Theresienstadt

Theresienstadt


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Theresienstadt was a concentration camp located thirty-five miles from Prague. As the war progressed Theresienstadt became a transit camp for Jews bound for Auschwitz in Poland.


Life Inside the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp

Until the mass eviction of German Jews to Theresienstadt, the ghetto-camp had a predominantly Czech Jewish character. At the end of 1941 it accommodated 7,545 Jews from Prague and Brno. Over the next six months 26,524 Jews from all over Bohemia and Moravia were squeezed into the fortress. Between July and December 1942 the number of Czech Jewish arrivals doubled again, but during that time thousands were deported through what was in effect Theresienstadt’s revolving door. They were replaced by approximately 53,000 German and 13,000 Austrian Jews, although many of them, too, were removed to the east after only a few weeks or months. From mid-1942 the internal administration as well as the external appearance and ambiance of Theresienstadt changed to reflect the demographic transformation.

Theresienstadt concentration camp archway with the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” (work makes (you) free). By Andrew Shiva. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

Helga Weiss and her family were among the first Prague Jewish families to be forcibly replanted. Within weeks of their arrival they suffered two shocks. First, on 9 January 1942, nine young men were hanged for the apparently trivial crime of attempting to smuggle letters out of the ghetto. This atrocity was followed by news that 1,000 inhabitants were to be transported to Riga. Helga expressed the general disillusionment when she reflected, ‘We thought at least now we’re in Terezin we’d be spared any more of this.’ Instead, from then on every day was lived under the threat of deportation. The terror of removal was juxtaposed with the pleasure of meeting friends and family as transports flooded in. There were so many reunions that Weiss remarked, ‘Prague has come . . .

The beginnings of Theresienstadt

Until mid-1942, the deported Jews shared the fortress town with its indigenous inhabitants. But whereas the Czechs lived in family houses, the Jews were separated by gender and packed into the original barracks and living quarters adapted from other installations. In the Sudeten barracks fifty men lived in each room, stacked in bunks the women in the Magdeburg barracks had slightly more space. Girls stayed with their mothers and boys with their fathers until they reached the age of twelve when youths moved into children’s homes that offered more space, better facilities, and rooms for schooling. All adults except the old and the infirm were expected to join working parties, many of which operated outside the fortress walls. The ghetto was guarded by a detail of 120–150 Czech gendarmes. The Jews rarely saw a German.

During the Czech period, Eichmann and his deputy Siegfried Seidl, who was responsible for running the ghetto on a day-to-day basis, appointed Jacob Edelstein as the Elder, with Otto Zucker as his deputy. Both men were Zionists with years of public service behind them. They presided over a council of thirteen elders who supervised several departments covering administration, building and maintenance, finance, labor and economic matters, and public heath. An ‘Ordnungswache’, or Order Watch, patrolled the streets and escorted Jews in and out of the ghetto confines. Crucially, the internal administration was responsible for maintaining a registry of all the residents and selected who would leave when the Germans ordained a deportation. The actual deportation lists were compiled by the Transport Committee. Since it was always the target of intense lobbying, during the days and hours before a deportation an Appeals Committee examined claims for exemption.

Norbert Troller Redesigns Theresienstadt

On the surface, the categories were clearly set out by the Germans in guidelines issued to the council on 5 March 1942. Families with young children were not to be broken up. Men with decorations for military service or severe war wounds were exempted. Anyone who was sick, over the age of sixty-five years, or in a mixed marriage was not to be included. Anyone with foreign nationality (except Poles, Soviet citizens and people from Luxembourg) was held back. Finally, anyone on the first two transports from Prague was privileged this included many who staffed the internal administration. Outside these formal categories there were many grounds for appealing and lobbying.

Czech composer Rafael Schachter. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

Norbert Troller, a forty-six-year-old architect from Brno and veteran of the Great War, was deported to Theresienstadt in March 1942 after a spell of forced labor in a factory. On arrival he was allocated a bunk in the Sudeten barracks and commenced three weeks of manual work, as was customary for newcomers.

Troller’s Commitment

Then he was assigned to the technical department, where he designed living quarters for the inmates and also the SS. Troller quickly learned that Theresienstadt was nothing like the end of the line and that survival depended on obtaining ‘protection’ from someone in the administration who could keep your name off the transportation lists. ‘The concept of “protection”’, he wrote in a memoir, ‘was of such paramount importance for all of us that it overshadowed any other considerations.’ Nevertheless, during the interval between the transports that departed each week Theresienstadt pulsated with life. ‘There was work and leisure, concerns with sanitation, housing, health care, child care, record keeping, construction, theater, concerts, lectures, all functioning as well as possible under the circumstances.’ But as soon as word came that another 1,000 to 2,000 people had to go within a few days the population could think of nothing except ‘protection’.

Troller coolly analysed the demoralizing effect of the struggle not to be transported. ‘In fear of death one forgets, slowly at first, but then with considerable speed, the rules of ethics, of decency, of helpfulness . . . At any and all costs we try to prevent the execution of the death sentence on us and our loved ones . . . To escape that fate one had to do everything to be included in the privileged group of the “protected”.’ It was his good fortune to have skills that qualified him for the staff of the Jewish administration. His boss in the architectural office shielded him from over twenty-five comb-outs. Troller was then able to do favors for even more influential ghetto figures and, ultimately, to get work from the SS. But he was still unable to protect his sister and her daughter, who were transported some six months after they had all arrived.

Psychological Corruption

Troller bewailed the system of drawing up lists and the ‘psychological corruption’ that affected individuals as they fought one another to avoid deportation. ‘With devilish baseness and cunning they [the SS] . . . put the burden of selection on the Jews themselves to select their own co religionists, relatives, their friends. In the end this unbearable, desperate, cynical burden destroyed the community leaders who were forced to make the selections. The power of life and death forced on the Council of Elders was the main reason, the unavoidable force, behind the ever-increasing corruption in the ghetto . . .’ But he knew he was not innocent. ‘How can I forgive myself for having succumbed to egotistical, ruthless, incomprehensible actions towards my fellow sufferers whenever danger threatened . . .’

In their determination to maintain a semblance of normal life, especially for the children, and preserve their humanity, the Jews of Theresienstadt supported an array of educational and cultural initiatives. Helga Weiss started attending classes and moved into a children’s home where she studied Czech, geography, history and maths. The youths with whom she lived shared a plethora of books and went to shows performed in attics, the only free space available for such entertainments. ‘Yesterday I went to see The Kiss. It’s playing in Magdeburg, up in the loft. Even though it’s sung only to the accompaniment of a piano, with no curtains or costumes, the impression it makes couldn’t be greater even in the National Theatre.’

