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Terezin / Theresienstadt
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The foundation of the town of Terezin dates back to the late 18th century when Emperor Josef II drawing on his experience from several Prussian – Austrian wars decided to build a fortress at the confluence of the Labe and Ohre Rivers. The fortress –town was named after his mother Maria Theresa.
Its mission was to prevent any future penetration of enemy forces into the Bohemian interior along the Dresden – Lovosice – Prague route, as well as guard the Labe waterway.
The stronghold built over the period of ten years, consisted of the Main and Small Fortress, alongside a fortified area between the New and Old Ohre Rivers. The fortifications consisted of a number of elements – massive bastions, ravelins, lunettes, bulwarks, flood-moats and an extensive network of underground passages.
The basins occupying two-thirds of the surrounding belt of the fortress could also be flooded. The stronghold however, was never tested in battle and its fortifications, practically impregnable at the time of construction, gradually grew obsolete.
Finally the fortress was vacated and Terezin turned into a garrison town. It took little time in the 19th century for the penitentiary within the small prison to gain a notorious reputation. It functioned well into the 20th Century
During World War One the Small Fortress functioned as the Habsburg Monarchy prison, and amongst its inmates were the plotters of the Sarajevo assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Gavrilo Princip who carried out the attack. He died in the Small Fortress in 1918.
After the German occupation Terezin was renamed Theresienstadt. The Small Fortress became a police prison of the Prague Gestapo in June 1940 – mostly political prisoners were detained there.
The creation of a ghetto, in the town itself – the former Main Fortress was an ideal location for the Nazi plans and Reinhard Heydrich took immediate advantage of it when he became Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
On 10 October 1941 he summoned Eichmann, Mauer and other SS personalities to meet him and his assistant Governor Karl Hermann Frank in Prague.
Heydrich had already picked out Theresienstadt among other fortified and enclosed sites. He used expressions like Zentralstelle und Sammellager to describe it, but he made it quite clear that the inmates already depleted by hunger and overwork would eventually be evacuated.
On 24 November 1941 a ghetto was established in the eighteenth –century fortress, built for the Emperor Josef II in 1780 -84.
The first Jewish construction workers arrived from Prague and Brno, to be followed by family transports. At the end of 1941 there were already 7365 Czech Jews in Theresienstadt. They lived in close confinement in the former Austrian barrack blocks and had no contact with the 7,000 civilian inhabitants, who did not leave until June 1942.
On 20 January 1942 Heydrich announced at the Wannsee conference that Theresienstadt was under consideration as a special ghetto for Jews over 65 years of age and Jews with serious wounds or high decorations from the First World War.
This was a change of policy for hitherto Jews of these categories had gone to Poland or Russia, as Hitler declared earlier “that the swine got their decorations fraudulently in any case.”
But if Theresienstadt remained throughout the war the privileged ghetto of the exempted classes, it never lost its original purpose, that of a transit camp for Jews, and the Jews of Bohemia – Moravia who from the start Heydrich intended to deport to the East.
With the departure of the Czech inhabitants in June 1942 the first of the privileged Jews from Germany and Austria, mainly war veterans and the very old.
Other categories included Jews married to Aryans, half Jews who professed the Jewish faith, senior civil servants and members of theReichsvereinigung.
Then there followed a flood of deportees, who had simply bought their exemptions. During the year 1942 Theresienstadt received 32,988 Jews from the “Old Reich”, 13,922 from Austria and 54,827 from the Protectorate.
One of those sent to Theresienstadt was Richard Goldshimdt better known as Richard Glazar describes his time at Theresienstadt:
“By the time I got to Prague it was already “Jew-free” as they called it. We stayed at the Mustermesse two or three days and waited. They distributed food and there were sinks to wash in.
We slept on the ground – of course there were a great many rumours of every kind and there was this fear of the uncertainty, but there was no physical fear.
One morning they counted us and we went to the nearby station and travelled to Theresienstadt, a village around the fortress north of Prague, built in the time of Maria Theresa, which had been turned into a huge internment camp.
I was assigned quarters in a stable – two cousins found me there – they were in an attic.”
Richard Glazar stayed in Theresienstadt for a month working in the garbage disposal unit – he found his maternal grandfather and his paternal grandmother – they had been there for several months.
His grandmother lived in a room with a dozen other old women, sleeping on blankets on the floor. Richard Glazar said “she seemed very small – I used to bring her chocolate whenever, I could scrounge some, but she always said “no thank you, keep it for yourself”. But then one day I brought her a pot of lard and she accepted that. My grandfather was in an old people’s ward that was really terrible. He was almost blind – he had tried to cut his veins.”
After a few days in the stable he was moved into a large hall where he met another Czech Jew Karel Unger, who was to become his closest friend.
“After a month in Theresienstadt I was notified that I was to leave the next day for another camp in the East. I ran to see my Hannah my cousin – she said grandfather had just died – it was that day too.
We our Czech transport travelled on a passenger train, leaving Theresienstadt on 8 October 1942 on transport BG 417 – destination the death camp Treblinka in Poland.
No phase in the deportations from Hitler’s Greater Reich was more murderous than the first year’s clear-out of Theresienstadt. Out of 43,879 deportees only 224 survived the war.
At the very moment Heydrich was telling the delegates about the privileged ghetto in January 1942 – there had already been a deportation from Theresienstadt to Riga.
Between March and July 1942 there were deportations to “Lublinland”, between July and September 17,004 Jews were deported to the Minsk region. Between 5 -26 October another 8,000 went straight to the Treblinka death camp (including Richard Glazar), and 4000 to Belzec death camp
On 26 October 1942 the last transport of 1942 left Theresienstadt for Auschwitz – since this transport included some young men, mixed in with the elderly, 28 managed to survive the war out of 1,866.
In the autumn of 1942 a crematorium was built to burn the corpses of all those Jews who had perished in the camp, due to sickness, starvation, overwork and ill-treatment by the SS guards.
Those who arrived before the summer of 1943 at Theresienstadt by train arrived at the country station of Bohusovice, walked the three kilometres to Theresienstadt.
The railway which was built with ghetto labour ran now from the ghetto to the station at Bohusvice. The railway line ran in front of the Hamburg Barracks, and a transport of Jews from Holland was filmed arriving at the Hamburg Barracks.
At the instigation of the German’s a Jewish Elder was appointed. He was Jakub Edelstein and he made particular efforts to try and improve the living conditions for the teenagers and children. In November 1943 he was deported to Auschwitz where he was later shot, together with his wife and son.
The work of the Jewish Council of Elders in the Magdeburg Barracks covered every branch of activity in the ghetto. The Secretariat maintained the statistical records. An economics department was in charge of labour details, nutrition, laundry and allocation of space. A financial department was responsible for the book-keeping side. A technical department supervised water and power supplies construction maintenance and the fire brigade. There was also a health and social welfare department in charge of the health centres, the youth homes, old people’s homes and burials.
At the Magdeburg Barracks there was also a hall in which theatrical performances were given such as the children’s opera Brundibar, which was performed more than fifty times. Its composer Hans Krasa, was a Jew, who was imprisoned in Theresienstadt, who later died in Auschwitz.
Some months before Edelstein’s deportation he was succeeded by Dr Paul Eppstein, who was also later taken to the Small Fort and shot. Eppstein had been a young official in Berlin in 1933, working for the representation of German Jewry, under Leo Baeck, a fellow prisoner in Theresienstadt.
On 24 August 1943 1260 children from the liquidated Bialystok ghetto arrived in Theresienstadt. They were kept in strict isolation, and then sent out with fifty- three volunteer doctors, nurses and attendants from Theresienstadt.
As they left on 5 October 1943 the Germans said they were going to be exchanged for German Prisoners of War in Allied hands. The exchange would take place in neutral Switzerland, some said Palestine – however, they were taken to Auschwitz and murdered.
From May 1943 the Market Square was covered with a circus tent divided into three parts, and used for slave labour. In one section, the inmates of the ghetto assembled wooden crates. In another they packed equipment, which had been made nearby, designed to protect motor engines from freezing, an essential component of army vehicles on the Eastern Front.
In all 1,000 prisoners worked there, the tented area was surrounded by a high fence, and closed to anyone, who did not work there. In the early months of 1944, when for the purpose of the Red Cross visit and propaganda film, the ghetto was transformed – for the so-called “Improvement Action.”
The tents were taken down and the square was turned into a park, with a music pavilion in front of the café at 18 Neue Gasse. Allotments were created across the moat, impressive gardening work was undertaken, and this was seen by the Red Cross delegation who visited the ghetto on 23 June 1944.
The “Improvement Action” ensured that everything looked just right – a band consisted of inmates played on the bandstand, children dressed in clean clothes, rode on a merry-go-round. The Ghetto Elder Dr. Paul Eppstein, was given a car and a chauffeur.
The Red Cross visitors saw the chauffeur open the door, bow and let him in. The day before, this same chauffeur – an SS- man- had beaten Eppstein without compunction and resumed with this treatment after the visitors had departed.
The Red Cross visitors were not shown the barracks crowded with the old, the sick and the dying – nor were they shown the storerooms filled with the belongings taken from their Jews on their arrival.
A film of Theresienstadt was made in 1944, filming commenced on 16 August and was completed on 11 September, the last commandant of Theresienstadt SS- ObersturmfuhrerKarl Rahm, was ordered by his masters in Berlin, to commission a film called “The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a Town.”
The film does not appear to have been shown during the war, it was made under the direction of German –Jewish actor and director Kurt Gerron, who had been deported from Westerbork in Holland, after he had fled from Germany, with a documentary film crew from Berlin.
Berlin decreed that only prisoners who looked like Jews could appear in the film – they had to be hook-nosed, dark hair, dark eyed and preferably furtive in manner, this created a problem Theresienstadt was filled with blond, blue-eyed Jews – the woman’s high –jump champion of Czechoslovakia, a Jew was forbidden to participate in the filming of an athletics event – she had blonde hair.
The ghetto’s bank was filmed, as was the Post Office where prisoners received fake packages. On the riverbank, a swimming event was held. The national high-diving champion performed for the cameras. Just out of range were boats filled with armed SS-men, just in case any of the contestants decided to swim to freedom.
For days the cameras whirred, the lights were focused on the stunned prisoners. A meeting of the Jewish Council was moved from a dingy room in the Magdeburg barracks to a bright room in the gymnasium. Dr. Eppstein addressed his colleagues, but no sound was recorded.
