Originally designed as an 18th century military garrison, in 1941 the Nazis turned the fort at Terezin, Czech Republic into the Theresienstadt Ghetto. In a space previously inhabited by about 7,000 people, the Nazis imprisoned over 50,000 at a time. Living conditions, although better than many other ghettos, were still atrocious. Disease, starvation and death were commonplace. About one in four people sent to Theresienstadt died there. 

Nearly 160,000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt, many of them from the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. When conditions became too crowded, inmates were selected for deportation and extermination at Treblinka and Auschwitz. Some 85,000 were murdered in this way. At the end of the war, only about 17,250 had survived in the ghetto. Of the 15,000 children sent to Theresienstadt, fewer than ten percent survived. 

Theresienstadt is notable for the wide variety of cultural activities that were able to take place within the confines of the ghetto.  Several composers, including Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein and Hans Krasa composed important musical works in Theresienstadt before they were deported and murdered at Auschwitz. A number of artists, including Erich Lichtblau and Moritz Müller, made drawings recording the daily struggle for life.  Children also were given art and poetry lessons in the ghetto, and a number of their works have survived although the children themselves perished.

The Nazis also occasionally used Theresienstadt for propaganda purposes, holding it up as a “model” ghetto.  In 1944, the Nazis invited the International Red Cross to inspect the ghetto, which was temporarily cleaned up for purposes of the tour. The Nazis furthered the hoax by creating a documentary film to demonstrate the supposedly humane conditions in the ghetto. The film was never completed and most of the cast, as well as the inmate assigned to direct the film, Kurt Gerron, was deported and murdered at Auschwitz later that year.

 

Additional Links:

“Theresienstadt – A Propaganda Trick”

Adele Kohn Papers – I (Theme: Theresienstadt Ghetto)

Adele Kohn Papers Part II

Moritz Mueller Collection

The Butterfly