Wall inscriptions by Terezín prisoners had been forgotten for decades, says researcher

Photo: ©WILDFISCH, Roland Wildberg, Uta Fischer

A team doing research at the former Terezín concentration camp in north Bohemia have just presented remarkable findings in the form of previously undocumented inscriptions made by Jewish prisoners in the walls of the fortress. The Czech-German group behind the ongoing Ghettospuren (Ghetto Traces) project had previously discovered valuable items in attics and cellars at Terezín.

Photo: ©WILDFISCH, Roland Wildberg, Uta Fische
To find out more about their latest discoveries, I spoke to team member Roland Wildberg, who is a photographer.

“The engravings were probably made with a stick, a key, a pencil or something like that, because they were produced in sandstone, which is very soft material.

“Sandstone is a material which you can scratch with your finger, if you are patient enough. So you don’t need any special tools to do this.”

Typically, what did the prisoners engrave or inscribe in the sandstone?

Photo: ©WILDFISCH, Roland Wildberg, Uta Fische
“They left their names and some information about the places they came from. And their numbers – they didn’t have numbers like prisoners at Auschwitz had, but they got transport numbers when they were forced to leave their homes.

“Those transport numbers were of significance to them during their stay at Terezín, which was sometimes for months, sometimes for years.”

Why is this project being carried out now?

“The engravings, for example, were found at a former fortress gate. And this gate for about 30 or 40 years was closed and was part of a military training ground.

Photo: ©WILDFISCH, Roland Wildberg, Uta Fische
“So no civilian was able to go there and have an impression of those engravings. So they were forgotten, literally and absolutely forgotten.”

What are you doing with your findings? How are you hoping to use these inscriptions and other things that you’ve found at Terezín?

“The project is about documenting. My personal task is to do photography and to put all this in order. We put it on the Ghettospuren, or Ghetto Traces, website.

Photo: ©WILDFISCH, Roland Wildberg, Uta Fische
“Later we hope that all these traces are going to be preserved and maybe presented to the public.

“The first step is to do the documentation and maybe inspire the public to discuss all these things.

“You should know that it’s not only engravings and inscriptions – they also built cubicles inside these attics, which are still there. They give a quite touching and authentic of how people had to live in those dark days.

“They should be restored. But on the other hand it’s quite hard to present these things, because it looks like rubbish. It is in fact rubbish, but in those days they had only odd things to make their lives a little bit more comfortable.”

How do you find it personally, being there, seeing these inscriptions, touching the walls that people engraved?

Photo: ©WILDFISCH, Roland Wildberg, Uta Fische
“Usually we don’t touch them, because we don’t want to damage anything. It’s very, very delicate.

“My father’s a history teacher and I’ve been in touch with this history, with these occurrences all of my life.

“But if just read about these things, or even if you watch a film, it’s not as direct, as moving, as being face to face with these remains.

“Sometimes it becomes routine but then you find such traces and it makes you speechless.”