New plans for Terezin highlight the history of the former World War II ghetto

A plan to turn the former World War II ghetto of Terezin into a university town along the lines of Oxford or Cambridge has been abandoned. Six years after the idea was first floated, there is little sign of progress in bringing it about and the government says that in view of available finances it is simply unrealistic.

"It was a wonderful vision - but it is time to come down to earth," Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra said in a meeting with Terezin representatives this week. The thirteen-billion-crown project, which was to have been co-financed by the state and EU funds, did not spark much enthusiasm at Prague's Charles University which was expected to play a lead role in bringing it about. The former rector of Charles University Ivan Wilhelm explains why:

"A university town is not something that you can have 'made to order'. It is a living organism which needs to grow at its own pace, in its own way - you just have to create the right conditions for it."

Today the central Bohemian town of Terezin has only about three thousand inhabitants - and many "ghost houses" abandoned by the army. Try as it may it has been unable to attract enough interest in academic circles to present a project that would merit attention. The government now favours a different approach - saving one building after another, inviting various institutions to consider opening a branch there and gradually creating an atmosphere of culture and learning. Minister Vondra said that after six years of debate it was important to move from words to actions.

Alexandr Vondra
"I think it is time to take stock of the situation and really start doing something. We can try working towards the original idea of a university town by implementing a series of smaller projects which are realistic - and we'll see where that takes us. I am convinced that Terezin does have a future as a centre of education - but it has to be built up gradually and we should invest in smaller projects that are compatible."

In order to create a centre of learning the government wants to prioritize projects related to education, culture and, above, all history. For a start the Czech Institute of National Memory has been located there and the town has entered into close cooperation with Usti nad Labem University. The former Hannover barracks - a now derelict building - is to be turned into an archive for the newly-established Institute for the Study of Totalitarian regimes. And a project now being given serious consideration is the possible establishment of a Humanitarian Studies Centre. Terezin is a living memory of the Holocaust and if things work out in a few years time it should become a centre of learning specializing in that tragic chapter of modern-day history.