Captured Jewish women in Wesselényi Street, Budapest, Hungary, 20–22 October 1944. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

Morality and Social Barriers Decay

Adults enjoyed these distractions and found more earthy satisfactions. Troller wryly observed men sneaking into the coal cellar of the women’s barracks for prearranged liaisons with their wives, who emerged subsequently with ‘coal- blackened backsides’. Marital infidelity became commonplace as traditional moral standards wilted under the threat of random extinction. Despite hunger and unmitigated body odours men and women formed relationships, some for love and others for more functional purposes. ‘

On the one hand, there was spontaneous, true, eternal love on the other, we were faced with the continual threat of separation, sex, lust, a pressure cooker atmosphere, quick, quick, without fancy phrases, before the next transport to the east stops us . . .’ For unmarried men like Troller, especially those who were privileged, there was no shortage of girlfriends. He and a friend constructed a kumbal, a cubby-hole, in which they could have privacy and entertain. There was a strict etiquette, though. A privileged worker who possessed a kumbal was expected to offer a gift to a visiting lady friend, such as food or cigarettes. But sometimes it was just a case of satisfying an urge. One afternoon Norbert’s companion Lilly turned up at his place and announced, ‘Nori – I need a fuck, come on.’

The Diary of Philipp Manes

The advent of thousands of elderly German Jews dampened the defiantly exuberant atmosphere in the ghetto cultivated by the younger Czechs, but enriched its cultural life. Among the newcomers in July 1942 were Philipp Manes and his wife. Manes was a sixty-seven-year-old veteran of the Great War and holder of the Iron Cross. He had run a fur agency in Berlin until he was put out of business by the Nazis and had spent the last few months working as a drill press operator in a factory.

In his diary he detailed the last hours in the home where he had lived with his wife and where they had raised four children. ‘It seemed inconceivable that we had to give up our entire estate, leave behind everything that we had acquired over the 37 years of our marriage . . . All our possessions were to be appropriated by strangers. They would go through all the drawers and cupboards and throw out things that were worthless to them – our cherished possessions. Inconceivable.’

But at 9.30 a.m. on the appointed morning, two Gestapo officers and two Jewish marshals came to escort them to a removal van that served as transport. Hours later they were disgorged at the Jewish Old People’s Home on Grosse Hamburgerstrasse along with dozens of other deportees. The next day they were told their property had been expropriated because they were guilty of ‘communist activity’. Manes, a staunch conservative, ‘accepted this humiliation in silence’. Their passports were stamped ‘evacuated from Berlin on 23 July’ and ‘with that our life as citizens of Germany ended’.

Business Card of Eduard Manes before entering Theresienstadt. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

The Shattering Truth of Theresienstadt

At three o’clock the next morning they were transported to the Anhalter Station. ‘We were cast out of the lives that we had made for ourselves, working for fifty years to see our business crowned with success . . . and now here we are with the few effects that we can carry with us in bags and backpacks.’

Along with their fellow, unwilling travelers they felt hopeful that Theresienstadt might live up to promise. What they actually found was shattering. First they were stripped of their valuables and their suitcases. For the rest of the summer Manes was condemned to wear the heavy winter clothes he had donned for the journey. They were led to a brick-walled stable and instructed to sleep on the ground. There was only a single water fountain and a disgusting communal latrine. Eventually they got their bedrolls and some personal items which they took with them to new quarters equipped with bunk beds. But this entailed the separation of men from women, and the planking for the bunks was riddled with bed bugs. Far from being a retirement home, Theresienstadt was a daily battle for life.

‘“Ghetto” signifies a renunciation of or a moratorium on morals’, Manes confided to his journal. ‘When hunger triumphed over civilized behavior and tore down all inhibitions, everyone gave themselves to one feeling and one goal: satiation at any price. Justice, security, property, and order simply yielded to this natural instinct. Those who have not witnessed how, at the end of the distribution of food, old people plunged into empty vats, scraping them with their spoons, even scraping the tables where the food was served with knives, looking for leftovers, cannot understand how quickly human dignity can be lost.’

Admiration for Czech Patriotism and Jewish Pride

After a few weeks Manes was asked by the administration to form an auxiliary to the Order Watch to assist disorientated or demented elderly Jews whose wanderings and distress caused discomfort to the rest of the populace. He used this position to start giving lectures, and before long was addressing audiences of a hundred. Eventually his talks evolved into a cultural program employing sixty-five men and women. The lectures, play readings and poetry recitals in German brought much comfort to the Berliners and Viennese Jews who were otherwise utterly adrift in the Czech-speaking environment.

Manes admired the Czech Jews for their patriotism and their Jewish pride, but he noted that they did not reciprocate this warmth. The two groups vied for power, contesting the distribution of privileges, work and rations. ‘On the one side there was abundance and the good life, which was not shared on the other, endless hunger.’ Manes particularly resented the fact that Czech Jews were entitled to receive food parcels and seemed to get better rations from the kitchens. ‘It has to be said’, he admitted with a measure of self-reproach, ‘the Jewish Czech does not love us. He sees us only as Germans.’

Overcrowding Worsens

Even after the non-Jewish population was evicted from the town, the arrival of the German and Austrian Jews caused acute overcrowding. Combined with undernourishment due to the straitened food supply and bad sanitation, this sent the rate of mortality shooting upwards. In December 1941 just 48 Jews had died in the ghetto. Th e following March the number climbed to 259, but this was more or less in line with the increased population. In July 1942, there were on average 32 deaths per day, a total of 2,327 for August, and no fewer than 131 every day throughout September. According to Manes this was ‘the time of the great dying of the old and the very old who, with their broken, weak bodies, their worn, uprooted souls and their unrealizable longing for their far-off children, could not resist even a mild illness.’

German soldiers drive arrested Jews into the municipal theatre. October 1944. By Bundesarchiv. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

In September 1942 the Germans ordered the deportation of elderly Jews, to bring down the average age of the population and re-balance the number who were working. Helga Weiss was horrified at the sight of these transports. ‘Altertransports. 10,000 sick, lame, dying, everyone over 65 . . . Why send defenseless people away? . . . can’t they let them die here in peace? After all, that’s what awaits them. The ghetto guards are shouting and running about beneath our windows they’re closing off the street. Another group is on its way . . . Suitcases, stretchers, corpses. That’s how it goes, all week long. Corpses on the two-wheeled carts and the living on the hearses . . .’

The ‘Schleuse’ (sluice) at Bohusovice Station

In two months, 17,780 aged prisoners exited the ghetto via the ‘Schleuse’ (sluice), the exit ramp that led down to Bohusovice Station. By the end of the year the proportion of ghetto residents aged over sixty-five years had fallen from 45 to 33 per cent.

Seidl insisted that the council should be restructured to reflect the ratio of German, Austrian and Czech Jews. In October, Heinrich Stahl, one of the leaders of the Reichsvereinigung, was appointed deputy to Edelstein. At the start of 1943, by which time the population was equally divided between Czechs and Germans, Seidl ordered the formation of a triumvirate consisting of Edelstein, Paul Eppstein, a member of the Berlin Jewish leadership, and Josef Loewenherz, from Vienna. Not long afterwards Loewenherz dropped out of the picture and Seidl placed power in the hands of Eppstein, with the Viennese Benjamin Murmelstein as a deputy alongside Edelstein. For the next year and a half these men would determine who would live in Theresienstadt or depart on the transports.

DAVID CESARANI, OBE was Research Professor in History at Royal Holloway, Univ. of London and the award-winning author of Becoming Eichmann and Major Farran’s Hat. He was awarded the OBE for services to Holocaust Education and advising the British government on the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day. He died in October 2015. He is the author of FINAL SOLUTION: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949.


