From fortress to ghetto
Just 60 km from Prague is Terezin: formerly a walled garrison town, Terezin was adapted by the Nazis into a ghetto and concentration camp during the Second World War. Though not as famous as Auschwitz or Dachau, the horrors experienced here were no less awful.
More than 150,000 Jews were sent to Terezin; most were from Czechoslovakia, but tens of thousands also came from Germany and Austria. About 33,000 died in the ghetto, although it was not officially an extermination camp. Around 88,000 inmates were deported to death camps, with deportations continuing as late as the end of 1944. On the other side of the river to the Ghetto was the Small Fortress, which became a Gestapo prison and saw over 90,000 pass through, with 2,600 dying. The prison and camp were liberated by the Soviets in 1945.
Astonishingly, this place was used as a Nazi propaganda tool in 1944: by deporting most inmates, threatening the remaining ones and stocking bakeries and shops with bountiful goods, the Nazis created the illusion of a model community to the visiting Red Cross and Western Allies. Hitler claimed that he had created a ‘city for the Jews’ - including many notable artists, musicians and intellectuals - to keep them safe from war.
Today there is a museum on site, and the Terezin Memorial, which is the only institution of its kind in the Czech Republic, memorialises the victims of Terezin. Opened in 1947 as the National Suffering Memorial, it features bronze grave markers for all those who died, overlooked by a monumental crucifix and Star of David. The rest of the former garrison is eerily preserved in its 1940s state, and provides a quieting glimpse of this terrible chapter of human history.