Gerron’s film took on a life of its own – firemen in new uniforms put out a fire, in the gym “The Tales of Hoffmann” was performed. In the VIP barracks a garden party was filmed including Rabbi Baeck, Field Marshal von Sommer, the Mayor of Lyons M. Meyer and several Czech ministers.
When a train bearing Jewish children from Holland arrived Rahm himself was there to welcome them, lifting the youngsters from the wagons, all dutifully recorded.
Then abruptly, the filming ended – the technicians were ordered back to Berlin, Gerron was discharged, band concerts were terminated, dancing was forbidden.
The camp slipped back into its cruel, starved routine – the old and ill died and the same children Rahm was seen welcoming were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Several still photographs made from the film still survive today, one shows Dr Eppstein addressing his colleagues. His faced is strained, his mouth is drawn, his eyes are frowning and a perplexed vertical crease separates his eyebrows. Dr Benjamin Murmelstein his aide and successor, sits by his side, staring gloomily ahead.
On Eppstein’s left breast pocket, is a cloth Jewish Star – the Nazis left a morsel of truth in the film. In the beginning of 1945 a gas chamber was built in an underground passageway, but it was not used.
In the last weeks of the war thousands of young Jews who had survived the death marches and death trains were brought to Theresienstadt, some lived in the Hamburg Barracks, Moniek Goldberg a Polish Jew recalled “whilst the Hamburg Barrack was an improvement on the journey – it soon turned into a nightmare.”
In the face of the advancing Russian forces the Germans started to liquidate camps in the East and transfer the prisoners to other camps, including Theresienstadt
These newcomers were infested with lice and in April 1945 a typhus epidemic broke out which soon claimed hundreds of victims. Shortly afterwards the SS tried to assemble two transports for an unknown destination. Fearing the Nazis intended to cover up their war crimes, by staging a massacre, the Jewish Council refused to co-operate and smuggled a warning to the Red Cross in Prague.
On 19 April 1945 Paul Dunant the Swiss Red Cross representative, who had visited Theresienstadt, on 6 April 1945 and had been personally escorted by Eichmann, approached Karl Hermann Frank and obtained his assurance that there would be no more deportations from Theresienstadt.
Anxious to open negotiations with the Americans, Frank was now posing as a moderate, using the surviving Jews as evidence of his goodwill. Under Red Cross supervision Jews were transferred from Theresienstadt to Switzerland and Danish Jews were sent to Sweden.
On 2 May 1945 the SS guards fled from Theresienstadt and two days later a group of Czech volunteers arrived to help the ghetto medical staff the typhus epidemic, which had already claimed the lives of 44 doctors and nurses.
On 8 May 1945 the first units of the Soviet Army appeared and placed Terezin under strict quarantine. By June the outbreak was over and the prisoners were able to leave. .
Theresienstadt came under the control of Eichmnann’s office in Prague, headed by Rolf Gunther, the commandants were all members of Eichmann’s staff. They were;
Siegfried Seidl – November 1941 – July 1943
Anton Burger – July 1943 – February 1944
Karl Rahm – February 1944 – May 1945
Seidl and Rahm were executed after the war, but Burger escaped and has never stood trial for his crimes. Heinrich Jockel the commandant of the Small Fortress was arrested, tried for war crimes, and executed after the war.
140, 000 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt, 75,500 from the Czech lands, 42,000 from Germany, 15,000 from Austria, 5000 from Holland, and the rest from Hungary, Denmark and Poland.
Today the Small Fortress and Ghetto can be visited as well as the Crematorium site and National Cemetery
German Guards at Terezin 1940
…I never saw another butterfly…
“A total of around 15,000 children under the age of 15 passed through Terezin. Of these, around 100 came back.”
Arrival of Jews at the Terezin Ghetto, 1942 - photo from the Jewish Virtual Library
“…I never saw another butterfly…” is a compilation of children’s drawings and poems from Terezin (Theresienstadt) Concentration Camp. These children were interred in Terezin from 1942 through 1944.
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto.
June 1942 - Pavel Friedmann excerpted from “…I never saw another butterfly…”
Author and Inspirational Speaker.
“I stand tall and proud,
My voice shouts in silence loud:
I am a real person still,
No one can break my spirit or will:
I am a star!”
From “I Am A Star” published by Penguin Putnam Inc.
Inge was born in Germany and spent three years between 7-10 years of age in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, where out of 15,000 children, about 1 percent survived.
She remembers when the now famous children’s opera Brundibar was first written and performed while she was in Terezin.
She tells her life story in three books; "I am a Star"- Child of the Holocaust, "Beyond the Yellow Star to America" and"Finding Dr. Schatz" - The Discovery of Streptomycin and A Life It Saved. Inge has also reached out to the African-American community by writing about her friends, Mary and Martha DeSaussure; pioneering track stars of Brooklyn in her third book,"Running Against the Wind." As a Holocaust survivor her spirit and achievements are truly remarkable.
Children's Artwork~Eva Wollsteinerova
Eva Wollsteinerova - Born January 24, 1931 - Killed November 23, 1944. Terezin Jewish Museum
- January 24, 1931~November 23, 1944
Children's Artwork~Erika Taussigova - Killed June 28, 1944.
- June 28, 1944
Children's Artwork~Jiri Beutler
Jiri Beutler - Born March 9, 1932 - Killed - April 18, 1944
The Little Fortress at Terezin
The Little Fortress at Terezin, a star-shaped thick-walled fortress, had long served as a prison. Few people were incarcerated here from the time it was opened in 1780 to Hitler, the one exception being the assassins of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in 1914. The Nazis brought political prisoners and others to this hellish place never to emerge again. It was here that the Jewish artists were sent after having been caught stealing paper and other supplies with which they produced writings that recorded daily life in Terezin. It was their work which allowed the outside world to know dramatically about life in Terezin.
Klein was born into a Moravian Jewish family in P?erov and, showing musical talent early, studied piano with R?žena Kurzová and Vilém Kurz, and composition with Alois Hába (in 1939–1940). In December 1941 he was deported by the Nazis to Terezín concentration camp, where along with Leoš Janá?ek's pupil Pavel Haas, Hans Krása, and Schoenberg's pupil Viktor Ullmann he became one of the major composers in that camp, one of the few in which artistic activity occurred on any scale. His works from these years include music for string quartet (similar in tone to Berg's opus 3 work), a string trio, and a piano sonata among others. Klein performed also as solo pianist at least on 15 recitals, and he participated also in chamber music performances (member of piano trio, piano quartet).
He was deported to Auschwitz and then to Fürstengrube in October 1944, less than two weeks after completing his string trio. He died under unclear circumstances during liquidation of the Fürstengrube camp in January 1945.
His work was influenced by Alois Hába, Alban Berg, and particularly by Leoš Janá?ek. He used melody from Janá?ek's Zápisník zmizeléhoas a theme in his Divertimento (1940).
Recordings on Northeastern and on Koch International Classics, for example, have allowed modern listeners to evaluate the quality of his compositions of the 1940s.
Theresienstadt was built as a Walled Military Fortress in the 18th Century
Documents of the Holocaust
Theresienstadt Konzentration Lager (KL/KZ) Receipt for Package PermitZ1
Scarce receipt for Zulassungsmarke Mich #Z1 -- the permit stamp necesary to send packages to inmates in the 'model' Concentration camp in the former Austrian army (Imperial) barracks at Theresienstadt. in pink, from the camp. Dual language document, Czech and German.
Germany 1912 Oranienburg Prison Begleitumschlag Wrapper Cover
Begleitumschlag fuer ausgehende Brief / Cover envelope for outgoing prisoner's mail from Oranienburg prison. Filepunched at left, though this can't be seen in the scan. (Please note, the barcode sticker upper right is attached to the plastic sleeve and not stuck to the cover!)
Theresienstadt Terezin Ghetto Concentration Camp Mail
Postcard from Jewish lady (Olga Hoffman)interned in the Theresienstadt / Terezin Ghetto / Concentration camp, noting the receipt of a package.
Theresienstadt Terezin Ghetto Concentration Camp Mail
Postcard from Jewish lady (Olga Hoffman)interned in the Theresienstadt / Terezin Ghetto / Concentration camp, noting the receipt of a package.
Theresienstadt Terezin Ghetto Concentration Camp Mail
Postcard from Jewish lady (Olga Hoffman)interned in the Theresienstadt / Terezin Ghetto / Concentration camp, noting the receipt of a package.
Postcard from Jewish man (Leo Funke)interned in the Theresienstadt / Terezin Ghetto / Concentration camp, noting the receipt of a package.
Differing Living Conditions for Prisoners
in the spring of 1945, the inhabitants of Theresienstadt were screened by the Gestapo, who made a classification that took note of prominent individuals. These 150 – 200 prominent individuals were given usually a single room for just two people, so that a husband and wife could live by themselves.
Several of these were members of the Cultural Council, who were included among the Prominente, due to the influence of Benjamin Murmurstein, who was himself already classified as "prominent" as the "Jewish Elder" of Theresienstadt. It is inferred in statements from ex-prisoners that there were often issues with nepotism and protection of individuals by those who held positions of authority over the others, as they struggled to avoid deportation and death.
Theresienstadt supplied the German war effort with a source of Jewish slave labor. Their major contribution was the splitting of mica mined from local Czechoslovakia. Blind prisoners were often spared deportation by assignment to this task.
Others manufactured boxes or coffins. Others sprayed military uniforms with a white dye to provide camouflage for German soldiers on the Russian front.
According to ex-prisoners, Theresienstadt was also a sorting and re-distribution centre for underwear and clothing confiscated from Jews.. "from all parts of Germany, the baggage taken away from the Jews was sent to Theresienstadt, and there it was packaged, sorted-out in order to be sent out all over the country, to various cities, for the people who were bombed-out and suffered a shortage of underwear and clothing."
456 Jews from Denmark were sent to Theresienstadt in 1943. These were Jews who had not escaped to Sweden before the arrival of the Nazis. Included also in the transports were some of the European Jewish children whom Danish organizations had been attempting to conceal in foster homes.
The arrival of the Danes is of great significance, as the Danes insisted on the Red Cross having access to the ghetto. This was a rare move, given that most European governments did not insist on their fellow Jewish citizens being treated according to some fundamental principles. The Danish king, Christian X, later secured the release of the Danish internees on April 15, 1945. The White Buses, in cooperation with the Danish Red Cross, collected the 413 who had survived.
