Previously unseen photos from Terezín shed new light on everyday life in the ghetto

Collection of photographs depicting everyday life in the Terezín ghetto at the Memorial of Silence

 A unique collection of newly discovered photographs depicting everyday life in the Terezín ghetto are currently on display at the Memorial of Silence in Prague. The previously unseen images are on display at the Bubny train station, the place which saw tens of thousands of Czech Jews leave for the ghettoes and Nazi death camps. The exhibition, called simply Album G.T., also presents the stories of the people whose identity has been revealed.

Milan Weiner | Photo: archive of Czech Radio

The tiny album of photos was preserved for many decades on the estate of journalist Milan Weiner, a survivor of both Terezín and Auschwitz, who died in 1969.

The collection of 41 photographs were taken between the years 1942 and 1944 and includes stylised portraits of the ghetto’s residents as well as secretly shot images of life in Terezín. They are the first surviving photographs showing authentic life in the ghetto other than the stills from Nazi propaganda films.

Jana Šmídová, the daughter of Milan Weiner, who is also a journalist, says the family has always suspected where the pictures came from, but for various reasons, they didn’t attach that much importance to the album.

Jana Šmídová | Photo:

“Our dad didn’t want to talk about his war experiences. He spent several months in Terezín with his family, with his grandparents and his brother. He also died quite early, when he way only 45, so we did not really get the chance to talk about it.

“What we do know is indirect information from people such as Arnošt Lustig, who was his friend and was on the death march with him in the final days of the war.

“Also, with the onset of the normalization period, the subject wasn’t at the forefront of attention. We simply had an album at home which moved from one apartment to another with all the other things and documents.

“So we knew that these were pictures from Terezín, but we had no idea what a treasure we had.”

Album G.T. Terezín | Source: 4press

It was only in the spring of last year that Věra Weinerová, Milan Weiner’s daughter in law, who incidentally works for the Memorial of Silence, decided to present the pictures to the public.

But prior to that, the memorial joined forces with historians from the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Terezín Memorial and the Memory of the Nation organization in order to research the images and identified the people in the photos as well as those standing behind the camera.

Jana Šmídová again:

“It is something like a mysterious detective story. We know that whoever took the photos must have taken them illegally and if they were discovered they would have been shot dead. So it was very risky to smuggle the camera into the ghetto and get the camera and the films out again.

“There are various theories, but the most realistic one is that it could have been one of the Czech gendarmes. One of them also helped our family, for instance by sending letters between Prague and Terezín. But that will be the subject of further research.”

Album G.T. | Source: Památník ticha

Album G.T. contains two distinct types of photographs. One is a set of highly professional portraits, most likely taken by a professional photographer, and some of them were evidently taken within a close group of friends who were aware of his presence.

The others seem to have been taken cautiously, so the photographer would not be spotted and mostly include wide shots of life in the streets of the ghetto. This suggests that the album was composed of two separate batches, which were placed into one single album after the war.

Album G.T. | Source: 4press

What makes the images really special is the fact that there was no official photographer at the Terezín ghetto during the war and there is very little authentic photographic material documenting the life of the ghetto’s inhabitants, says Pavel Štingl, head of the Memorial of Silence:

Pavel Štingl | Photo: Adam Kebrt,  Czech Radio

“The value of the discovery is that it is indeed the first discovery of its kind. There are two collections of photographs from Terezín. One was given to the Terezín memorial in the 1950s or 60s. It was taken by a gendarme who depicted the streets and the environment, but without the inhabitants.

“Terezín, unlike Lodz, for example, didn’t have an official photographer and there are no pictures depicting the authentic environment, so this discovery is really unique. Until today, we only had to rely on pictures by famous graphic artists such as Bedřich Fritta or Leo Haas.”

Album G. T. | Photo: Památník ticha

Although the original pictures were very small, they must have been treated by professional photographers. This allowed the graphic designers to create large-format images without losing any of the details, all of which present a valuable source of historical information, says Věra Weinerová:

“We believe that the album may be a testament to the year 1943. In one of the photos, Tomáš Fedorovič from the Terezin Memorial uncovered a transport that left for Auschwitz in September 1943. It was probably a transport that was referred to in Auschwitz as the B2B family camp.”

Another of the photographs reveals the fate of the children of the Bialystok ghetto. Upon its liquidation in August 1943, some 1,200 children were brought to Terezín, where they were held in preparation for an exchange with German prisoners.

However, the negotiations failed, and two months later, all of the children were transported and murdered in Auschwitz, together with about 50 nurses and doctors who accompanied them from Terezín.

Album G. T. Lucie Weisbergerová | Photo: Památník ticha

Today it feels strange that I managed to pack my bags and on the appointed day to be at the Trade Fair Palace, where those of us slated for transport were herded, counted, inspected, and sent off to Terezín…

An excerpt from the memoirs of Lucie Weisbergerová, one of the people from Album G.T., whose identity has been successfully revealed, following a public appeal released by the Memorial of Silence in the spring of last year. With the help of historians as well as the general public, five of the ten faces already have a name.

The first one was Jo Spier, a well-known Dutch painter, illustrator and caricaturist, who was deported to Terezín along with his wife and three children and worked there in the so-called drafting room. He and his family survived until the liberation and returned to their native Netherlands.

Album G.T. Lucie Weisbergerová and probably Petr Kien | Photo: Památník ticha

Soon after the first discovery, friends and relatives confirmed the identity of the above mentioned Lucie Weisbergerová, a charismatic young woman who studied art before the war. Věra Weinerová again:

“She was a book designer, who left Czechoslovakia for Switzerland after 1968. Because she survived, we were able to track down her memoirs, which she wrote for her family. They gave us permission for the part that was dedicated to Terezín to be used here in this exhibition.”

“Shortly after that, we were able to uncover the name of Peter Kuhn. He was related to Lucie Webergerová’s family because he dated her sister before the war, so she mentioned him in her memoirs. We traced his pre-war photographs and after comparing them we came to the conclusion that it was him.”

Album G.T. Jan Levit | Source: 4press

Other names that were found include the well-known per-war surgeon Jan Levit and farmer Alois Meissl. All of the three men were murdered in Auschwitz.

The complete set of photographs, along with the life stories of the people depicted in the images, can be seen at Bubny Railway Station until November 6.

Pavel Štingl hopes that the exhibition will not only bring new historical information, but that it will also succeed in engaging the public in a debate over the newly discovered images:

“We have bought cameras and set up a special Album G.T. Studio, which is a space where people can talk about the photos.

“Partly we talk about these stories with people who know something about them, but we also invite visitors to share their own reflections of the images.

“What we are aiming for is an experience. We, as a modern memory institution, are looking for dialogue and we are trying to make this experience develop other themes.”

After closing down in Prague, the exhibition Album G.T. will go on display in the European Parliament in Brussels within the Czech Presidency of the EU Council and afterwards it will travel through the network of Czech centres around the world.

Meanwhile, the Memorial of Silence along with historians continue in their efforts to identify the remaining faces in the previously unseen photographs from the Terezín Ghetto and discover the stories hidden behind the black and white images.

Collection of photographs depicting everyday life in the Terezín ghetto are on display at the Memorial of Silence | Photo: Památník ticha