Learn the History: Life in Theresienstadt in Eva Ginzová’s Diary

In this lesson students will gain a deeper understanding of the Theresienstadt ghetto and the experiences of its inhabitants during the final months of the Holocaust. Students will read diary entries written by Eva Ginzová at this time and consider them in the context of a range of additional primary sources from the ghetto.

Educators and students are encouraged to read the introduction to Eva Ginzová’s diary in Salvaged Pages, pages 160–67. It provides valuable information about the writer’s life and historical context for a reading of the diary.

Overview

Core diary entries from Salvaged Pages used in this lesson: Eva Ginzová, June 24, 1944, September 16 and 22, 1944

This lesson was initially drafted by Holocaust educator Colleen Tambuscio.

The Nazis created ghettos to consolidate, segregate and isolate Jews. They then deprived them of their livelihoods, exploited them for labor, and stripped them of dignity and humanity. They established at least 1,000 ghettos in German-occupied Poland and the Soviet Union during World War II. With the implementation of mass killing of Jews beginning in late 1941, the Germans began emptying the ghettos, deporting the surviving Jews to killing centers or slave labor camps.

The Germans established the ghetto in Terezín (Theresienstadt in German), near Prague, in 1941. 1 Petr and Eva Ginz were defined as mischlinge, or “mixed-race” with one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent. Petr was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942, and Eva followed in 1944. She began writing her diary six weeks after she arrived at Theresienstadt, recounting her daily struggle to survive during the final months of World War II.

Focus Questions

Ghetto diaries reflect their writers’ experiences of extreme deprivation, including poor living conditions, illness, and hunger. Writers also contended with the pervasive threat of deportation.

  • What can you learn about the specific character of life in Theresienstadt from Eva’s diary? What are the main problems she faced?
  • Based on your examination of other primary sources from Theresienstadt, what does Eva’s diary add to your understanding? Does anything in it surprise you or contradict other parts of the historical record?
  • How do you assess the value of Eva’s diary as a personal account in the context of other historical sources? What does each one provide? Is one more valuable than the other? Why or in what way? Consider the many ways in which different primary sources contribute to an understanding of the historical past.

Citations

  • 1 : Throughout this lesson Terezín, the Czech name of the city in which the fortress was originally built, will be primarily used rather than the name assigned under German occupation, Theresienstadt. When the German name is used, it is to reference the specific time of German occupation.

Activities

Opener: Read an Entry from Eva Ginzová

June 24 [1944]

On Wednesday, it will have been six weeks since I first arrived here. We came here by train where we had the whole carriage to ourselves. [. . .] Our bags, large and small, were with us in one carriage and were also transported with us to Terezín by truck. As we were going through Boušovice (a large village with clean houses), people stopped and looked at us. We could already see Terezín in the distance with its church tower rising above it. I was already looking forward to seeing Petr, Uncle, Pavel, and Hanka and all those I knew . . .We actually arrived just as transports were leaving for Birkenau. Seventy-five hundred people left this time—the poor things. 2 They took us to the Hamburg barracks where we were held for three days. They took our bags from us and didn’t give us any food. We suffered from extreme hunger. Were about able to look out the window and when Petr came there to see me and talk to me through the window, he brought me something to eat. [. . .]

I must just add a couple of lines. This writing makes me feel a lot better since I’ve felt all the time that I have been writing a letter to you, dear Mummy and Daddy. It seems such a long time since we saw each other last when we parted on Dlouhá Avenue. [. . .] I’m sending you a big good-night kiss, Mummy and Daddy. 3

Describe Eva’s journey and initial impressions of Theresienstadt. From this entry, what can we infer about world events unfolding outside the ghetto? What sentences stood out to you? What questions remain?

It is very important in this activity for students to have some familiarity with the history of the Theresienstadt ghetto. Read together a summary of Theresienstadt and the summary of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

Main Activity: Life in Theresienstadt—Reading Like a Historian

Diaries from the Holocaust are historical artifacts that offer students a unique opportunity to practice historical reading and historical analysis skills. While terms may vary, the four foundational skills are:

  • Sourcing
    • Ask: Who is the author? What is the author’s point of view? Why was it written? When was it written? Is this source believable? Why? Why not?
    • Ask: What else was going on at the time this was written? What can be inferred from the document? What was it like to be alive at this time? What things were different back then? What things were the same?
    • Ask: What claims does the author make? What evidence does the author use to support those claims? How does this document make me feel? What words or phrases does the author use to convince me that he or she is right? What information does the author leave out?
    • Ask: What do other pieces of evidence say? Do other sources support or contradict this document: Am I finding different versions of the story? Why or why not? What pieces of evidence are most believable? 4

    Have students practice reading and analyzing like a history with the following activity.

    1. Open the lesson with Eva’s diary by reviewing Sourcing with students followed by talking about Contextualization.
    2. Move to a Close Reading of Eva Ginzová's Diary Entry on Her Jewish Identity, September 16, 1944 and Eva Ginzová's Diary Entry on the Theresienstadt Ghetto, September 22, 1944. Read aloud while students underline and identify specific details of her life in the ghetto. For example, in the first few lines of the entry from September 22, 1944, entry Eva states, “There’s a sort of epidemic now in Terezín.” Questions from students may include: What is an epidemic? How does an epidemic begin? How does an epidemic spread? What conditions are necessary for an epidemic to erupt? Why was Petr vulnerable? These questions, and the discussion that may result, are good examples of contextualization. These details would be strong historical details to underline.
    3. Have students discuss in small groups the lines they selected from these entries. Have students create a similar set of questions about those lines as those modeled with Eva’s reference to the epidemic. Share out the passages and questions with the class.
    4. Corroboration: Have students research and discover corroborating evidence for the statements they selected from Eva’s diary. Using the Yad Vashem database provided below, have students select three primary sources (i.e., artifacts, diaries and letters, documents, lexicon entries, maps and charts, photographs, testimonies or art) that are similar to the diary selections they selected.

    Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Resource Center has an extensive collection of materials for student research. It may be helpful to assist students in their initial research using the Search tools located on the lower right of the site.

    Citations

    • 2 : As stated in the FN 11, Salvaged Pages, p. 460: In preparation for the visit of the Red Cross to Terezin in the summer of 1944, and to avoid the appearance of overcrowding and the embarrassing presence of sick or weak people and orphaned children, ghetto commandant Karl Rahm ordered the deportation of seventy-five hundred Jews to take place over three transports in May. Although the camp inmates were told that these deportees were headed to Dresden area, they went instead to Auschwitz-Birkenau to the so-called Family Camp. Though Eva frankly acknowledged that these deportees were being sent to Birkenau (as her brother had done in his diary entry mentioning other transports in December 1943), and though she mentioned the camp in other contexts throughout the early part of the diary, there is no reason to suppose that either of them knew anything about the true nature of the camp or the mass killings there at the this time. Indeed, it was not until the spring of 1945, when twelve thousand death camp survivors came to Terezin, that the true nature of Birkenau and the other death camps became known to the population at larger. (Berkley, Hitler’s Gift, 169-70, 200.)

    Assessment

    Have students, individually, or in small groups, present their corroborating evidence and how it supports information from the diary entries. Suggest to students they use the Focus Questions from this lesson to structure their presentation.