On February 5, 1945, the SS chief Heinrich Himmler allowed a transport of 1,210 Jews from Theresienstadt, most of them originating from the Netherlands, to Switzerland. According to an agreement between Himmler and Jean-Marie Musy, a pro-Nazi former Swiss president, the group was released after $1.25 million was placed in Swiss banks by Jewish organizations working in Switzerland.
After the victory of the Allies in 1945, Theresienstadt was used by Czech partisans and former inmates to hold German SS personnel and civilians as retaliation for their atrocities] After the German surrender the small fortress was used as an internment camp for ethnic Germans The first prisoners arrived on the May 10, 1945. On February 29, 1948 the last German prisoners were released and the camp was officially closed. Among the interned Germans were former Nazis like Heinrich Jöckel, the former commander of Terezín and other SS members.
After the Allied victory and lasting until July 1945 the mortality rate in the camp was high due to diseases, malnutrition and incidents of murder. Commander of the camp in that period was Stanislav Franc
In July 1945 the camp shifted under the control of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior. The new commander appointed was Otakar Kálal. From 1946 on the inmates were gradually transferred to Germany and Terezín more and more turned into a hub for the forced migration of Germans from the Czech lands into Germany proper.
A small exhibition currently commemorates the history of Terezín as internment camp for Germans.
Command and Control Authority
The camp was established under the order of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) in 1941. The administration of the main camp was under the authority of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA), to which answered the SS officers and soldiers who oversaw camp administration, themselves members of the SS Concentration Camp service, or the Totenkopfverbande (SS-TV). Security within the camp was provided by guard battalions of the SS-TV and police battalion troops of the Ordnungspolizei. An internal police force, run by the Jewish inmates themselves, was known as the Ordnungsdienst and answered directly to the SS. The camp also made use of Czech Gendarmerieguards.Stone marking the burial of ashes of 15,000 victims of Terezín at the New Jewish Cemetery, Prague
By 1943, the Concentration Camp service of the SS had been completely folded into the Waffen-SS, with most of the camp staff and guards serving as reserve Waffen-SS soldiers. The Gestapoalso maintained a presence at the camp, in that it was the Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst which oversaw the day-to-day operations in the "Small Fortress" prison.
The direct command authority for the camp itself was the Inspector of Concentration Camps, to which the Commandant reported to directly, yet the camp also received orders from the RSHA (specifically Department IV-B4 underAdolf Eichmann), the Office of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (under Reinhard Heydrich), and the office of the local SS and Police Leader.
Siegfried Seidl interrupted his law studies after a few semesters and took on various odd jobs. In 1930, he joined the Nazi Party and in 1932 the SS. In late 1939, Seidl was called into the police as a result of his SS membership. As of January 1940, he was attached to theReichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) – Department IVB4 under Adolf Eichmann's command – and posted to the SS lead section in Posen. In 1941 he graduated from his studies, which he had taken up in 1935, to the philosophy faculty. In October 1941, SS-Obersturmführer (First Lieutenant) Seidl was charged by the RSHA with building the Theresienstadt Ghetto.
From 1941 until 1943, he was the Ghetto's Commandant, and as such the one responsible for mishandling and murdering thousands of people. In November 1942, Seidl was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain). In 1944-1945 as acting leader of the SS Special Deployment Command, Outpost Vienna, Seidl exercised control over the forced-labour camps for Hungarian Jews that had been built in Vienna and Lower Austria.
On 14 November 1946, Seidl was sentenced by the Volksgericht (Austrian People's Court - established to prosecute Nazi war crimes) in Vienna to death. The penalty was carried out on February 4, 1947.
- August 24, 1911~February 4, 1947
(19 November 1911 - 25 December 1991)
born in Neunkirchen, Austria, was a Nazi war criminal, Sturmbannführer (Major) in the German Nazi SS. In 1942 was sent by Adolf Eichmann to Brussels, Belgium, in order to coordinate the efforts towards deportation of Belgian, Dutch and French Jews. He was later sent to Salonika in Greece by Eichman in the same purpose. He was the Commandant ofConcentration camp Theresienstadt between 1943 and 1944. Burger went into hiding after the war under an assumed name and his identity was not uncovered until 1994, three years after his death.
- 19 November 1911 - 25 December 1991
Karl Rahm (1907 - 30 April 1947)
was a Sturmbannführer (Major) in the GermanSchutzstaffel who, from February 1944 to May 1945, served as the Commandant of the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Rahm was the third and final commander of the camp, succeeding Siegfried Seidl and Anton Burger.
Rahm was born in 1907 in the city of Klosterneuburg, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He apprenticed as a toolmaker and worked for a time in Vienna, where during the 1920s he was exposed to the activities of the Austrian Nazi Party. He became a member of the Nazis in the early 1930s and joined the undergroundAustrian SS at the same time. In 1938, after the Anschluss with Nazi Germany, Rahm became an SS officer attached to SS-Oberabschnitt Donau under the command of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. His brother Franz was deported to a concentration camp as a Communist.
At the start of World War II in 1939, Rahm was an SS-Obersturmführer in the Allgemeine-SS. Applying for transfer to full time SS duties, Rahm was attached to the Gestapo and assigned to the Central Office for Jewish Emigration where he served under Adolf Eichmann. In 1940, he was transferred to Prague into the same office, as a deputy of Hans Günther. In March 1941, Rahm was briefly sent to the Netherlandstogether with Günther, to set up the same institution here, which however failed.Theresienstadt
Rahm was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer in February 1944 and ordered to assume duties as Commandant (commander) of the Theresienstadt ghetto. One of his first duties was to oversee the camp "beautification project" as a prelude for orchestrating the infamous show-tour of the concentration camp to the International Red Cross. The affair was part of a much larger scheme to influence world opinion that Jews in Nazi occupied Europe were well treated. Rahm further supervised the creation of a film along the same lines.
During his time as Camp Commandant, Rahm oversaw mass deportations of Jews from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz concentration camp, the heaviest volume of which occurred in the fall of 1944, when 18.000 people were deported within one month.
Rahm was also known for his cynical and rash character; he frequently beat prisoners himself and oversaw torture sessions. On the reverse, Rahm appears to have had an interesting, almost cordial relationship with some Jewish inmates, especially those who shared his working class Viennese background.Post-War Capture, Trial, and Execution
Rahm evacuated Theresienstadt on May 5, 1945 along with the last of the SS personnel. He was captured shortly afterward by American forces in Austria and extradited in 1947 to Czechoslovakia. Put on trial, Rahm was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. . Rahm was executed on April 30, 1947, four hours after his guilty verdict had been handed down by the Czech court.
- 1907 - 30 April 1947
(born 25 May 1905, died on the death march during the evacuation of Auschwitz in 1945) was a Czechoslovakian composer, pianist and conductor of Jewish origin, organizer of cultural life in Terezín concentration camp.
- 25 May 1905~1945
Malva Schalek, aka Malvina Schalková
(18 February 1882 — 1944), was an Czech-Jewish painter.
Malva Schalek was born in Prague, to a German-speaking Jewish intellectual family active in the Czech national movement. She went to school in Prague, Vrchlabi (Hohenelbe), and began to study art, first at the Frauenakademie in Munich and then privately in Vienna. She earned her living as a painter in Vienna, in her studio above the Theater an der Wien, until July 1938, when she was forced to flee from the Nazis, leaving her paintings behind. Only some 30 works from this period have been recovered; two were found in the Historisches Museum Wien. One of these, a nearly life-sized oil portrait of the actor Max Pallenberg, is currently being returned to the family by the restitution authority.
Schalek (aka Malvina Schalková)
- 18 February 1882 — 1944
Zikmund Schul (11 January 1916 – 2 June 1944) was a German Jewish composer.
Schul was born in Chemnitz, Germany, into an Eastern European Jewish family, and grew up in Kassel. Only little is known about his life. He moved to Prague in 1933. In 1937 he started to study composition in Prague, where he was a pupil of Alois Haba. During his time in Prague he became a friend of Victor Ullmann. In Prague he started also to archive a collection of synagogal-songs from the synagogue of Prague (under direction of Salomon Lieben). Schul married 1941 Olga Stern, and both were deported to Terezin the 30th Nov 1941. Schul died inTheresienstadt concentration camp from tubercolosis.
- 11 January 1916 – 2 June 1944
Viktor Ullmann was born on January 1, 1898 in T?šín (Teschen), modern ?eský T?šín /Cieszyn. It belonged then to Silesia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now divided between Cieszyn in Poland and ?eský T?šín in Czechoslovakia. Both his parents were from families of Jewish descent, but had converted to Roman Catholicism before Viktor's birth.
As an assimilated Jew, his father, Maximilian, was able to pursue a career as a professional officer in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In World War I he was promoted to colonel and ennobled.
One writer has described Ullman's milieu in these terms: "Like such other assimilated German-speaking Czech Jews as Kafka and Mahler, Ullmann lived a life of multiple estrangements, cut off from Czech nationalism, German anti-Semitism and Jewish orthodoxy.
Beginning in 1909 Viktor attended a grammar school (Gymnasium) in Vienna. His musical talents and inclinations soon gave him access to Arnold Schönberg and his circle of pupils. Upon finishing school, he volunteered for military service.
After deployment on the Italian Front at Isonzo, he was granted study leave, which he used begin the study of law at Vienna University. There he also attended the lectures of Wilhelm Jerusalem. At the beginning of 1918 he was accepted in Schönberg's composition seminar. With Schönberg he studied the theory of form, counterpoint and orchestration. Ullmann was an excellent pianist, although he had no ambitions for a career as a soloist.
In May 1919, he broke off both courses of study and left Vienna in order to devote himself fully to music in Prague. His mentor was now Alexander von Zemlinsky, under whose direction he served as a conductor at the New German Theatre of Prague (now the Prague State Opera) until 1927. In the following season, 1927–28, he was appointed head of the opera company in Aussig an der Elbe (Ústí nad Labem), but his repertoire, including operas by Richard Strauss, Krenek and others, was too advanced for local tastes, and his appointment was terminated.
In 1923 with the Sieben Lieder mit Klavier (7 Songs with Piano) he witnessed a series of successful performances of his works, which lasted until the beginning of the 1930s (Sieben Serenaden). At the Geneva music festival of the International Society for New Music in 1929, hisSchönberg Variations, a piano cycle on a theme by his teacher in Vienna, caused something of a stir. Five years later, for the orchestral arrangement of this work, he was awarded the Hertzka Prize, named in honor of the former director of Universal Editions. In the meantime he had been appointed conductor in Zürich for two years. As a result of his interest in anthroposophy, a movement founded by Rudolf Steiner, he spent another two years as a bookseller in Stuttgart, but was forced to flee Germany in mid-1933 and returned to Prague as a music teacher and journalist.
