argentine Jews for a while even though their country showed no interest in them. The Danish Government did. This is probably what happened with the Danish Jews, but we do not yet have details. Miraculosly nearly all the Danish Jews in Theresienstadt survived. Not only the Danish civil service, but church organizations constantly inquired about their whereabouts. The Danes collected over 700 packages of clothing, food and vitamins for the Jews in the camp. The Danes even arranged for an inspecion of Theresienstadt by the Danish Red Cross. Denmark of course was occupied by the Germans. But unlike several occupied countries was valuable to the Germans providing shipments of food and a wide range of war supplies like ammunition. Thus keeping the country quiet and preventing disruptions was in Germnany's interest. Since such a small number of Jews were involved, it was not a major concession. And there is little doubt that the Germans believed that after they won the war such small compromises could be rectified. The Danish Jews were rescued by the 'White Buses' operation. This was a rescue operation organized by the Swedish Red Cross and the Danish government (spring 1945). The purose was to rescue NAZI concentration camp inmates and transport them to safety in neutral Sweden. The objective was initially to save Scandinavian citizens, but as it developed countries, it rapidly expanded to include citizens of other countries. Most of the concentration camps were the camps in northern Germany. The furthest the Whire Busses reached was Theresienstadt all the way south in Czechoslovakian (April 15). There they collected 423 surviving Scandinavian Jews--mostly Danes.

Liberation

The Red Army liberated the camp (May 8, 1945). A handful of Danish Jewish children survived at Terezin, in part because the NAZIs were not sure they were Jewish.

Sources

Fabien, Joel.

Friesova, Jana Renee. Fortress of My Youth: Memoir of a Terezin Survivor







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Created: 7:05 PM 8/2/2008
Last updated: 6:41 PM 10/23/2016