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Nottingham, United Kingdom
July 4, 2009
From journal City break to Prague
March 12, 2002
Terezin has always been a fortress city, with a storied past of imprisonment and torture. But its use during WWII as a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp is what most visitors make the trip to learn about.
If you don’t have room in your eastern European itinerary to visit Auschwitz, and you’ve never felt the chill of walking under an Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Makes You Free") gate, this trip is well worth the time. You can almost feel the ghosts, see the glare of floodlights on your skin, and hear the dogs barking. The solitary confinement cells, surgery, and winding labyrinths to "the place of execution" will make you bow your head, grip your loved one a bit tighter, and long for the safety and luxury of a hostel.
Take a look past the swimming pool, around the corner in the yard behind the theatre building. There is a large, sad sculpture of victims that, for some reason, wasn't mentioned in our guide. It seems to have been neglected, and we neglected to ask why it had been omitted from the tour and not given a prominent place.
For me, the museum was the most affecting. The history and fate of Czech political prisoners, Jews, Romans, and others, is all over the walls. Toys, secret letters, musical instruments . . . it all became too much. It was time to return to Prague.
Tip: Walk into town to catch the bus back to Prague. If you wait for the one next to the fortress gates/cemetery, it will probably already be filled up. We got standing-room only all the way back. Only about an hour, but it felt a lot longer, as we reflected on our Terezin visit.
From journal once upon a time in Prague
Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic
August 21, 2001
The camp was also used as a propoganda tool and was disguised as a sort of 'model camp' and visited by 'League of Nations' inspectors before war broke out. Guided tours explain the camp and there is also a Jewish museum in the town.
From journal Prague, Capital of Eastern Europe
New York, New York
June 29, 2001
While Terezin wasn't a death camp, it was used as sort of a weigh station for Jews before they were sent to Auschwitz, Treblinka, and other death camps. In fact, the Nazis showed off Terezin to the American Red Cross and other organizations as "model communities" for Jews, though life there was nothing like the Nazis portrayed it.
The smaller fortress, about 1 km away, served as a prison for Jews and other detainees; if you were sent there, you weren't expected to survive. Existence there was much like at Birkenau in Poland - people slept six deep on palates of wood and stone, or hundreds were crowded into a single room with one toilet. If one didn't perish from disease, the Nazi firing squad would generally do the rest.
This was an emotional trip for me, in part because my great-grandmother was sent to Terezin in 1941. Thankfully, she survived, but could have easily died there or at some other camp.
From journal Off-season in Prague