During this period he worked with the department of music at Czechoslovak Radio, wrote book and music reviews for various magazines, wrote as a critic for the Bohemia newspaper, lectured to educational groups, gave private lessons, and was actively involved in the program of the Czechoslovak Society for Music Education. At about this time Ullmann made friends with the composer Alois Hába, whom he had known for some time. Ullmann enrolled in Hába's department of quarter tone music at the Prague Conservatory, where he studied from 1935 to 1937.
While his works of the 1920s still clearly show the influence of Schönberg's atonal period, especially the Chamber Symphony Op. 9, the George Songs Op. 15 and Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21, Ullmann's compositions from 1935 onwards like the String Quartet No. 2 and Piano Sonata No. 1 are distinguished by his independent development of Schönberg's inspirations. Similarly the opera Fall of the Antichrist develops the issues raised by Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck. Dissonant harmonics, highly charged musical expression, and masterly control of formal structure are characteristic of Ullmann's new and henceforth unmistakable personal style.
On September 8, 1942 he was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Up to his deportation his list of works had reached 41 opus numbers and contained an additional three piano sonatas, song cycles on texts by various poets, operas, and the piano concerto Op. 25, which he finished in December 1939, nine months after the entry of German troops into Prague. Most of these works are missing. The manuscripts presumably disappeared during the occupation. There survive 13 printed items, which Ullmann published privately and entrusted to a friend for safekeeping.
The particular nature of the camp at Theresienstadt enabled Ullmann to remain active musically: he was a piano accompanist, organized concerts ("Collegium musicum", "Studio for New Music"), wrote critiques of musical events, and composed, as part of a cultural circle including Karel An?erl, Rafael Schachter, Gideon Klein, Hans Krása, and other prominent musicians imprisoned there. He wrote: "By no means did we sit weeping on the banks of the waters of Babylon. Our endeavor with respect to arts was commensurate with our will to live."
On October 16, 1944 he was deported to the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where on October 18, 1944 he was killed in the gas chambers.
The work he completed in Theresienstadt was mostly preserved and comprises, in addition to choral works, song cycles and a quantity of stage music, such significant works as the last three piano sonatas, the Third String Quartet, the melodrama based on Rilke's Cornet poem, and the chamber opera The Emperor of Atlantis, or The Refusal of Death, with a libretto by Peter Kien. Its premiere was planned for Theresienstadt in the autumn of 1944, conducted by Rafael Schachter, but the SS commander noticed similarities between the Emperor of Atlantis and Adolf Hitler and suppressed it. The opera was first performed in Amsterdam in 1975. It has been broadcast by BBC television inBritain, and there have been productions in several countries. Important productions took place in Bremen and Stuttgart in 1990.
In these works, and particularly in the Emperor and the Cornet, Ullmann struggled to accommodate the realities of the living conditions in a Nazi concentration camp, the aesthetic problem of transforming already existing material into artistic shape, and the ethical problem of the continuous conflict between spirit and matter.
The most concrete formulation of this discourse occurs in the Emperor of Atlantis, with the parable of the Emperor's game with Death for Life. The "game", which concerns the Emperor's plan for the total destruction of all human life, ends with the ruin of the Emperor and with the vision of a new understanding between life and death.
- 1 January 1898~18 October 1944
Frederika "Friedl" Dicker-Brandeis
(July 30, 1898 - October 9, 1944),
was a Viennese artist killed in the Holocaust.
Born Frederika Dicker, she married Pavel Brandeis in 1936. Dicker-Brandeis was a student of Johannes Itten at his private school in Vienna, and later followed Itten to study and teach at the Weimar Bauhaus. She was involved in the textile design, printmaking, bookbinding, and typography workshops there from 1919-1923. After leaving the Bauhaus, she worked as an artist and textile designer in Berlin, Prague, andHronov."I remember thinking in school how I would grow up and would protect my students from unpleasant impressions, from uncertainty, from scrappy learning," Friedl Dicker-Brandeis wrote to a friend in 1940. "Today only one thing seems important — to rouse the desire towards creative work, to make it a habit, and to teach how to overcome difficulties that are insignificant in comparison with the goal to which you are striving."
Dicker-Brandeis and her husband were deported to the Terezín "model ghetto" in December 1942. During her time at Terezín, she gave art lessons and lectures. She helped to organize secret education classes for the children of Terezín. She saw drawing and art as a way for the children to understand their emotions and their environment. In this capacity she was giving art therapy.
At Terezin she persisted in pursuing her goal — "to rouse the desire towards creative work."
In September 1944, Brandeis was transported to Auschwitz; Dicker-Brandeis volunteered for the next transport to join him. But before she was taken away, she gave to Rosa Engländer, the chief tutor of Girls' Home L 410, two suitcases with 4,500 drawings. F. Dicker-Brandes died in Birkenau on October 9, 1944. Her husband Pavel, survived.
After the war, Willy Groag, the director of the Girl's home L 410 brought the suitcases with children's drawings to the Jewish Community in Prague. From the nearly 660 authors of the drawings, 550 were killed in the Holocaust. The drawings are now in the Jewish Museum in Prague's collection, with some on display in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague.
In 1999, a Friedl Dicker-Brandeis's exhibit, organized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and curated by Elena Makarova (Israel) was opened in Vienna. The exhibition was shown in Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, France, USA and Japan. Tokyo Fuji Art Museum founder Daisaku Ikeda, who was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to Japan, comments, "The various artworks left behind by this great woman and the children of Terezin are their legacy to the present, to all of us today. They demand that we continue in our quest for a society that truly treasures human life, transcending all differences of race, religion, politics and ideology. It remains my heartfelt hope that this exhibit may provide a moment of introspection for its viewers, a moment for us to reaffirm the importance of our rights as human beings and the value of life itself."
Below~General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in the West, accompanied by General Omar Bradley (left), and Lt. General George S. Patton, inspect stolen art treasures hidden in the Merkers salt mine.
- July 30, 1898 - October 9, 1944
Map of Theresienstadt From an Original Document (1942-1945)
German Jews, wearing identification tags, before deportation to Theresienstadt. Wiesbaden, Germany, August 1942.
Hana Mueller Born: Prague, Czechoslovakia May 30, 1922
Hana was born to a Jewish family in Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia. Her father, a metalsmith, made pipes, spouts and gutters for construction companies. Because her mother was frail, Hana was raised by her father and grandmother. She attended a Jewish school through grade five, and later went to business school.
1933-39: In 1933 I read about the harrowing treatment of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition and told my grandmother, "We're fortunate that we live in the 20th century in Czechoslovakia and such a thing can't happen to us." Six years later on March 15, 1939, the Germans occupied Prague. It was a cold, snowy day. About a mile from my home the Germans entered the city on tanks and trucks, with their guns pointed toward the rooftops.
1940-44: I was in my apartment reading "The Grapes of Wrath" when the Germans came to get me. I was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto. The Nazis used Theresienstadt as a "show camp" to convince people that Jews were really being treated well. When the Red Cross came in July 1944, the Nazis put up dummy stores, a cafe, kindergarten and flower gardens to give the impression that we were leading "normal" lives. We painted the house fronts on the inspection routes and the Nazis gave us extra food--one extra dumpling each.
Hana was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. After some months as a slave laborer in Germany and Czechoslovakia, she was freed when SS guards deserted her work gang on May 5, 1945.
- May 30, 1922~
Carl Heumann Born: Hellenthal, Germany July 12, 1898
Carl was one of nine children born to Jewish parents living in a village near the Belgian border. When Carl was 26, he married Joanna Falkenstein and they settled down in a house across the street from his father's cattle farm. Carl ran a small general store on the first floor of their home. The couple had two daughters, Margot and Lore.
1933-39: I've moved my family to the city of Bielefeld, where I'm working for a Jewish relief organization. Requests from this area's Jews to leave Germany have multiplied since a night last November [Kristallnacht] when the Nazis smashed windows of Jewish stores and burned synagogues all over Germany. Unfortunately, the United States and other countries have immigration quotas so that only a fraction of the Jewish refugees can get visas.
1940-44: We've been deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. As a special privilege, we've been sent here rather than to a concentration camp further to the east because I earned the German Iron Cross in World War I. Still, the threat of deportation to a camp hangs over us daily, and we're always hungry. Our 15-year-old, Margot, has been assigned to a detail that leaves the ghetto each day to work on a farm: Sometimes she smuggles back vegetables to us by hiding them under her blouse.
In May 1944 Carl was caught stealing food, and he and his family were deported to Auschwitz. Everyone is believed to have perished there except Margot, who survived the war.
- July 12, 1898~
Arthur Karl Heinz Oertelt Born: Berlin, Germany January 13, 1921
Heinz, as he was usually called, was born in the German capital to religious Jewish parents. He and his older brother, Kurt, attended both religious and public schools. His father had died when he was very young. His mother, a seamstress, struggled to make ends meet. She and the boys lived in a predominantly Christian neighborhood.
1933-39: It frightened me when Nazi storm troopers sang about Jewish blood dripping from their knives. But we didn't have money to leave Berlin. In late 1939 I was forced, with other Jews, to work for German construction companies. Many of us were professionals and businessmen unused to manual labor. We shoveled dirt and carried rocks by hand. Passersby would grin at us, and teachers brought students to show them what Jews looked like.
1940-44: In March 1943 Mother, Kurt and I were deported to Theresienstadt, where we soon became infested with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. We became obsessed with thoughts of food. Our soup was dished out from a huge barrel by lazy men who didn't bother to stir it, leaving the good food chunks near the bottom. I had to time myself just right. If I was at the front of the line I'd get mostly the watery parts. If I was too far back, I might get nothing at all or watery soup from the top of a newly arrived barrel.
Heinz was eventually liberated near Flossenbürg in April 1945, and emigrated to the United States in 1949. Kurt survived the war, but their mother perished in Auschwitz.
- January 13, 1921~
Bertha Wolffberg Gottschalk Born: Koenigsberg, Germany September 22, 1866
Bertha was born to Jewish parents in the capital of East Prussia. Her father served on the Koenigsberg city council. In 1887 Bertha married Hugo Gottschalk, and the couple settled in the small town of Schlawe in northern Germany. There, Hugo owned the town's grain mill. The Gottschalks raised their four children in a home near a small stream, ringed by orchards and a large garden.