    Share the following example as a model:

    I’m getting an injection to put on weight. I’m supposedly terribly thin.

    (Corroboration research: Food rations in ghettos, other examples of dehumanization)

    A transport’s leaving—men aged from sixteen to fifty going to work in Germany . . . I don’t know if half-Jews are protected from this.


    The makeover of the Theresienstadt ghetto

    In these days we commemorate an event that went down in the history of the Holocaust as the “makeover” of the Theresienstadt ghetto. On this occasion, we first and foremost commemorate the inmates of the Theresienstadt ghetto, who weren’t just injustly imprisoned but murdered by hunger, unbearable living conditions, executions and deportations to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other extermination camps and also abused for an absurd spectacle: in order to cover up the real conditions in the so-called “Theresienstadt ghetto”, they had to play the role of content and happy inhabitants of a little province town.

    Next to this, this event helps us realize the power of proganda and the systematic spreading of half-truths and lies and how these lies and half-truths step by step gather acceptance among the population. The filmmaker Martina Malinová documents the course of the visit of the International Red Cross commission by means of interviewing Doris Grozdanovičová, former inmate of Theresienstadt and eye-witness to the IRC’s visit and David Haas, grandson of one of the most famous painters imprisoned in Theresienstadt, Bedřich Fritta, whose pictures unmask uncompromisingly the cynicism and contempt for mankind of the Nazi regime.


    The makeover

    The rising international concern about the situation of the Jews in the Third Reich is proven by a request made by the International Red Cross in the beginning of 1943 for a visit of one of the National Socialist concentration camps. The Nazis chose for Theresienstadt as a suitable place to show. Preparations for the visit started in the spring of 1943 and were finished a few weeks before the visit took place. Part of the makeover Theresienstadt went through was the renaming of the “ghetto” into “Jewish settlement”, the founding of a bank run by the Jewish council, including special bank notes, which technically weren’t anything else but worthless pieces of paper. Shops were opened, offering the things that had been confiscated from the inmates when they arrived in Theresienstadt. Suddenly, there was a children’s playground and a coffee house. Inmates who had been imprisoned for longer and whose bodies showed traces of this imprisonment were deported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, in order to show off only the good looking, still strong and healthy inmates. The streets were cleaned and decorated, as well as several flats, solely for the purpose of deceiving the IRC.

    Bedřich Fritta: Coffee house (1943/1944) (Source: private archive of the Haas-family)

    The visit

    The IRC’s commission visited Theresienstadt on Friday, June 23rd, 1944 from approx. 12 to 4 p.m. The ten delegates were accompanied by the camps commander and the chairman of the „Jewish council“ and led a beforehand prepared path through the city. During the visit, they were shown a carefully rehearsed play with hand-picked inmates and an extravagantly designed scenery.

    From a report of the event by the former inmate S. van den Bergh: My wife and me were chosen and moved into a freshly painted room in the Hamburg baracks. (…) The night before the visit, we witnessed a real tragicomedy. At 10 pm, we went to sleep. Just when we were falling asleep, there was a knock at the door and in front of us stood an angry man with a table and chairs. We could barely make him understand that our room was pretty enough and that he should go to hell with his table and chairs. The only thing we wanted was sleep. One and a half hours later another man came in, this time without even knocking at the door, with him he had a ladder. My wife was shocked when he put up the ladder above her bed to put up curtains. Before 5 o’clock in the morning an elegant lady came to bring a carpet and a tablecloths, at half past five a gardener who placed a pot of flowers in the window and some more freshly cut flowers in a vase on the table. 1

    Bedřich Fritta The room/Pokoj (1944) (Source: private archive of the Haas-family)

    The report

    Dr. Maurice Rossel, the leader of the IRC commission, wrote a short report dividing the living conditions in Theresienstadt into several subchapters: population, administration, housing, food, garments, work, etc. He describes exactly what he had been shown by the SS. Excerpts from his report read as follows:

    Housing: sufficient bed linen, changed on a regular base, blankets of outstanding quality.

    Food: It is possible to convince oneself everywhere of the sufficient nutritional status of the population. See photos, especially the children.

    Garments: The people we met wore all kinds of different garments, just as one would expect in a little town, some well-off, others rather simple. Elegant women wear silk stockings, hats, scarves and modern purses.

    Equipment of the medical stations: The equipment with medical instruments is in all respects satisfactory. There are only few places where the population enjoys a medical care comparable to Theresienstadt.

    Commentary on the whole report by Vojtech Blodig, PhD.

    The greatest lie Rossel quotes in his report was that Theresienstadt was a „final camp“ and usually nobody was deported anywhere else, once they got here. As a matter of fact the inmates of Theresienstadt, men, women and children were being deported throughout the whole period of the camp’s existence deported further to the extermination camps in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Sobibor. Before and during the makeover of Theresienstadt thousands of people were deported to be murdered.

    In 1979, the author and director of Shoa, Claude Lanzmann, led an interview with M. Rossel. From this interview it is possible to tell that the doctor, who was 27 years old in 1944, himself was prejudiced against Jews. He said: This camp gave the impression, that the Israelites sent here people who were especially rich or had been important in their towns so that they couldn’t vanish just like that… . 2 He accused the inmates he met during his visit of not signalling anything to him: One would cry out or lament. (…) Someone, who as an official visits different camps for months, always meets someone there who blinks his ee and trys to point towards something. That was common. But here, nothing, absolutel nothing. There was such obedience and passivity, that it was unbearable for me. 3

    The testimony of inmates though confirm the disappointment about the delegates accepting the camouflage and believing in it. There was no one in the ghetto who would have had any doubts that the most important imperative of the commission would be mistrust towards the SS. Without exception, we were convinced that anyone of sound understanding would recognize the obvious. 4

    Bedřich Fritta: Shops in Theresienstadt (1944) (Source: private archive of the Haas-family)

    The Nazis made use of the prepared scenery also for further propaganda efforts about Theresienstadt, where live supposedly was great. Just a few weeks after the visit of the IRC, in August and September 1944, a movie with the initial title Theresienstadt. A documentary from the Jewish settlement was shot. Since it was only finalized during the last months of the war, it was never screened for a bigger audience. Theresienstadt, though, was shown to different visitors from different countries during the last months of the war.

    The Nazi’s main motivation for the careful preparation of Theresienstadt and the play enacted there was the deceit of the global public and to persuade everyone that the Jewish population of the Third Reich and the occupied countries was doing well, neither discriminated, persecuted, nor murdered. Due to the indifference and neglect of the visitors and the fear of the “actors” from Theresienstadt, they successfully met this goal.

    Though today we know, that the cultural and intellectual life and sports in Theresienstadt were part of the progapanda efforts of the Nazis, we still associate with “Theresienstadt” a rather functioning town where people were relatively well off. We need to make ourselves aware of the fact, that all of this was just a play, a scenery, set up in order to disguise the reality of all the Nazi camps: to get rid of those unwanted by the Nazis, to kill them. We need to be aware of the power of propaganda, the spread of lies and wrong accounts.


