Call me ignorant or uninformed but before moving to Prague I had never actually heard of Terezin. A place which has such a rich and important history when it comes to the Czech Republic and the second world war. As soon as I heard it is only an hour away from Prague by bus, I knew I had to go.
The official name which is maybe more familiar to you is Theresienstadt concentration camp, also referred to as Theresienstadt ghetto. It was a concentration camp established by the SS during World War II, built during the German Occupation of the former Czechoslovakia in the small city of Terezin. The city itself was built way back in 1780-1790 and comprises of two significant fortresses. During Nazi control, the larger fortress acted as the Jewish Ghetto, while the smaller was the camp prison.
Although Terezin itself was not classed as an execution camp, of the 50,000 Jews that passed through the grounds, over 34,000 died, including numerous children. Mostly it was used as a halfway point, with a large majority of prisoners being transferred from there to Auschwitz and other execution camps. The way it stands today, even without knowing its history, you can get a sense of the suffering that took place there. If you have ever visited a concentration camp before you’ll know exactly the sensation I am talking about.
The unique quality of Terezin is that people today still live in the original ghetto. Back during Hitlers reign he established Terezin as a “city to protect Jews”. Of course, that is what he told the media, through the use of one particular propaganda video which you can watch at the camp today. The film shows an idyllic and happy place of protection and good hygiene however the reality is much much darker. All of the participants of the film were later killed in an attempt to keep the secret hidden. The truth was that most of the deaths at Terezin were from extremely poor sanitary conditions. The conditions were so harsh that at times, over 50,000 Jews lived in the space once inhabited by 7,000 Czechs. The camp finally got liberation 71 years ago on the 8th May 1945.
When you arrive you are welcomed by silence. I have to say it is one of the eeriest, quietest places I have ever been to. The only way I can describe the hauntingly abandoned city, is that it is seemingly post-apocalyptic. Although people do live there, it is incredibly quiet. And large too, there is so much to see, with a variety of museums, beautiful exhibitions, pivotal places in the ghetto and prison, and even a large crematorium where you can freely roam around the original autopsy tables situated within one of the many cemeteries. Nothing is hidden here, it is an honest and nearly unchanged place making it a definite time capsule.
Terezin contrasts horror with beauty for it lays surrounded by the beautiful Czech countryside, the horizon surrounded by mountains. The camp prison itself offers free walking tours or the option to walk freely amongst the grounds using a free guide map. I strongly recommend the tour, as information about each room is not easy to find and you can learn mind blowing facts about this place paused in time. The bus there is only 200 CZK leaving from Nádraží Holešovice. There is so much to see here, that a day is the perfect amount of time to see it all.