1933-39: My daughter Nanny and I have moved to Berlin--Hugo passed away in 1934 and we were afraid of the growing antisemitism in Schlawe. We'd hoped that, as Jews, we'd be less conspicuous here in a large city. But the Nazis have ordered all sorts of restrictions for Jews--recently I had to register my jewelry and silver. My daughter Gertrud has sent her three daughters to England. I would also like to leave, but it's difficult to get an exit visa.
1940-42: Nanny and I have been deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, where we've been assigned to a dirty, crowded and lice-infested room on the second floor of a house. Nanny hauls in bags of sawdust, which we burn to heat our room. I had a chance to go to America in 1941, but I refused to go without Nanny. My days in Schlawe are a distant memory now.
Bertha died in Theresienstadt on November 23, 1942.
- September 22, 1866~ November 23, 1942
Nanny Gottschalk Lewin Born: Schlawe, Germany March 13, 1888
Nanny was the oldest of four children born to Jewish parents in the small town of Schlawe in northern Germany, where her father owned the town's grain mill. Nanny was given the Hebrew name Nocha. She grew up on the mill grounds in a house surrounded by orchards and a big garden. In 1911 Nanny married Arthur Lewin. Together, they raised two children, Ludwig and Ursula.
1933-39: My widowed mother and I have moved to Berlin. We feared the rising antisemitism in Schlawe and hoped, as Jews, to be less conspicuous here in a large city. We live downstairs from my sister Kathe who is married to a Protestant and has converted. Shortly after we got settled, the Germans restricted the public movements of Jews, so that we no longer feel safe when we're out of our apartment.
1940-44: My mother and I have been deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Bohemia. We've been assigned a room on the second floor of a house that is dirty, crowded and infested with lice. The stove is fueled with sawdust. As the youngest in our room--and I'm 56--I've been lugging in the bags of sawdust on my back. I've been getting increasingly weaker, am now hard of hearing and need a cane to walk. Early this morning I learned that I'm on a list of people to go to another camp. I don't want to go but have no choice.
Nanny was deported to Auschwitz on May 15, 1944, and was gassed immediately upon arrival. She was 56 years old.
- March 13, 1888~May 15, 1944
Anna Pfeffer Born: Frankenthal, Germany November 19, 1885
Anna, affectionately known as Aennchen to her family, was the daughter of non-religious German-Jewish parents. Her father died when she was young and Anna was raised in the town of Bruchsal by her impoverished mother. Anna married a well-to-do, older gentleman in 1905 and moved to the fashionable city of Duesseldorf, where he was a department store manager. By 1933 they had two grown sons.
1933-39: The Pfeffer's comfortable life unraveled after the Nazis came to power. The Nazis arrested Anna's brother and deported him to a concentration camp, where he was murdered. Anna's oldest son, who had married a Dutch woman, emigrated to the Netherlands. After her husband lost his job and after the November 1938 pogrom, the Pfeffers also emigrated to the Netherlands. There, they joined their oldest son and daughter-in-law.
1940-44: Anna's husband passed away, and she spent her time in Amsterdam with her grandchildren. In May 1940 the Germans occupied the Netherlands. Jews were ordered to register and their rights were curtailed. Like other Jews, Anna lost whatever property she had. A year after being required to wear an identifying yellow badge, she was separated from her family and sent to Westerbork, a transit camp for Jews. Four months later, she was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia.
On October 9, 1944, Anna was deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where she was gassed two days later. She was 58 years old
- November 19, 1885~October 11, 1944
Jan-Peter Pfeffer Born: Amsterdam, Netherlands May 3, 1934
Jan-Peter's father, Heinz, was a German-Jewish refugee who married Henriette De Leeuw, a Dutch-Jewish woman. Frightened by the Nazi dictatorship and the murder of Heinz's uncle in a concentration camp, they emigrated to the Netherlands when Henriette was nine months pregnant. They settled in Amsterdam.
1933-39: Jan-Peter was born soon after his parents arrived in the Netherlands. He was 18 months old when Tommy, his baby brother, was born. In 1939 the parents and brother of Jan-Peter's father joined them in the Netherlands as refugees from Germany. Jan-Peter and Tommy grew up speaking Dutch as their native language, and they often spent time at their mother's family home in the country.
1940-44: The Germans occupied Amsterdam in May 1940. Despite the German occupation, 6-year-old Jan-Peter did not feel much change in his day-to-day life. Then just after his ninth birthday, the Germans sent his grandmother to a camp called Westerbork. Six months later, Jan-Peter and his family were sent to the same camp, but his grandmother was no longer there. During the winter, the Pfeffers were sent to a faraway ghetto called Theresienstadt where Jan-Peter felt cold, scared, and hungry.
On May 18, 1944, Jan-Peter was deported with his family to Auschwitz. He was gassed on July 11, 1944. Jan-Peter was 10 years old.
- May 3, 1934~July 11, 1944
Women prisoners lie on thin mattresses on the floor of a barracks in the women's camp in the Theresienstadt ghetto. Czechoslovakia, between 1941 and 1945.
A transport of Jewish prisoners marches through the snow from the Bauschovitz train station to Theresienstadt. Czechoslovakia, 1942.
Ita Guttman With Her Twin Children Rene and Renate
Portrait of Ita Guttman with her twin children Rene and Renate. When the twins were very young, the family moved to Prague. In the fall of 1941the Germans arrested Ita's husband, Herbert. Subsequently, the twins and their mother were deported to Theresienstadt, and from there, to Auschwitz. Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia, 1942.
The Old Water Tower
Photograph of the water tower of the Old Town Mills in Prague. After her deportation to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, Helene Reik yearned to record what was happening to her. This photograph was sent to Helene, who used it as paper for her diary in Theresienstadt. Helene’s makeshift diary offers wistful memories of her husband and parents who died before the war, loving thoughts of her family who had left Europe in 1939, and a firsthand account of the illness and hospitalization that ultimately led to her death. Because resources were scarce in the Theresienstadt ghetto, Helene recorded her thoughts, recollections, and diary entries in the margins and on the backs of family pictures that she had brought with her, as well as postcards and letters she received while in the ghetto.
THERESIENSTADT: OTHER PRISONERS
In addition to Jews from the Greater German Reich and the Protectorate, small groups of Jewish prisoners from other German-occupied countries were sent to Theresienstadt after June 1942.
The largest group included 4,894 Dutch Jews and three French Jews transported from the Netherlands in 1943 and 1944, mostly from the Westerbork transit camp, but also fromBergen-Belsen. Many of the 297 Jews arriving in Theresienstadt from the Netherlands in 1943 were in fact German or Austrian Jews who had emigrated to the Netherlands during the 1930s. The SS deported 3,010 of the Dutch Jews (61.5 percent) to Auschwitz; at least 169 more died in the Theresienstadt camp-ghetto before April 15, 1945. Approximately 1,500 survived.
In August 1943, SS and police units deployed in the destruction of the Bialystok ghetto captured several thousand Jews in hiding. They divided the captives by age (adults and children) and then separated the adults by gender. They shot the adults while those identified as children, mostly 14 years old and under, watched.
For reasons that remain unclear but which might have involved a shady and perhaps not serious scheme to exchange prisoners or bargain them for war materials, the SS transferred the children, numbering 1,260, to Theresienstadt on August 24, 1943. Since the older children knew and could provide first-hand knowledge of mass shootings and ghetto deportations and accurate rumors about gas chambers, the camp-ghetto authorities incarcerated all of the children in an isolated barrack, and chose 53 camp-ghetto residents, including a physician, several nurses, and Ottilie Kafka, the sister of noted Czech-Jewish writer Franz Kafka, to care for the children.
The 53 caregivers were likewise isolated in a carefully guarded barrack so that they could not pass on the knowledge of their traumatized charges to other camp-ghetto prisoners. On October 5, 1943, for reasons that are equally unclear, but more consistent with German policy, the SS placed the surviving 1,196 children and their 53 caregivers on an outgoing transport to Auschwitz. None of the children or their caregivers survived.
Following the foiled effort of the German authorities to seize and deport the Jewish population of Denmark in early October 1943, the German police shipped the 456 of the 476 Danish Jews they did capture to Theresienstadt, where they lived in a separate compound.
The remaining 20 Danish Jews arrived at Theresienstadt in 1944 via the Ravensbrück and Oranienburg concentration camps. The Danish prisoners benefited from the dogged persistence with which the Danish authorities pestered the German authorities to permit supplies to be shipped to the prisoners and to allow Danish Red Cross representatives to visit Theresienstadt. Of the 476 Danish Jews, 423 survived the war. 52 died in the camp; and one was deported, presumably to Auschwitz.
RED CROSS VISIT
Succumbing to pressure following the deportation of Danish Jews toTheresienstadt, the Germans permitted representatives from the Danish Red Cross and the International Red Cross to visit in June 1944. It was all an elaborate hoax. The Germans intensified deportations from the ghetto shortly before the visit, and the ghetto itself was "beautified." Gardens were planted, houses painted, and barracks renovated. The Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Once the visit was over, the Germans resumed deportations from Theresienstadt, which did not end until October 1944.
Danish leaders -- from King Christian on down -- were insistent that the Danish Red Cross visit the Danish deportees to gather firsthand information on their treatment in Theresienstadt. German diplomats felt that German standing in Denmark and Sweden would deteriorate, to a point harmful to German interested.
The Wehrmacht (German armed forces) wanted peace and quiet in Denmark, and the Germans hoped, in Sweden, to continue to import ball bearings needed for the war effort. Under considerable pressure, the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) agreed to consider the matter and, at the end of 1943, ordered the Theresienstadt camp-ghetto authorities to "prepare" the facility.
After considerable stalling, the RSHA finally authorized a visit for representatives of the International Red Cross and the Danish Red Cross for June 1944 and ordered the SS staff in Theresienstadt to complete the preparations.
Elaborate measures were taken to disguise conditions in the ghetto and to portray an atmosphere of normalcy. The SS engaged the Council of Jewish Elders and the camp-ghetto "residents" in a "beautification" program. Prisoners planted gardens, painted housing complexes, renovated barracks, and developed and practiced cultural programs for the entertainment of the visiting dignitaries to convince them that the "Seniors' Settlement" was real. The SS authorities intensified deportations of Jews from the ghetto to alleviate overcrowding, and as part of the preparations in the camp-ghetto, 7,503 people were deported to Auschwitz between May 16 and May 18, 1944.