    “City of my dreams” – a survivor's attempts to cope

    In her memoirs, Käthe Starke mentions a nightmare that haunted her again and again for years after the liberation and to which she refers in the title of the descriptions of her postwar visit to Terezín: “I had to find my way home [from the library] [ … ] in the darkness, step by step, until I reached the saving wall of the Genie barracks This refers to the Genie Barracks, which housed a hospital and hosted cultural events. across the city park, past the market square, which guided me to the corner of Neue Gasse, and of all the nightmares that had carried me off to Theresienstadt at night for years, this one remained: in black night and soundless silence I must seek my way alone. From the moonless sky not even the gutters stand out to show me the direction. The stones of the Genie barracks are so cold that I can't touch them, at the corner I lose the last grip and don't know where to turn.” Starke, Führer , p. 130. Starke-Goldschmidt hints at the loneliness and abandonment she felt in Theresienstadt as feelings that would not leave her even long after liberation.

    Among the memoir texts about deportation and imprisonment in Theresienstadt , Käthe Starke-Goldschmidt’s account stands out because she describes life under camp conditions and the relationships among the inmates with a fine feeling for language almost entirely free of sentimentality. The effort to maintain a distance from her experiences and to capture the feelings they triggered can be clearly felt between the lines. This is particularly evident in those passages in which she writes from the perspective of animals being led to the slaughterhouse and thus unknowingly to their death. In her description of the transport, this becomes apparent in an almost painful way. She begins with the following words: “What the slaughter animals feel when they roll along dully crammed into the cattle car – I know it from experience.” She ends with the only seemingly contradictory need: “ [ … ] one should scream – if only no one starts screaming.” Starke, Führer , p. 23. Thus she encodes her fears and shouts them out at the same time. The author allows herself here to hint at her state of mind, how vital it was not to lose her temper. This self-imposed requirement to pull oneself together permeates the entire text like a gnawing basic tension, which – as far as this can be understood at all – perhaps came close to the feeling of life in Theresienstadt and which would not fade throughout the rest of a life spent living with survival.

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    About the Author

    Linde Apel, Dr. phil., born 1963, is director of the "Werkstatt der Erinnerung", the Oral History Archives of the Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg (FZH). Her focus of research: oral history, history of the Holocaust, contemporary history of the 1960s and 1970s.


    Teaching History Matters

    A year ago I took one of the most transformative journeys of my life, with 24 fellow educators, to study the Holocaust and the Jewish resistance to it, in Washington, DC, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland. I kept an extensive diary and took tons of photographs. And contrary to many assumptions, it was a journey that led to profound understandings about life, not death. For the next several days, I have decided to go back and retrace my steps and try to process what unfolded for me. Not weighty tomes, but maybe a picture and a note from the diary.

    July 10. Life goes on. But stop and wonder.

    Now the tour continues to Terezin, or Theresienstadt. Forty miles north west of Prague and originally built in the late 18th century as a fortification and garrison town by Emperor Joseph II and named after his mother, Empress Maria Theresa. I will be at the site where the “Train Near Magdeburg” was destined to arrive-but never did, thanks to the US Army. But why there?

    Terezin. Garrison town and later ghetto, and Small Fortress, later prison.

    In the closing days of the war, as the Reich collapsed in the East, and began to be rolled up in the West, Theresienstadt was the destination of the three transports hastily evacuated from Bergen Belsen. As stated earlier, only one train made it there, but we have never heard of what happened to the occupants. It is known that as thousands of prisoners from other camps flooded into Theresienstadt in the last month or so of the war, typhus and other epidemics broke out .

    First we toured the Small Fortress, later the prison.

    Small Fortress in background.

    Inside the Small Fortress.

    Inside the Small Fortress. That horrible sign again.

    Inside the Small Fortress. The place is crumbling.

    Inside the Small Fortress. Prison. No, the two toned wall color is not on purpose. Evidence of recent floods. Note also cell doors.

    Inside the Small Fortress. Gavrilo Princip, whose shots ushered in WWI, died here in Cell 1 in 1918.

    Inside the Small Fortress. Barracks where many succumbed. Again note high water mark.

    Outside the Small Fortress.

    And now, we move onto the former garrison town which became the ghetto.

    “The Theresienstadt “camp-ghetto” existed for three and a half years, between November 24, 1941 and May 9, 1945. During its existence, Theresienstadt served three purposes:

    1) First, Theresienstadt served as a transit camp for Czech Jews whom the Germans deported to killing centers, concentration camps, and forced-labor camps in German-occupied Poland, Belorussia, and the Baltic States.

    2) Second, it was a ghetto-labor camp to which the SS deported and then incarcerated certain categories of German, Austrian, and Czech Jews, based on their age, disability as a result of past military service, or domestic celebrity in the arts and other cultural life. To mislead about or conceal the physical annihilation of the Jews deported from the Greater German Reich, the Nazi regime employed the general fiction, primarily inside Germany, that the deported Jews would be deployed at productive labor in the East. Since it seemed implausible that elderly Jews could be used for forced labor, the Nazis used Theresienstadt to hide the nature of the deportations.

    3) Third, Theresienstadt served as a holding pen for Jews in the above-mentioned groups. It was expected that that poor conditions there would hasten the deaths of many deportees, until the SS and police could deport the survivors to killing centers in the East.”

    Hundreds of thousands of people from all over Europe were deported here between 1942 and 1945. Most were shipped East to their deaths, though many also died in the wretched conditions here, so crematoria were established.

    And let’s not forget the famous “Red Cross” visit and propaganda show: “The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a City”:

    “Theresienstadt served an important propaganda function for the Germans. The publicly stated purpose for the deportation of the Jews from Germany was their “resettlement to the east,” where they would be compelled to perform forced labor. Since it seemed implausible that elderly Jews could be used for forced labor, the Nazis used the Theresienstadt ghetto to hide the nature of the deportations. In Nazi propaganda, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a “spa town” where elderly German Jews could “retire” in safety. The deportations to Theresienstadt were, however, part of the Nazi strategy of deception. The ghetto was in reality a collection center for deportations to ghettos and killing centers in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe.

    Succumbing to pressure following the deportation of Danish Jews to Theresienstadt, the Germans permitted the International Red Cross to visit in June 1944. It was all an elaborate hoax. The Germans intensified deportations from the ghetto shortly before the visit, and the ghetto itself was “beautified.” Gardens were planted, houses painted, and barracks renovated. The Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Once the visit was over, the Germans resumed deportations from Theresienstadt, which did not end until October 1944.”

    Smiling children during the propaganda visit. Most were sent on to their deaths afterwards. USHMM.

    Fifteen thousand children passed through Theresienstadt. 90 percent were murdered.

    Crematoria building and burials, memorial.

    On May 5th, the Fuhrer dead nearly a week, the Soviets approaching, the guards left. On may 8th, the last day of the War, the Red Army arrived.

    We light candles. So we wind up our day, like all visits, with a group prayer for the dead and with solitary reflection for the living. We quietly make our way back to Prague, where life goes on.

    People hurry about their business on the streets.

    But step lightly, lest your stride be interrupted, so that you must pause and look down. Then you may see the brass “stumble stone” embedded in the sidewalk with the engraving noting the former occupant of the dwelling here was deported to his/her death.

    Prague. Stumble stone. Which is not stone at all, but will make you wonder.


