I never intended to visit Terezín. But the visit to Sachsenhausen a few days earlier had left such a deep impact on me that I figured I just might pull it off as a day trip from Prague.
From the documentaries I’ve watched, I found out a little about Terezín or Theresienstadt (German). This was Hitler’s propaganda camp – where he attempted to convince the world that the Jews were being well looked after. In fact, he tried to present it as a “model Jewish settlement”. In reality, Terezín was like a “bus interchange” of sorts. Jews deported here from all over Europe were housed temporarily before being shipped off to other extermination camps like Auschwitz or Dachau.
Today, unlike Auschwitz or Dachau, Terezín had not become a major tourist draw. On the day I visited, the place was deserted. Almost serene.
Terezín is about an hour’s bus ride from Holešovice train station in Prague. Constructed during the late 18th century on the orders of the Austrian emperor Jospeh II, the fortress of Terezín later served as a prison for military and political prisoners. After the Nazis marched into the former Czechoslovakia, they converted this red brick baroque fortress to house political prisoners. Later on, Terezín became known as an interim camp for Jews en route to other extermination camps in Europe.
It was estimated that approximately 144,000 Jews had been sent to Terezín. Of these, more than 60 per cent were transferred to Auschwitz and other camps. The remaining died in Terezín.
Visitors to Terezín are greeted by an imposing church that stands in the middle of a large field. Inside the Jewish Museum Ghetta (just opposite the bus stop where I alighted), the image of this church was replicated in thousands of children’s sketches and crayon drawings on the walls of the Jewish Museum. Almost all these children had later been deported to Auschwitz and straight to the gas chambers.
I was not allowed to take any pictures here. But I will never forget those haunting images. LS