On June 23, 1944, as planned, two delegates from the International Red Cross and one from the Danish Red Cross visited the ghetto, accompanied by Theresienstadt commandant SS First Lieutenant Karl Rahm and one of his deputies.
The facility had been "cleaned up" and rearranged as a model village. Hints that all was not well included a bruise under the eye of the "mayor" of the "town," a part played by Paul Eppstein, the Elders' Council member representing German Jews. Despite these hints, the International Red Cross inspectors were taken in. This was in part because they expected to see ghetto conditions like those in occupied Poland with people starving in the streets and armed policemen on the perimeter.
The Jewish administration, under duress from the Germans, treated the visiting delegation to the trial of a person "charged" with theft, which "just happened" to be taking place; a soccer game in the camp square complete with cheering crowds; and a performance of the children's opera Brundibár, performed in a community hall built specifically for this occasion.
As a result of preparations for the Red Cross visit, the summer of 1944 was, as one survivor later wrote, "the best time we had in Terezín. Nobody thought of new transports."
In the wake of the inspection, SS officials in the Protectorate produced a film using ghetto residents as a demonstration of the benevolent treatment the Jewish “residents” of Theresienstadt supposedly enjoyed. In Nazi propaganda, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a "spa town" where elderly German Jews could "retire" in safety. When the film was completed, SS officials deported most of the "cast" to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Despite the effort involved in making the propaganda film, the German authorities ultimately decided not to screen it.
SS AND POLICE STRUCTURE
Unlike camps in the concentration camp system, the Theresienstadt "camp-ghetto" was subordinate to the SS officials who ran the Prague branch of the Central Office for Jewish Emigration. This reflected Theresienstadt's special status as a transit station. SS First Lieutenant Siegfried Seidl, who was responsible for establishing and commanding the camp-ghetto, reported directly to the chief of that office, SS Captain Rolf Günther. Günther in turn reported to Adolf Eichmann at the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) IV B 4 in Berlin.
As an SS- and police- managed installation, Theresienstadt was also under the authority of the Higher SS and Police Leader in Prague, SS Lieutenant General Karl Hermann Frank. Seidl was commandant from November 24, 1941, until July 3, 1943. SS First Lieutenant Anton Burger replaced Seidl and served as commandant of Theresienstadt until January 1944. SS First Lieutenant Karl Rahm replaced Burger, and remained commandant until the SS abandoned the camp on May 5, 1945.
The commandant's headquarters employed 28 SS members and/or SS candidate members. The officers and the non-commissioned officers were employees of the RSHA. The enlisted men, including clerical assistants and chauffeurs, were primarily ethnic Germans recruited from Slovakia. In addition, the commandant's headquarters employed 18 civilians, generally local residents, both ethnic German and Czech, in a variety of support positions (cooks, electricians, chauffeurs, etc.).
A Czech Special Department-Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie-Sonderabteilung) detailed from the Gendarmerie Provincial Detachment Bohemia and numbering between 150 and 170 men provided the perimeter guards for the Theresienstadt camp-ghetto. Gendarmerie Captain Theodor Janecek commanded the Special Detachment from November 1941 until the end of August 1943; Gendarmerie Lieutenant Miroslaus Hasenkopf replaced him on September 1, 1943. In order to prevent the development of contacts between the Jewish prisoners and the Czech guards, the SS ordered the Provincial Detachment Bohemia to rotate the personnel of the special department frequently.
The German political police department (Geheime Staatspolizei-Gestapo) established an interrogation-intelligence headquarters in the Small Fortress, located across the Ohre River from the camp-ghetto. This headquarters was specifically directed at the perceived "danger to the Reich" represented by the inhabitants of the camp-ghetto. In addition to identifying and eliminating any potential for resistance, the Small Fortress served as a Gestapo prison and as headquarters to evaluate intelligence about what was going on in the camp-ghetto and its environs.
Though most of those incarcerated and tortured in the Small Fortress were non-Jewish political prisoners, Gestapo officials also arrested, imprisoned, and killed Jews there, primarily from Litomerice and other Sudeten and Bohemian cities. Seventeen of the Jewish prisoners who survived their experience in the Small Fortress were sent across the river to Theresienstadt (eleven in 1942, five in 1943, and one in 1944).
1946: Karl Hermann Frank
On this date in 1946, the Sudeten German whose fifth column had paved the way for the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia expiated his war crimes at Prague’s Pankrac Prison.
Karl Hermann Frank had been a prewar mover and shaker in the Sudeten German Party, increasingly the Reich’s stalking-horse as it bluffed European rivals into acceding to Czechoslovakia’s dismemberment.
The onetime Czechoslovakian MP did well by the Anschluss, gaining the rank of
Obergruppenführer and becoming one Bohemia and Moravia’s top evildoers.
The Lidice operation formed a war crimes charge against Herr Frank after the war, and Frank’s own lasting badge of infamy: the systematic destruction of the entire male population of an arbitrarily chosen village remains the emblematic crime of the Nazi occupation to this day.
Frank surrendered to the U.S. Army in Pilsen on 9 May 1945. He was extradited to the People’s Court in Prague and tried during March and April 1946. After being convicted of war crimes and the obliteration of Lidice, Frank was sentenced to death. He was hanged on 22 May 1946, using the Austro-Hungarian "pole method", in the courtyard of the Pankrac prison in Prague, before 5,000 onlookers. He was buried in an anonymous pit at Prague's ?áblice cemetery.
- 24 January 1898 – 22 May 1946
Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary used an unusual variant of short drop hanging. There was no gallows as such, but rather a stout vertical wooden pole (or post) of about 2-3 meters height with a metal hook or eye bolt at the top to which a thin rope noose was attached. There was either a ladder or steps up to a small platform at the back of the pole for the executioner to stand on.
The pinioned prisoner was placed with their back to the pole and then lifted up either manually by the hangman’s assistants, on a simple board platform or by a cloth sling running under their armpits so that the executioner could put the noose round their neck. At the signal they were now jerked downwards by the assistants thus tightening the noose. This jerk combined with the thinness of the cord typically caused a carotid reflex and led to rapid unconsciousness.
Late 19th century Austrian hangman, Josef Lang, considered this method to be far more humane than American style standard drop hanging and claimed that no criminal suffered for more than a minute with his method. It is unclear when pole hanging ceased although it was definitely in use until after the end of World War II and was used on various war criminals. A video of the hanging of Karl Hermann Frank which took place on the 22nd of May 1946 in Prague’s Pankrác Prison is currently available on YouTube.
He was lifted up to the top of the pole by a sling and then dropped about a meter, the hangman covering Frank’s face with his hand. This film clearly demonstrates how pole hanging worked and does not give the impression that Frank struggled after suspension. There are also photos of the execution of Serbs by the Austrians during the war.
It is quite probable that Milada Horakova (female) who was convicted of treason by the communist regime in Czechoslovakia suffered this death when she was hanged on 27th of June 1950. It has been reported that her executioner was ordered to “let the bitch suffocate”.
After the end of World War II, Albert Pierrepoint who hanged eight men at Karlou in Austria for war crimes, taught Austrian hangmen the British method and this was used for the last few executions there.
Austria’s last execution took place on the 24th of March 1950 when Johann Trnkawas hanged for murder. It is not known whether Czechoslovakia and Hungary continued to use pole hanging or a more conventional gallows for executions from the 1950’s. Czechoslovakia’s last execution was in 1989 and Hungary’s in 1988.
The Terezin Ghetto
The Terezin ghetto was guarded by Czech gendarmes who were loyal to the Nazi regime. The internal affairs of the camp was run by the Ältestenrat - Council of Elders composed of Jewish leaders, a similar principle as was used in camp Westerbork in the Netherlands. The only real difference was that Theresienstadt was a ghetto as well as a transit camp while Westerbork, strictly speaking, was a transit camp. The Council of Judenältesten - Council of Jewish Elders for Theresienstadt was first headed by theJudenälteste -Jewish Elder Jacob Edelstein. Edelstein, and subsequently Eppstein and Murmelstein were directly appointed by Adolf Eichmann.
Jacob Edelstein, a Zionist official, was the first Judenälteste so appointed by Adolf Eichmann. Edelstein believed that Terezin (Theresienstadt) could be used as a kind of Hachshara - preparation for young Jews to make Aliyah - moving to Israel after the war. He held that position from 4 December 1941 until January 1943.
Eichmann replaced him with Paul Eppstein because Edelstein was accused of having corrupted transportation lists. However, Edelstein remained on as first deputy and Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein as second deputy to Eppstein.
Then, Edelstein finally was arrested by the Gestapo in November 1943 accused of having falsified deportation lists in order to rescue several fellow Jewish inmates from deportation. Edelstein was sent to Auschwitz where he was locked away in a punishment cell. Finally, on 20 June 1944, he was shot to death. But first he was forced to witness the execution of his wife and young son before he himself was executed.
His successor was Paul Eppstein. As Judenälteste he took charge in January 1943 and remained in that position until 27 September 1944 when he too was arrested by the Gestapo. They accused him of allowing the organization of self-defense units among the inmates.
The truth was that Eppstein was far removed from any such involvement, regardless the fact that such action would of course have been illegal. Another probable reason for his arrest and death may well have been his involvement in arguments between SS officers Moehs, Burger, and Rahm. He was shot and killed on Yom Kippur 1944. It should be noted that Jews had no right to live and therefore trials were not deemed necessary.
Officially, Murmelstein's appointment started on 5 December 1944. Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein of Vienna became the third and last Judenälteste of Theresienstadt. He held that position until 5 May 1945 when officially the command over the ghetto was turned over to the International Red Cross delegate Paul Dunant. Rahm, together with another SS man, left on 5 May 1945 still wearing his uniform and holding on to his weapons. Two days later the ghetto was liberated by the Soviet Red Army.
Rabbi Murmelstein, who was the last of the Judenältesten, resigned his position that same day. The next day Murmelstein received a letter from Rabbi Leo Baeck, who had been a fellow inmate, thanking him for way he had performed his task. Always under constant pressure and with great difficulty,
Rabbi Murmelstein had shown himself to be a great champion of the people. Especially the elderly and orphans had benefited from his ardent labors. Rabbi Murmelstein and Rabbi Baeck both survived the war. Rabbi Murmelstein went to live with his family in Italy while Rabbi Baeck moved via England to the United States.
