August 13 - The Terezin Concentration Camp

The Terezin concentration camp, located in northern Czech Republic, was a very unique camp. It was an artificial town set up as propaganda to fool the Red Cross about its real identity. Before World War II, Terezin was just a regular town, when the Nazis invaded and kicked all the Czechs out of the town. They then created it into a ghetto for the Jews, who were constantly tortured and killed. The Nazis also made a prison in the ghetto, called the Small Fortress. We visited this fortress, along with the town and ghetto museum.

The town of Terezin is old and rundown, with deserted streets and sidewalks. When the Jews lived there, it was very depressing and full of despair. Today, seems to be carrying the burden of its past. The Small Fortress is not far from the town, but still seems to be in the middle of nowhere. There aren't any stores or buildings nearby, just the concentration camp and its towering stone walls. An empty moat surrounds the camp along with the words in the gate, "work sets one free." This statement was just propaganda, and was a Nazi motto. The camp had about 30-40 cells - some were mass cells and some were isolation cells. Each mass cell was for a different group of prisoners. There could be 50-100 people in each cell, with one disgusting toilet and one sink. The Jewish cell could fit about five people comfortably, but the Nazis stuffed sixty in here. It also had an execution wall, where people were shot by a soldier four meters away from them. The soldiers had target practice, and made the prisoners run back and forth while they shot at you. Some prisoners managed to escape and they told people about the camps, but no one would believe them. The officers and soldiers lived comfortably in the prison. There was a swimming pool and even a movie theater for the officers and their families.

The Jews in the ghetto also had very difficult living conditions. The town was rebuilt to fool the Red Cross about its secret identity. The Nazis made many changes to the town to make it look like a nice place for the Jews to live. They cleaned up the town, and made the Jews clean the streets, buildings, and even made them wash and dust everything in their barracks. A shaving room was even built in the fortress, but the sinks were not connected to any water pipes. The day of the visit, they served good food, had soccer matches, plays, and movies. Everyone was smiling and laughing, which they were forced to do. Right before the visit, they sent almost half of the Jews to Auschwitz, an extermination camp in Poland. The Jews, upon their arrival, were taken immediately off the train and told they were going to take showers. They undressed, and were brought into a room where they were gassed.

The Nazis planned the Red Cross' visit down to the last minute, and made everything perfect. To the Red Cross, this seemed like a wonderful place. They were told by the Nazis that it was always like this and that once you were here you stayed here and were never sent anywhere else. They called it a destination camp. They were also told that the whole town was exactly the same. Because of this, the Red Cross had no reason to search the fortress since it was supposedly the same. As a part of the Red Cross report, pictures were taken of smiling children who were gassed weeks after the pictures were taken. After the inspection had been a success, everything was changed back to normal, including their daily meals of coffee (breakfast and dinner) and hot water (supposedly vegetable soup) with a small portion of bread for lunch. The worst thing of all was that the Red Cross fell for it, and issued a great report on the ghetto which was completely false. This was a total success for the Nazis, which ensured the rest of the world that they were doing nothing wrong.

It was very interesting, but depressing, to learn about this unique concentration camp. I couldn't believe that it was an artificial town, and was set up to fool the Red Cross. It was unbelievable. The Nazis had to make so many changes, and the people had to cooperate too. I bet that if they knew what was going on then they would have acted differently and show what life in the ghetto was really like. It must have been strange for one day everything to be great, and the next so terrible. The Jews must have been so confused, but they didn't have time to think about it before they were gassed. Jews all over Europe, including from Terezin, were sent to Auschwitz to be gassed. We learned at the museum in the town that 20,000 Jews could be gassed in one day. Yes, one day. It is such a terrible thing to think about that I will say no more.