THERESIENSTADT GHETTO 1941 – 1945
EVIDENCE AND TRACES
What is the historical significance of traces?
In 1941 an entire town vanished from the map with the stroke of a pen. The occupying German forces mandated that the Czech town of Terezín would henceforth be turned into an internment camp for Jewish prisoners, the Theresienstadt ghetto. All town residents were to be resettled. Through 1945 the entire town, all buildings and spaces would serve as a detention camp, and later, a transit camp for more than 141,000 people coming from occupied Czechoslovakia, the German Reich and other occupied parts of Europe.
More than 33,000 prisoners died of hunger and illness at this camp. Another 88,000 were deported from here and murdered at Auschwitz and other extermination camps, a fate of which only a few in Theresienstadt were aware. The Nazis established a Jewish self-administration. It had limited autonomy but it instilled in the prisoners’ minds a semblance of hope. But even this was a calculated strategy of the Nazis. The so-called “model camp” served as a significant propaganda tool of the National Socialists. Within the realm of National Socialist camps, Theresienstadt had a unique status and not only because here an entire town was turned into a prison.
Even with the post-war dismantling of the camp and the return of the town’s original inhabitants, and even though the town has been continually inhabited since the end of WWII, unmistakable traces from the ghetto period have survived to this day. The mere fact that the entire urban landscape has remained almost unchanged since the war makes Terezin a unique witness of the Shoah.
What are silent witnesses and traces?
What remains are the many modifications that were made by prisoners within the buildings. They illustrate the urgent needs which prisoners faced, and include, for example, room partitioning, wall insulation, electrical wiring and numberings in the attics. Even inscriptions of the camp’s rules exist to this very day.
Structural modifications were generally undertaken on the orders of the Jewish self-administration or the SS. Prisoners often left personal usage traces such as hooks or built-in closets. Among the most interesting remnants of the ghetto period must be, without any doubt, the artful wall drawings in the attics and countless graffiti on interior and exterior walls. Most of these may be seen as hidden treasures awaiting discovery but also preservation and appreciation.
Why is this project urgent?
Traces of an infamous past have been waiting 70 years for their discovery. Some came to light in 2005, but have yet to be secured or documented. The 2002 flooding in Terezin caused not only unbelievable damage to buildings, it also caused irreplaceable loss of many traces from the period 1941-1945. Further, postwar reconstruction of attic spaces and various remodeling projects have only helped to speed up the unstoppable process of obliteration.
Weather and vandalism threaten graffiti located at the fortress gate, Poterne 3, but most of the damage to these unique historical and inimitable witnesses is recent. This underscores the urgency of city planner and author Uta Fischer to complete this project as quickly as possible.
What is our purpose?
The goal of the project is to identify and document the remaining silent witnesses and traces still to be found in Terezín and make them accessible to the public.
Project organizers want to bring attention to the finds, to enhance Terezin’s position as an international memorial and important documentation center of the Holocaust, and to deepen Czech-German cooperation.
June 2014 – May 2015
Uta Fischer, Büro WILDFISH
Verein der Freunde und Förderer von Theresienstadt e. V.
Association of the Friends and Supporters of Theresienstadt