That almost 3,000 could survive must be contributed to the hard work and diligent leadership of Rabbi Murmelstein, the last Judenälteste - head of the Jewish Council before Paul Dunant of the Red Cross had taken Terezin under its protection.
When delegates of the International Red Cross of Geneva, Switzerland, visited Theresienstadt on 6 April 1945 Rabbi Murmelstein, at great personal risk, managed to sound the alarm by twice saying in his address to the visitors, Das Schiksal Theresienstadts bereitet mir Sorgen - The future fate of Terezin causes me great concern.
The Red Cross delegates understood the message. That same day they took action. They approached SS General Karl Hermann Frank, German minister of state for the Protectorate (of) Bohemia and Moravia and obtained his promise that no further deportation of inmates would take place. Furthermore, Murmelstein prevented riots among the remaining inmates, which, had they taken place, would have given the SS reason to act harshly. The SS were looking for any excuse to liquidate the camp. Rabbi Murmelstein prevented that.
Jacob Edelstein was born in Gorodenka, Galicia and received a religious Zionist upbringing, during World War One his family moved to Brno, the capital of Moravia, and from 1926 he was active in the Tekhelet – Lavan and He- Haluts Zionist youth movements.
In 1929 he was elected Tekhelet – Lavan representative at the He-Haluts main office, and in 1933 he was appointed head of its Palestine Office in Prague.
In the summer of 1937 Edelstein immigrated to Palestine and for three months worked there for Keren Hayesod (The Palestine Foundation Fund) but he was disappointed with that situation and decided to return to Prague, where he resumed his work as director of the Palestine Office.
On March 15 1939, the day the Germans marched into Prague, the members of the Zionist leadership of Czechoslovakia held a meeting at which they decided that it was their duty to stay on and not abandon the Jewish population at a time of crisis.
Edelstein became the leading personality in the Zionist leadership, was put in charge of emigration to Palestine, and before long became the official representative of the Jews in contacts with the Germans.
Until he was sent to Theresienstadt, the so – called “Paradise Ghetto” on the 4 December 1941, Edelstein left the country for several trips abroad, with the Gestapo’s permission, in order to look for ways and means to speed up the emigration of Jews.
In May 1939 he again visited Palestine and in November he was in Trieste and at the end of the same month he was in Vienna and in February 1940 he spent two days in Geneva and from there went to the capital of the Reich Berlin.
Edelstein visited Bratislava in the autumn of 1940, and in March 1941 he went to Amsterdam, in each of these places he met with the Jewish community leaders and the Zionist leadership, sharing his information and experiences with them, and he warned them of possible future developments. He had several opportunities to stay abroad rather than return to Czechoslovakia, but he always went back to Prague.
On the 18 October 1939, Edelstein with a group of a thousand men from Moravska Ostrava left for Nisko, on the San River, south of Lublin, Poland, in connection with the German plan for the resettlement of Jews in the Lublin district. This plan ended in failure, and some of the deportees were returned to their place of origin.
Edelstein returned to Prague in November 1939, his experiences in Nisko gave him first hand knowledge of the conditions in the East and what was taking place there. He decided to do everything in his power to ensure that the Jews of Czechoslovakia would not be deported to Poland, since he doubted whether they could survive in the harsh conditions prevailing in German occupied Poland.
It was now his major concern to persuade the Germans to let the Jews stay in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and to utilise them as manpower. Jewish labour as a means of saving Jewish lives became the core of Edelstein’s policy and this prompted him time and again to make proposals for the German exploitation of Jewish manpower.
In October 1941 the Germans decided on the establishment of the Theresienstadt ghetto as a temporary solution for the Jews of the Protectorate and a base for their future deportation to the East. The Jewish leadership, with Edelstein at its head, saw in the founding of Theresienstadt a personal achievement and the success of their efforts to obtain permission for the Jews to stay in the Protectorate. They did not know that Theresienstadt was only a temporary arrangement.
Jacob Edelstein arrived in Theresienstadt on the 4 December 1941 and became the first chairman of the ghetto’s Judenrat. He was assisted by a deputy Otto Zucker, and a council of twelve.
The emphasis in the ghetto was on education of the young and on making the ghetto into a productive establishment. Edelstein believed that Terezin (Theresienstadt) could be used as a kind of Hachshara - preparation for young Jews to make Aliyah - moving to Israel after the war. He held that position from 4 December 1941 until January 1943. Eichmann replaced him with Paul Eppstein because Edelstein was accused of having corrupted transportation lists.
However, Edelstein remained on as first deputy and Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein as second deputy to Eppstein. In January 1943 Edelstein was dismissed from his post, on the charge that there was a discrepancy between the registered population of the Theresienstadt ghetto and the actual figure.
On the 18 December 1943 he was deported to Auschwitz with his family, Jacob Edelstein was imprisoned in Block 11 with his closest associates. On February 1944 Adolf Eichmann, visited the Theresienstadt Family Camp, and he spoke to Miriam Edelstein informing her that “her husband is probably in Germany.”
On the 20 June 1944 Jacob Edelstein and his family and associates were shot and killed in the Crematorium III in Birkenau.
Edelstein’s activities in Theresienstadt have been the subject of much dispute, some who find fault with him charge him with cooperating with the Nazis and with misreading the situation. His policies have been criticised, but not his personal integrity and honesty, whilst others regard Edelstein as a hero, who sacrificed himself for the sake of the Jewish race.
- 20 June 1944
Autumn Transports of 1944
The summer of 1944 in Terezín was marked by the visit from the International Red Cross delegation and the film shooting that followed. Both of these brought hope of liberation to the prisoners of the ghetto. People appeared to be happier and whey they discussed the war, they saw the Allies as their saviours. However, the Jewish elder, Dr. Paul Eppstein did not share the euphoric mood. In his address on the occasion of the Jewish New Year on 16 September he asked people not to get too excited. He likened Terezín to a ship that is within sight of the harbour, can hear the cries from the shore, yet it cannot go any faster. He thought it was wise to wait, to be cautious.
Today we know that the prominent personalities of the ghetto learned about the plans of the SS commanders to send 5 to 7 thousand able men away as soon as the film shooting is over. Soon, this plan was to become reality. In September, high-ranking German officers arrived at the ghetto – Eichmann’s aide Möhs and leader of the Prague Zentralstelle, Günther.
The reason? Along with the Camp Commandant Rahm, they were to suppress any sign of resistance or uprising before the ghetto is eliminated. As a preventive measure, 60 members of German protection police were send to Terezín and the local special police force was sent reinforcements. The preparation of transports began.
On 22 September 1944, prisoner W. Mahler writes in his diary about a committee from the Reichsprotektor’s Office, which was to make a partial decision on elimination or preservation of the ghetto.
In an entry dated 23 September we learn that the Jewish elder P. Eppstein performed a roll call of Terezín men in the Hamburg barracks where he told them that German authorities ordered two transport to leave, with 2,500 men each. He asked them to stay calm and prudent.
The first autumn transports
The SS gave out a false information on the purpose of the transport being a work group to be sent to Dresden where it would build and operate a work camp. With respect to this, men were carefully selected, especially for the first transport. The working ability of each individual was judged (they had to be between 16 and 55 years of age), as well as the overall profession breakdown – as was supposedly required by the work camp construction project. The appointed leaders of the work group were Ing. O. Zucker and the economist K. Schliesser.
They were told officially that the camp would be located in Riese. They were to take along only the absolutely necessary belongings and food for one day. They were told they would stay in touch with their families in Terezín. This Transport, Ek, with 2,500 men left Terezín on 28 September and, on the next day, arrived at Auschwitz – Birkenau.
There was a selection process performed right on the arrival and 1,000 men were taken directly to gas chambers. These included Ing. Zucker and all the selected leading personnel for the purported work camp. On 29 September the El transport followed, with 1,500 men, also to Birkenau. Another selection was made. Those capable of work were taken to various places such as Kaufering, Golešov, Gleiwitz and others.
Ing. Otto Zucker
Even before the first “work transports” left Terezín, on 27 September the Jewish elder Dr. Eppstein was arrested (supposedly for attempted escape), dragged to the Small Fortress prison and shot. He was then secretly cremated in the Terezín crematory. He was nevertheless listed as being on one of the October transports.
The third transport, which left Terezín on 1 October, had 1,000 men which could be joined by 500 wives or other family members. The Nazis promised them they would rejoin their men once the journey would be over.
This did not happen. Among the women who volunteered for the transports were Mrs Zucker and Mrs Eppstein, both of whom were murdered on their arrival in Birkenau. The other women did not rejoin their husbands, either. By that time, they were either dead, or had been selected to work elsewhere in the Reich.
What did the composition of transports look like?
In the summer of 1944 there were some 30,000 prisoners in the ghetto, when the autumn wave ended (28 October), there were only 11,000 left, mostly the elderly and women. The 18,400 people deported amounted to practically the whole workforce, all artists, doctors, teachers and young people of the heims, as well as most member of the Jewish Council.
All those who built the ghetto, gave it its face and used their craft to entertain their fellow prisoners were gone. The transports made no exceptions for those using protection schemes of the preceding ghetto era. Earlier, a 30-member transport committee was set up who could protect extremely valuable (for the community) persons, the ill or other people (such as those of mixed descent) from being deported. This time, the SS intervened and the old procedures were no longer allowed. Names were provided by the Commandant Rahm and his office, as well as by Eichmann’s Berlin office, namely Möhs.
They had their lists and they simply dictated these to the Jewish elder B. Murmelstein. In his post-war testimony, Murmelstein claimed that the SS could never act with such degree of certainty, had they no informants in place. For example, R. Mandler was on the list, a man who the head of the economic council and therefore knew the ghetto apparatus and also knew many people from the time when he had worked in Prague. The commandants of Terezín often turned to him for information. However, as the inconvenient witnesses they were, even these “Mandlers” were included in the last transport.
In hindsight, an overview of the 11 autumn transports from Terezín to Birkenau clearly shows the meaning and purpose they had for the Nazis: The first three transports were to prevent any possible assistance from Terezín inmates to Czech uprising which the Nazis believed would surely break out. At the same time, they were to provide labour force to the German war economy. The next 8 transports, with 13,000 men, women and children were to carry out the “final solution” by providing more victims to Auschwitz and get rid of anyone who might prove dangerous at that or any later time.
