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Its building started in 1780 and lasted 10 years. The total area of the fortress was 3.89 km². Neighbour areas could be inundated. The fortification was designed in the tradition of Sébastian le Prestre de Vauban. During peace it held 5655 soldiers.
The fortess was never active during wartime. During second half of 19th century it was used as a prison.
During World War I, the fortress was used as a prisoner-of-war camp. Gavrilo Princip, who started the war by assassinating Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and his wife, died of tuberculosis there in 1918.
Terezín During World War 2
In November 1941 the site was turned into a walled ghetto. The function of Theresienstadt was to provide a front for the extermination operation of Jews. To the outside it was presented by the Nazis as a model Jewish settlement, but in reality it was a concentration camp. Theresienstadt was also used as a transit camp for Jews en route to Auschwitz and other extermination camps.
The camp was established on 24 November 1941 by the head of the SS, Reinhard Heydrich. It soon became the "home" for a great number of Jews from occupied Czechoslovakia. The 7,000 non-Jewish Czechs living in Terezín were expelled by the Nazis in summer 1942. As a consequence the Jewish community became a closed environment.
Theresienstadt was originally planned to house privileged Jews from Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. It was home to many elderly people and was known for its rich cultural life. Some prominent artists from Czechoslovakia, Austria and Germany were either born in Theresienstadt or found their death there. There were artists, writers, scientists and jurists, diplomats, musicians and scholars.
The community in Theresienstadt ensured that all the children that passed through continued with their education. Daily classes and sports activities were held. This affected some 15,000 children, of whom only about 1,100 survived to the end of the war. Other estimates place the number of the surviving children as low as 150.
The conditions in Theresienstadt were extremely hard. In a space previously inhabited by 7,000 Czechs, now over 50,000 Jews were gathered. Food was scarce and in 1942 almost 16,000 people died, including Esther Adolphine (a sibling of Sigmund Freud) who died on September 29, 1942; Friedrich Münzer (a German classicist), who died on October 20, 1942; and two siblings of American politician John Kerry's grandmother.
Some 500 Jews from Denmark were sent to Theresienstadt in 1943. These were Jews who had not escaped to Sweden before the arrival of the Nazis. The arrival of the Danes is of great significance as the Danes insisted on the Red Cross having access to the ghetto. This was a rare move, given that most European governments did not insist on their fellow Jewish citizens being treated according to some fundamental principles.
The Nazis permitted the visit by the Red Cross in order to dispel rumours about the exterminations camps. To minimize the appearance of overcrowding in Theresienstadt, the Nazi deported many Jews to Auschwitz. They also erected fake shops and cafés to imply that the Jews lived in relative comfort. The Danes the Red Cross visited lived in freshly painted rooms, not more than three in a room. The guests enjoyed the performance of a children's opera, Brundibar.
The hoax against the Red Cross was so successful for the Nazis that they went on to make a propaganda film at Theresienstadt.
Shooting of the film began on February 26, 1944. Directed by Kurt Gerron (a director, cabaret performer and actor who appeared with Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel), it was meant to show how well the Jews lived under the "benevolent" protection of the Third Reich. After the shooting most of the cast, and even the filmmaker himself, were deported to Auschwitz. Gerron and his wife were executed in the gas chambers on October 28, 1944. The film was never released at the time, but was edited into pieces that served their purpose, and only segments of it have remained.
Often called The Führer Gives a Village to the Jews correct name of the film is: "Theresienstadt. Ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem jüdischen Siedlungsgebiet". (Cf. Hans Sode-Madsen: The Perfect Deception. The Danish Jews and Theresienstadt 1940-1945. Leo Baeck Yearbook 1993)
About 144,000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt. About a quarter of them (33,000) died in Theresienstadt, mostly because of the appalling conditions (hunger, stress, diseases, typhus epidemic at the very end of war). About 88,000 were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. When the war finished, there were a mere 19,000 survivors. On 3 May, 1945 control of the camp was transferred from the Germans to the Red Cross. On 8 May of the same year – just five days later - Terezín was liberated by Soviet troops.
After the war was over, Theresienstadt was resurrected as Terezín, still having military garrison. The army left the city in 1996, with a negative impact on the local economy. Terezín is still trying to decouple from its military past and become a modern, vibrant town. During floodings in 2002 the city was damaged considerably (see pictures ).
Terezín itself is noted for its production of furniture and knitwear as well as for manufacturing.
- Vedem (magazine)
- Municipal Website
- Fortress Details
- Terezín Memorial
- Terezín Initiative Institute
- Tours of the Ghetto and Small Fortress
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