    Theresienstadt - ID Card/Oral History

    Hana was born to a Jewish family in Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia. Her father, a metalsmith, made pipes, spouts and gutters for construction companies. Because her mother was frail, Hana was raised by her father and grandmother. She attended a Jewish school through grade five, and later went to business school.

    1933-39: In 1933 Hana read about the harrowing treatment of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition and told her grandmother, "We're fortunate that we live in the 20th century in Czechoslovakia and such a thing can't happen to us." Six years later on March 15, 1939, the Germans occupied Prague. It was a cold, snowy day. About a mile from Hana's home the Germans entered the city on tanks and trucks, with their guns pointed toward the rooftops.

    1940-44: Hana was in her apartment reading "The Grapes of Wrath" when the Germans came to get her. She was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto. The Nazis used Theresienstadt as a "show camp" to convince people that Jews were really being treated well. When the Red Cross came in July 1944, the Nazis put up dummy stores, a cafe, kindergarten and flower gardens to give the impression that Jews there were leading "normal" lives. Hana and other Jews in the ghetto painted the house fronts on the inspection routes and the Nazis gave them extra food--one extra dumpling each.

    Hana was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. After some months as a slave laborer in Germany and Czechoslovakia, she was freed when SS guards deserted her work gang on May 5, 1945.

    Carl Heumann

    Carl was one of nine children born to Jewish parents living in a village near the Belgian border. When Carl was 26, he married Joanna Falkenstein and they settled down in a house across the street from his father's cattle farm. Carl ran a small general store on the first floor of their home. The couple had two daughters, Margot and Lore.

    1933-39: Carl has moved his family to the city of Bielefeld, where he is working for a Jewish relief organization. Requests from this area's Jews to leave Germany have multiplied since a night last November [Kristallnacht] when the Nazis smashed windows of Jewish stores and burned synagogues all over Germany. Unfortunately, the United States and other countries have immigration quotas so that only a fraction of the Jewish refugees can get visas.

    1940-44: Carl and his family have been deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. As a special privilege, they have been sent here rather than to a concentration camp further to the east because Carl earned the German Iron Cross in World War I. Still, the threat of deportation to a camp hangs over them daily, and they are always hungry. Their 15-year-old, Margot, has been assigned to a detail that leaves the ghetto each day to work on a farm: Sometimes she smuggles back vegetables to them by hiding them under her blouse.

    In May 1944 Carl was caught stealing food, and he and his family were deported to Auschwitz. Everyone is believed to have perished there except Margot, who survived the war.

    Arthur Karl Heinz Oertelt

    Heinz, as he was usually called, was born in the German capital to religious Jewish parents. He and his older brother, Kurt, attended both religious and public schools. His father had died when he was very young. His mother, a seamstress, struggled to make ends meet. She and the boys lived in a predominantly Christian neighborhood.

    1933-39: It frightened Heinz when Nazi storm troopers sang about Jewish blood dripping from their knives. But his family didn't have money to leave Berlin. In late 1939 Heinz was forced, with other Jews, to work for German construction companies. Many of them were professionals and businessmen unused to manual labor. They shoveled dirt and carried rocks by hand. Passersby would grin at them, and teachers brought students to show them what Jews looked like.

    1940-44: In March 1943 Heinz, Kurt, and their mother were deported to Theresienstadt, where they soon became infested with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. They became obsessed with thoughts of food. Their soup was dished out from a huge barrel by lazy men who didn't bother to stir it, leaving the good food chunks near the bottom. Heinz had to time himself just right. If he was at the front of the line he would get mostly the watery parts. If he was too far back, he might get nothing at all or watery soup from the top of a newly arrived barrel.

    Heinz was eventually liberated near Flossenbürg in April 1945, and emigrated to the United States in 1949. Kurt survived the war, but their mother perished in Auschwitz.

    Bertha Wolffberg Gottschalk

    Bertha was born to Jewish parents in the capital of East Prussia. Her father served on the Koenigsberg city council. In 1887 Bertha married Hugo Gottschalk, and the couple settled in the small town of Schlawe in northern Germany. There, Hugo owned the town's grain mill. The Gottschalks raised their four children in a home near a small stream, ringed by orchards and a large garden.

    1933-39: Bertha and her daughter Nanny have moved to Berlin--Hugo passed away in 1934 and they were afraid of the growing antisemitism in Schlawe. They hoped that, as Jews, they would be less conspicuous here in a large city. But the Nazis have ordered all sorts of restrictions for Jews--recently Bertha had to register her jewelry and silver. Her daughter Gertrud has sent her three daughters to England. Bertha would also like to leave, but it's difficult to get an exit visa.

    1940-42: Nanny and Bertha have been deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, where they have been assigned to a dirty, crowded and lice-infested room on the second floor of a house. Nanny hauls in bags of sawdust, which they burn to heat their room. Bertha had a chance to go to America in 1941, but she refused to go without Nanny. Her days in Schlawe are a distant memory now.

    Bertha died in Theresienstadt on November 23, 1942.

    Nanny Gottschalk Lewin

    Nanny was the oldest of four children born to Jewish parents in the small town of Schlawe in northern Germany, where her father owned the town's grain mill. Nanny was given the Hebrew name Nocha. She grew up on the mill grounds in a house surrounded by orchards and a big garden. In 1911 Nanny married Arthur Lewin. Together, they raised two children, Ludwig and Ursula.

    1933-39: Nanny and her widowed mother have moved to Berlin. They feared the rising antisemitism in Schlawe and hoped, as Jews, to be less conspicuous here in a large city. They live downstairs from Nanny's sister Kathe who is married to a Protestant and has converted. Shortly after they got settled, the Germans restricted the public movements of Jews, so that they no longer feel safe when they're out of their apartment.

    1940-44: Nanny and her mother have been deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Bohemia. They've been assigned a room on the second floor of a house that is dirty, crowded and infested with lice. The stove is fueled with sawdust. As the youngest in their room--and Nanny is 56--she's been lugging in the bags of sawdust on her back. She's been getting increasingly weaker, is now hard of hearing and needs a cane to walk. Early this morning Nanny learned that she's on a list of people to go to another camp. She doesn't want to go but has no choice.

    Nanny was deported to Auschwitz on May 15, 1944, and was gassed immediately upon arrival. She was 56 years old.

    Anna Pfeffer

    Anna, affectionately known as Aennchen to her family, was the daughter of non-religious German-Jewish parents. Her father died when she was young and Anna was raised in the town of Bruchsal by her impoverished mother. Anna married a well-to-do, older gentleman in 1905 and moved to the fashionable city of Duesseldorf, where he was a department store manager. By 1933 they had two grown sons.

    1933-39: The Pfeffer's comfortable life unraveled after the Nazis came to power. The Nazis arrested Anna's brother and deported him to a concentration camp, where he was murdered. Anna's oldest son, who had married a Dutch woman, emigrated to the Netherlands. After her husband lost his job and after the November 1938 pogrom, the Pfeffers also emigrated to the Netherlands. There, they joined their oldest son and daughter-in-law.

    1940-44: Anna's husband passed away, and she spent her time in Amsterdam with her grandchildren. In May 1940 the Germans occupied the Netherlands. Jews were ordered to register and their rights were curtailed. Like other Jews, Anna lost whatever property she had. A year after being required to wear an identifying yellow badge, she was separated from her family and sent to Westerbork, a transit camp for Jews. Four months later, she was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia.