A small portion of these people were selected for work in Freiberg, Monowitz, Fürstengrube, Frýdlant and elsewhere. There was at least some chance of survival for those. The “elimination” adjective that we invariably join to these transports now can be perfectly documented by the final statistic: of the 18,400 prisoners deported from Terezín from 28 September – 28 October 1944, only 1,570 survived.
The ghetto was utterly paralysed. Out of those who remained, 4,000 were the elderly of 65 years or more, 4,000 women and 2,000 men and children. Despite all this, the ghetto lingered on and its life went on according to the new Nazi plan.
List of the 1944 autumn transports to Auschwitz
The early spring of 1945 found the ghetto putting on a front once again. And once again, everything was being mended, renovated, just like the year before (in the spring of 1944). The “redecorated” town was to serve as a proof of the care supposedly provided to elderly Jewish inmates. Special homes for the elderly were established, with relatively more comfortable conditions. There were some new hospital rooms and more attention was given to homes for children as well. Terezín was to be filled with cultural events.
The council of elders which up to that moment resided in the Magdeburg barracks was given the building of the former municipal savings bank. It was furnished in a way that was almost luxurious – complete with carpets and telephones. The barracks on the Jižní vrch were also redecorated, with beds brought in and curtains hung. They even put flowerpots in the windows…
Meanwhile, the SS men were busy destroying evidence of what took place in the ghetto prior to 1 January 1945; all documents and written records that mentioned prisoners that had been deported from Terezín was to be deposited in the archive, as were the lists of those who died in the ghetto. Later, the whole archive was carried away in trucks. The way the documents were being handled suggested they were to be burned soon. Offices and living quarters of the prisoners were searched in attempt to locate any materials of importance that might have been hidden. These efforts notwithstanding, some of the documents were eventually preserved.
Funeral Service Halls, May 1945
The cemetery near the crematorium was tidied up. Cremations were halted and the dead were buried in the ground. Digging of new graves was to start in the same place where it had been abandoned in 1942. This was intended to show the important guests the way the Nazis supposedly respected Jewish traditions in the ghetto. The crematorium was profusely decorated with flowers.
To anyone asking about the fate of the urns destroyed in the autumn on 1944, those who worked in the crematorium were to reply that the urns had been transported to a graveyard in Prague. In order to have some sort of proof, about 150 urns were indeed taken to Prague. The “break” in cremating lasted from 18 March through 13 May 1945. Thereafter, cremations were reintroduced – for those who died of infectious diseases following the liberation of Terezín.
Crematorium, May 1945
At the beginning of April 1945 four goods wagons with food from the International Red Cross arrived at Terezín. This is documented by a report of the Jewish council from 4 April 1945, MT 67, which says: „On 2 April 1945, a gift from the International Red Cross arrived at Terezín. The gift will be distributed on 5 April 1945 to each inhabitant of Terezín as a portion of 500 g of sugar and 200 g of rice. Further, each child and teenagers of up to 16 years will receive a chocolate bar… the elderly of more than 65 years will receive half a chocolate bar each.”
Before the committee itself arrived, Günther and Eichmann’s henchman Möhs turned up for an inspection. They inspected the camp, the living quarters, talked to the prisoners and asked them about their health. The older prisoners wept and asked them what had become of their children which had been transported to the East.
Günther and Möhs were at a loss, asked the camp commandant for advice and finally concluded they would empty the living quarters of the older prisoners and present them like that to prevent the committee from talking to the inmates. The committee was told the older prisoners were out on a trip. On 6 April 1945, the following delegates arrived at Terezín: Paul Dunant, member of the International Red Cross, with two other men. Once again, they were witnesses to a perfectly set-up front… and then they left.
Another important event that took place in April 1945 was the destruction of the RSHA archive. Documents were burned in the empty tank of the Sudetenland barracks yard and in the crematorium.
The prisoner workshops were busy handling the SS men’s “orders”. They ordered boxes for moving, clothing, shoes and underwear. They had their backpacks fixed. A field kitchen was assembled for the SS men, so that they could prepare their food while fleeing. Two smoking chambers were hastily set up to smoke meat for the SS men; livestock was slaughtered…
The SS men, RSHA officers and their families were packing up and waiting to leave. Then one day a transport train arrived at Terezín once again, but this time it was not for the prisoners. The SS men took the train away, leaving only the commanders and guards in the camp. The separated part of the town which had been up inaccessible for the prisoners was now empty.
In mid-April, a car with the Danish flag arrived at Terezín. An announcement was made to the effect that on 15 April, the Swedish Red Cross would take the Danish prisoners away. They were to pack up and get ready to leave. And indeed, on that day, a motorcade of white coaches arrived with Swedes dressed in white uniforms.
The prisoners were forbidden from approaching the Swedes, but they nevertheless did so and were given cigarettes. Moreover, the coaches had radio receivers turned on and the news was thus broadcast over the camp. The Danish prisoners took their leave and boarded the coaches. The prisoners could not help but notice the cold manner in which the Swedes addressed the SS men.
By that time, a number of prison camps had already been liberated – Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen… Starting from 20 April 1945, evacuation transport began to appear in Terezín, bringing in up to several thousand prisoners a day. The new arrivals were initially placed in the Hamburg and Dresden barracks. Once those did not suffice, they were also placed anywhere where they could fit in. These evacuated prisoners brought a deathly threat to Terezín with them – epidemic typhus. (We discussed this part of Terezín history in an earlier TM Newsletter.)
The first days of May were thus marked by the attempts to help the terminal typhus patients. On 2 May 1945 both Terezín camps were taken over by the IRC due to the onset of the epidemic. At that time, large convoys of the routed German army were passing Terezín. The Czechoslovak flags were already over the camp. As late as on 5 May the commandant Rahm asked for these to be removed, but then he himself left. On 8 May 1945, the first Soviet tanks passed Terezín, bringing liberty to its prisoners.
On 10 May 1945, the Soviet Army took over the camp and Mayor Kuzmin became its commandant. The situation was very complicated, with roughly 3,000 prisoners leaving the camp in the first days of peace. Husbands and wives arrived to look for their spouses, parents came looking for their children. The typhus epidemic continued to spread, leading to a 14 day quarantine being proclaimed on 14 May 1945 and no one was allowed to leave the camp. (More on these and subsequent events can be found in the Newsletters 1 and 2/2005.)
May 2010 will mark the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II and thus also of the abolishment of the Terezín Ghetto. This article aims to sum up the events that took place in Terezín in the final months of the war, in 1945.
The end of 1944 and the first months of 1945 were marked by several events. On 23 December 1944 a transport arrived from the work camp in Sere?, Slovakia; it brought 416 Slovak Jews. These were then followed by 1,000 more. Slovak prisoners formed a new group among the inmates of Terezín. They did not make a very profound impact on the ghetto, however, the information they brought with them was crucial. The Slovaks knew what happened in the East, they knew about the “solution to the Jewish question”, the firing squads and gas chambers, they knew that “Birkenau bei Neu Berun” was in fact the Auschwitz II extermination camp. The Terezín inmates found it hard to believe all this. They did not want to believe. The reality was simply too harsh. They tried pointing out that the deported sent letters to them from Birkenau, what they however did not know was the fact that the dates on the letters were forged and the letters were sent out by the SS after their writers were already dead.
Meanwhile, the ghetto was carefully preparing for the arrival of 7 transports that would bring in the Jews of the Protectorate who had been theretofore protected from deportation by living in “mixed marriages”. Children from such marriages were sent to the ghetto as well. Unlike previous transports, these were sent to Terezín as a work camp. There were no inspections at the time of departure. The prisoners were thus free to take along anything they wanted. They brought money, valuables, cigarettes. All of this was nevertheless confiscated on their arrival in Terezín. For this purpose, a room was built in the Hrani?á?ské Barracks to receive the transports – it included partition railings and inspection tables, with various signs instructing the incomers to hand over their property. More prisoners from “mixed marriages” and of “mixed origin” arrived in Terezín from the Third Reich.
In February 1945 military officers arrived with the order for 1,200 prisoners to be sent to Switzerland. The inmates of Terezín did not believe the news, regarding it as another Nazi lie. The criteria for selection were provided and people were summoned for the transport. 3,940 prisoners were selected. These were to decide immediately whether they wish to be included in the transport or not. Approximately 1,900 prisoners applied, the rest did not trust the officers. They found it suspicious that the Danish – the most protected prisoner group – could not apply for the transport. Ultimately, 1,200 names were selected. These prisoners were asked to take only one piece of hand baggage and a suitcase with them. If they did not possess one, they received their luggage from the warehouse. An actual passenger express train arrived instead of the usual cargo wagons.
SS members even assisted the prisoners in boarding. On their way, while still in the Third Reich, the prisoners were commanded to remove the stars from their clothes. At the Switzerland borders, they received water, shaving utensils and cosmetics to make themselves presentable. Late night on 6 February, the train entered Switzerland and the prisoners were free. Back in Terezín, the prisoners did not believe the first telegram that confirmed successful arrival of the transport. They only believed after letters arrived complete with Swiss stamps and the foreign radio station they secretly listened to reported news of the transport. There were however no further transport of this sort.
Another event, shrouded in mystery and followed closely by the prisoners of Terezín, was the construction of a “gas chamber”. At the beginning of February 1945, SS commandant Karl Rahm and other SS members thoroughly inspected the fortifications, in particular the ravelin XVIII. Subsequently, prisoners – construction specialists – were brought in and started bricking in old loopholes, making a new entrance and holes in the ceiling for ventilation. There were iron grills produced in prison workshops for the ventilation holes and hermetically sealed door with external lock. The prisoners found this suspicious and there were rumours of a gas chamber being built.
At the beginning of March, the construction site was inspected by Adolf Eichmann during his visit to the ghetto. Shortly afterwards, commandant Rahm asked for keys from the cyanide storage facility. The prisoners were aware of the impending danger. They asked the commandant for a small amount of cyanide for fumigation. They used the opportunity to secretly change the lock and keys from the storage facility. This way, prisoners held their own key. In case of danger, they intended to blow the whole cyanide storage up.
At the same time, another mysterious building was constructed, this time in the moat near the ravelin XV. The moat, surrounded by fortifications on three of its sides, was closed off by another wall, 5-6 meters tall. The top side of the wall was lined with glass shards.
"Duck farm" in ravelin
Both buildings were most probably intended for physical extermination of the Terezín prisoners. The ravelin XVIII could take in as much as 4,000 people – the number of prisoners of the Small Fortress Gestapo police prison – and the commandant H. