Kutna Hora and Terezin Ghetto
Trip Start Aug 02, 2012
182Trip End Aug 02, 2013
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Terezin was a fortified town built in the 1780s during the reign of Maria Theresa to house political prisoners. In 1941, the Nazis removed the town’s 7000 inhabitants and brought in around 60,000 Jews, creating a ghetto. Terezin is quite different from the concentration camps because it is actually a town that was converted by the Nazis for a gruesome purpose. Hence, you don’t immediately see the traditional guard towers, walls with barbed wires and so forth. Don’t mistake this for a lack of defenses because the town itself was already fortified, the Nazis just augmented to the existing facilities. To an outsider, the ghetto almost looked like a regular town because that’s what it was previously to its occupation. There is a town square lined with trees, school buildings, hospital and other similar buildings you would expect to find. Everything the Nazi’s did was pre-meditated, as was the selection of this town as the site of a ghetto.
It was conveniently located to funnel Jews through to satellite labour and concentration camps. The railway went through town which meant transport was not an issue. Since it looked like a livable place on virtue of being like a town, this was the Nazi’s “model Jewish town” to be paraded to the world to demonstrate the compassion of Hitler and his followers. In order to fuel this propaganda, they enabled a system of “self-government” where Jewish culture seemed to thrive as “citizens” put on plays and concerts, published a magazine and raised their families.
We began our exploration of this sad chapter in history at the small fortress, which is about 1.5 km outside the main town. This was the Gestapo prison during the war period and inmates here, many of which were political prisoners, were treated especially cruelly. Most of the deaths here were caused due to malnutrition and disease. Executions still occurred here but there was no gas chamber. Speaking of the deception used by the Nazis, there were even bathing and washing facilities here, fully fitted with sinks and pipes. The Red Cross inspectors didn’t bother to turn the taps, which were never actually connected. The showers, too, were only used so as to not make the inmates suspicious when they were eventually sent on to gas chambers elsewhere.
We then made our way back to the town and checked out the Hidden Synagogue, execution ground and mass grave. We also visited the Columbarium which where the Nazis deposited cardboard boxes containing the ashes of dead prisoners. The Germans had originally promised to send these ashes to relatives but as the end of the war neared, they were only concerned with eradicating evidence and thus dumped the ashes into the nearby New Ohre River. We also saw the crematorium, Jewish Cemetary and morgue. Intentional or not, the railway tracks leading into Terezin passed by these buildings, into town, and out the other site to extermination camps like Auschwitz.
It was very eerie walking around the town of Terezin – the streets were empty, it was gloomy and overcast and the buildings and streets looked a bit run down. We both wondered who would actually choose to live in a place like Terezin given its very recent, gruesome history and wondered if they lived here because they have roots here or live here out of necessity. As we drove away from Terezin that evening, I was very saddened by the reality of what we had seen but was more educated for having visited the memorial.
We set off in the dark to find out next campsite in Seiffen, Germany. We had our google map route, our gps and the local map for Germany since we knew we had to navigate some smaller roads to get through the mountains. The first part went fine, but once we were supposed to turn off, we realized that Czech road signs in tiny towns are not actually that helpful since they often listed other small towns which didn’t show up on our map. We ended up choosing one route, driving for a bit, decided we were heading the wrong direction by the compass heading on the gps, would then turn around and take the other option back at the intersection. We did this about three times before heading up a mountain road which seemed to take us in the right direction. We eventually crossed over into Germany which we figured was a good sign and stopped at a gas station since we couldn’t read all the road signs in the dark and needed to get our bearings. Anoop stepped out and actually saw Seiffen on a sign – a great relief!!! We passed through the town and drove for 3 km or so until we arrived at the campsite. We were very happy to finally be settled in camp since the drive had been rather long, dark and twisty!