Terezín wartime memorial hit by theft

Photo: CTK

More than 300 bronze plates with the names of wartime victims were stolen last week from the National Cemetery in Terezín, north of Prague, which served as a ghetto for Czech and European Jews and housed a Gestapo-run prison during the Second World War. Commemorative plaques have been stolen in the past but never on such a large scale. Now it seems unlikely that they could be restored by May 18, a day commemorating the victims of Nazi persecution at Terezín. Ruth Fraňková reports.

Jan Munk (left), photo: CTK
During the Second World War the Nazis turned the entire town of Terezín into a Jewish ghetto. More than 150,000 people passed through its gates between 1941 and 1945 and some 35,000 people died there. The rest were sent on to Nazi camps in the east, where most of them perished. After the war, Terezín’s Little Fortress, which served as a prison during the war, was turned into a wartime memorial housing the Museum of the Jewish Ghetto. I asked its director Jan Munk about the extent of the damage.

“We have only estimation of the future costs. Out estimation is more than one million crowns.”

How much will it take to repair the damages and also how long will it take?

Photo: CTK
“It depends on how much money we’ll have this year. I hope that all damages will be solved till the end of this year.”

The reason I am asking is that on May 18 there is a traditional ceremony in memory of the victims of Nazi persecution.

“No. It can’t be solved in such a short time.”

What do you think was the motivation?

“The motivation was to sell it.”

So there was no racial or political reason?

“No. It was simply this economical reason.”

Photo: CTK
The bronze plates on the gravestones were also stolen in the past, but a lack of finances prevented the memorial from taking effective security measures. Jan Munk:

“The problem is that this is not only one area. We have four such areas and they are too large for us to have a camera-monitoring system and guarding is too expensive.”

The Terezín Memorial has now decided to replace the stolen metal and eventually all of the bronze plates with a cheaper version made of resin – as a means of discouraging thieves.

The Minister of Culture Václav Jehlička said on Wednesday that the ministry will do all it can to help restore the cemetery as soon as possible and help the police to capture the perpetrators.