Terezin turned into Jewish ghetto 60 years ago


Last Saturday marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in the north Bohemian town of Terezin. The order to establish the ghetto was signed on February 16th 1942 by Reichsprotector Reinhardt Heidrich, Nazi Germany's highest representative in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Alena Skodova has the details:

The order to turn Terezin into a ghetto for Jews was signed as a result of Nazi Germany's decision to "place the Jews into closed settlements". These euphemistic words in fact characterized Germany's plan to liquidate all Jews, as part of the Nazis' "final solution". The town of Terezin was chosen because neither big cities nor villages in attractive locations and with top quality flats were considered suitable. Terezin, home to an 18th century military fortress, was a former garrison town, with a population of 7,000 - 8,000 people. In 1942 the whole town was turned into a ghetto for Jews and the fortress turned into a concentration camp for political prisoners. Writer Ivan Klima lived in Terezin in 1941 and he explained why the ghetto was established:

"Certainly the first strategic goal was to entirely exterminate the Jewish race, but the intention of Terezin was a bit different: they planned to build one ghetto where they could show that the Jews were living in an - according to them - acceptable condition. So it was a little different than Auchwitz or Brezinka or other camps, where Jews were killed."

Ivan Klima remembers that the living conditions in Terezin were appalling:

"The whole town was planned as a garrison for maximum 7,000 people and at some time there were eighty times more people. Of course part of it was still occupied by German SS and Czech gendarmes. So it meant that all rooms were terribly overcrowded, a flat for one family had about forty or fifty tenants, there was a lack of water, of sanitary rooms etc., so one lavatory was for a hundred people, There were cues for water, for lavatory, for food, for everything."

Did the people in Terezin know that this was their last stop, that the next one can only be death?

More or less yes. We did know about gas chambers but we found out very soon that people who went to Auschwitz or to Poland disappeared, and there was one letter and nothing more. So people were terribly afraid of transports to Poland.

Do you know how many people survived Terezin?

"A few thousands, but not all of them were Czechs. As I know the statistics, from each transport which came to Terezin, only ten percent survived, ninety percent were killed."

There were also Jews from other countries in Terezin....

"Yes, Terezin was a centre for all transports, it was German bureaucracy that people went to Terezin and from Terezin to Auschwitz. The Jews were coming from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, from Slovakia, and those from Hungary went straight to Auschwitz."