    On October 9, 1944, Anna was deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where she was gassed two days later. She was 58 years old.

    Jan-Peter Pfeffer

    Jan-Peter's father, Heinz, was a German-Jewish refugee who married Henriette De Leeuw, a Dutch-Jewish woman. Frightened by the Nazi dictatorship and the murder of Heinz's uncle in a concentration camp, they immigrated to the Netherlands when Henriette was nine months pregnant. They settled in Amsterdam.

    1933-39: Jan-Peter was born soon after his parents arrived in the Netherlands. He was 18 months old when Tommy, his baby brother, was born. In 1939 the parents and brother of Jan-Peter's father joined them in the Netherlands as refugees from Germany. Jan-Peter and Tommy grew up speaking Dutch as their native language, and they often spent time at their mother's family home in the country.

    1940-44: The Germans occupied Amsterdam in May 1940. Despite the German occupation, 6-year-old Jan-Peter did not feel much change in his day-to-day life. Then just after his ninth birthday, the Germans sent his grandmother to a camp called Westerbork. Six months later, Jan-Peter and his family were sent to the same camp, but his grandmother was no longer there. During the winter, the Pfeffers were sent to a faraway ghetto called Theresienstadt where Jan-Peter felt cold, scared, and hungry.

    On May 18, 1944, Jan-Peter was deported with his family to Auschwitz. He was gassed on July 11, 1944. Jan-Peter was 10 years old.

    Inge Auerbacher

    Inge was the only child of Berthold and Regina Auerbacher, religious Jews living in Kippenheim, a village in southwestern Germany near the Black Forest. Her father was a textile merchant. The family lived in a large house with 17 rooms and had servants to help with the housework.

    1933-39: On November 10, 1938, hoodlums threw rocks and broke all the windows of Inge's home. That same day police arrested her father and grandfather. Inge, her mother and grandmother managed to hide in a shed until it was quiet. When they came out, the town's Jewish men had been taken to the Dachau concentration camp. Her father and grandfather were allowed to return home a few weeks later, but that May her grandfather died of a heart attack.

    1940-45: When Inge was 7, she was deported with her parents to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. When they arrived, everything was taken from them, except for the clothes they wore and Inge's doll, Marlene. Conditions in the camp were harsh. Potatoes were as valuable as diamonds. Inge was hungry, scared and sick most of the time. For her eighth birthday, her parents gave her a tiny potato cake with a hint of sugar for her ninth birthday, an outfit sewn from rags for her doll and for her tenth birthday, a poem written by her mother.

    On May 8, 1945, Inge and her parents were liberated from the Theresienstadt ghetto where they had spent nearly three years. They immigrated to the United States in May 1946.


    Theresienstadt (Concentration Camp) Collection

    This collection contains traces of life in Theresienstadt as well as remembrances of it created after World War II. The items in the collection do not share provenance they were put together over a period of several decades into this constructed collection. The materials that were created between 1941 and 1945 include correspondence, official decrees and notices, money, poems, programs of events, a map, military reports, lists of prisoners, and clippings. Materials created after 1945 include correspondence regarding the 1944 Nazi propaganda film about Theresienstadt, accounts of personal experiences, and materials related to a reproduction of the children's opera Brundibar.

    This collection specifically focuses on materials created during the time that Theresienstadt was in operation (1941-1945) and original, unpublished materials about Theresienstadt created afterwards. Published or non-original materials about Theresienstadt created after 1945 were separated into the Theresienstadt Clippings Collection (AR 2275 C) or given to the LBI Library.

    Dates

    Language of Materials

    Access Restrictions

    Access Information

    Historical Note

    Theresienstadt holds a unique position among the concentration camps and ghettos created by the German Nazi regime from 1933-1945. From the time the Nazis turned the then Czechoslovak city of Terezín (German: Theresienstadt) into a camp-ghetto in November 1941 to the liberation of prisoners in May 1945, different sections of the city and its surrounding areas functioned as a Gestapo prison, a Jewish ghetto, a forced labor camp, and a transit camp that eventually sent prisoners to death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. The Gestapo prison was set up in the Small Fortress on the edge of the city and held mainly Czech and Slovak political prisoners. Once the local residents of the city of Theresienstadt were moved out, the city itself was used as a ghetto and labor camp for Jews from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Holland, Denmark, and Hungary.

    Theresienstadt also played a role as propaganda for the Nazi regime. The widespread deportation of Jews from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia began in 1941 under the pretense that these individuals were being sent to work in the East. Since it could hardly be believed that the old or frail being deported were being sent to work, the Nazis set up Theresienstadt as a supposed “spa town” for retirees. Theresienstadt was also the destination of Jews of sufficient renown that their deportation would cause some to inquire after them. While lectures, concerts, and other events were held in Theresienstadt and a library of some 60,000 volumes was maintained, prisoners suffered inhumane living conditions and often lived in constant fear.

    Starting in the fall of 1942, many transports from Theresienstadt took prisoners directly to the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Theresienstadt was liberated by Soviet troops in early May 1945.

    Niewyk, Donald L. and Francis Nicosia. The Columbia Reference Guide to the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.


    Theresienstadt film explained – Learn from the Nazi propaganda film „Terezin: A Documentary Film from the Jewish Settlement Area

    UPDATE: This project was funded! read below to learn more about the project.

    With crowdfunding going worldwide, the opportunity to create learning around existing films is huge. This project, creating education around the Nazi propaganda film „Terezin: A Documentary Film from the Jewish Settlement Area, is one that gained support and funding.

    It is such a great idea to move beyond the static history films and books, and invite the audience in to learn and even build community around that learning about the Theresienstadt film, like we do here at Remember.org

    The Nazi propaganda film „Terezin: A Documentary Film from the Jewish Settlement Area“ (1944) is the only cinematic document about a concentration camp. The aim of the project is to open up the film as a commented educational resource. By augmenting the film with geographic, bibliographic and meta-information we want to foster a deeper understanding about the personal stories of the cast members and how they got instrumented by the Nazis.

    What is this project all about?

    In many ways the Nazi propaganda film „Terezin: A Documentary Film from the Jewish Settlement Area“ is a valuable contemporary document for history didactics for K12 and university teaching.

    But the film needs to be prepared for instructional use. Without augmentation the film would be senseless because the people and places would be unknown and its propaganda lies would preexist without question. Thats why we want to explain the content of the film:

    * locations in the camp can be identified in the scenes

    * a number of famous Jewish persons such as artists, scientists and musicians appear in the scenes

    * propaganda lies and delusions infiltrated by the film crew can be highlighted and explained

    Previous work on the history of the film has been isolated of the cinematic material and its pictorial as well as auditive expressions. By means of media didactic the subject could be effectively enhanced through advanced digital story telling and web-based video technology.

    The projected aims to develop an extended teaching and learning resource ready and free to use in schools and university courses.

    What is the project goal and who is the project for?

    We have been screening the film as VHS at the Terezin Youth Center for years now. The screen was always accomplished by detailed explanations but lacked in-depth knowledge of all the cast members and the arrangement of the screenplay.

