Terezín

Terezín

The old garrison town of Terezín, about 60 km from Prague, was built by the Emperor Joseph II at the end of the 18th century. Gavrilo Princip, assassin of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was imprisoned here after 1914.

During the World War II, the city was transformed into a ghetto (Theresienstadt) and the Small Fortress rebuilt into a Nazi concentration camp. The Small Fortress lies 2 km south of Terezín. In the strange redbrick complex you can see the prison more or less as it was when the Nazis left it in 1945. About 32,000 inmates came through the fortress, mostly POWs or political prisoners; those that did not die here were shipped off to other concentration camps. Above the entrance to the main courtyard stands the cynical motto ARBEIT MACHT FREI (Work will make you free. At the far end of the fortress, opposite the main entrance, is the special wing built by the Nazis when space became tight.

During World War II, Terezín served as a detention center for thou­sands of Jews and was used by the Nazis as an elaborate prop in a ne­farious propaganda ploy. In 1942, to propitiate international public opinion, the Nazis cynically decided to trans­form the town into a showcase camp to “prove” to the world their “benevolent” intentions toward the Jews. Just before the International Red Cross inspected the town in early 1944, they started a beau­tification campaign: painted the buildings, set up stores, laid out a park with benches, and arranged for concerts and sports. The Red Cross fell for the propaganda scheme. Once it was clear that the war was lost, however, the Nazis dropped any pretense and quickly stepped up transport of Jews to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

In all, some 87,000 Jews were murdered in this way, and another 35,000 died from starvation or disease. The town’s horrific story is told in words and pictures at the Ghetto Museum in the center of Terezín.