    Due the volatile details it has been difficult for us the explain the propagandistic character of the film because the navigation within the playback time was hardly possible on VHS-Device. These limitations caused discontent among the visitors of the memorial state although they were highly interested in watching the one and only existing film of people in Nazi concentration camp.

    We decided to extent the film to an interactive learning space that relates people, places and commented propaganda lies with the particular scenes of the film. Furthermore framing documents such as Claude Lanzmann’s interview „A Visitor from the Living“ (1979/1999) will be included.

    In 2012 we could manage to get a funding for the technical realization of the interactive film but could not proceed because of incomplete and bad quality video footage. Our investigations showed that at the German Federal Archive in Berlin collected all remaining sequences of the film on reels.

    A digitization would cost more then $ 1800. Unfortunately our donors did not want to pay for anything else then man power. So we have enough funds to produce a learning resource but can’t afford the film as the main object of learning.

    Beside the Terezin Youth Center we are in contact with several German school teachers, who really want to utilize these highly valuable and rar historic source in their lessons.

    – get a copy of the original copy from German Federal Archive Berlin

    – post production: digital enhancement, original scence order, highlighting missing scenes in between

    – identify places on the map of the ghetto

    – identify conspicuous scenes and explain the propaganda behind it

    – related places, people and propaganda as time-related annotations

    – set up the film together with the annotions in our existing video learning environment

    – define instructional tasks as scripted collaboration

    – run some tests (software, usability) and invite volunteers from Terezin for a first test run

    – install, introduce and run everything at the Terezin Youth Centre

    Who are the people behind the project?

    Niels Seidel works at the Media Centre at Dresden University of Technology. Beside his research interests in deveolpment of interactive instructional videos he has been investigating the history of smal a concentration camp in Görlitz/DE for more then 10 years now. Due his know how in learning design and web development the Terezin film could become a new corner stone for guided tourse in Terezin.

    Armin is located in Zittau where he is the head of the local history workshop at Hillersche Villa. He organizes projects about the former members of local jewish community that are dedicated for teenagers from schools and vacation camps. Armin is also involved into the Terezin Youth Center and the activities at the memorial. He is one of the few authorized German speaking guides at Terezin memorial.

    Beside that we can build upon academic support from Karel Margry in behalf of the analysis of the film and our collegues at the Media Centre at TU Dresden regarding technical and didactical issues.


    Excerpt of well-known propaganda film made by the Nazis to show the International Red Cross and others that they were not mistreating Jews in the "ghettos." Documentary footage depicts the life of Jews in the ghetto of Theresienstadt [Terezin] in Czechoslovakia as harmonious and joyful. They wear yellow stars on their civilian clothing but are euphemistically called residents ["Bewohner"] instead of inmates. They look well-dressed and well-fed and keep smiling. No SS guards or other armed Germans are shown.

    Shots include: men and women work contentedly on farm, in factories, making pottery and sculpture, seamstresses and tailors, cobblers, etc. Yellow stars visible on their clothing, but people smile, implying satisfaction. Recreational activities include spectator sports event in an enclosed, porticoed courtyard concert (various views of attentive, mannered, well-dressed crowds) library flourishing community garden children at play women and men socializing barracks. Final view is family dinner scene.

    The conductor of the orchestra at 09:56 as Karel Ančerl, the founder of the first orchestra in Terezin. He's conducting Study for Strings, composed by fellow prisoner Pavel Haas. Shortly after this film was made, the majority of the orchestra along with the composer were killed, and the only way we know what Study for Strings sounds like today was because the conductor, Ančerl, survived and transcribed the piece he conducted so many times right after the war.

    About This Film

    Keywords and Subjects

    Administrative History

    Note Mimi Fischman Berger is the teenager sitting on the table at 03:04:50 with a writing pad (her hair is parted on the side and clipped). She was interred for 4 years in Terezin from ages 16-20. Mimi eventually immigrated to Palestine after the war because her father had arranged for a false marriage with an Orthodox Jewish family. They divorced immediately. Mimi became one of the first 12 flight attendants for El Al. You can learn more about her experience from her testimony: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/vha4080. Mimi's mother, Helena Fischman, is also in the film wearing a striped sweater and knitting while talking to another woman at the table in the barracks sequence. Helena was deported from Terezin not long after the making of this propaganda film and exterminated.

    Other Credits:
    Script: Kurt Gerron using drafts by Jindrich Weil and Manfred Greiffenhagen
    Music: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Sholom Secunda, Hans Krása, Jaques Offenbach, Pavel Haas, Max Bruch, Dol Dauber

    See Film and Video departmental files for articles and background on the 1942 and 1944 filming.

    The full title of this film is: Theresienstadt: ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem Juedischen Siedlungsgebiet [Theresienstadt: a documentary film about the Jewish settlement]. The often-used title for this film is: Der Fuehrer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt [The Fuehrer gives the Jews a City].

    Theresienstadt, established in November 1941, was the central ghetto for Jews from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. From July 1942 on, the ghetto also contained Jews decorated with German army medals as well as 'prominent' Jews and older Jews from several western European countries. It functioned as a transfer camp for deportations to the death camps in Poland and the occupied Soviet Union. After repeated requests by officials of the International Red Cross from October 1943 on, the SS agreed to allow a visit on June 23, 1944. Comprehensive 'beautification' measures took place in preparation for the visit in order to camouflage the ongoing mass murder of European Jewry to the world. Theresienstadt was presented as a 'model Jewish settlement.' Hans Guenther, the head of the regional SS-Zentralamt zur Regelung der Judenfrage [Central Office for the Regulation of the Jewish Question] in Prague, developed the idea to produce a movie depicting the 'excellent' living conditions for Jews in Theresienstadt (most probably in December 1943). The scenes in the film show camp life and feature the inmates in their day-to-day lives. Living conditions in Theresienstadt (and especially the efforts in education and culture organized by the Jewish council) were better on average than those in the Polish and Soviet ghettos. However, the movie crassly exaggerated the quality of life and omitted the harsh reality of overcrowding, hunger, diseases, and death that defined life in Theresienstadt.

    Beside the cinematography, inmates of the ghetto were used in all functions (including the director Kurt Gerron) to produce the film under close supervision by the SS. Immediately after the end of shooting in September 1944, Gerron and other cast members were deported to Auschwitz where they perished. After the final cut on March 28, 1945 the Czech company Aktualita received RM 35,000 from Guenther's office for the production of the movie. The movie was intended to be screened to international audiences like the International Red Cross and the Vatican. Following the first screening in early April 1945 to high-ranking government and SS officials in Prague there were at least three more screenings to international humanitarian emissaries in Theresienstadt itself on April 6 and 16, 1945. Plans for a further distribution to broader audiences in the neutral states never materialized because of the progression of war.

    Since 1945 no complete copy of the entire ninety minute film has been located. There are only fragments available at different archives. The infamous title "Der Fuehrer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt" ["The Fuehrer Donates a City to the Jews"] is not original - it was given by survivors of Theresienstadt in the aftermath.

    The film was shot over 11 days between August 16 to September 11, 1944. Other fragments of the same film are on USHMM tapes 243 (story 269), 140 (story 80), and 2310 (story 2615).


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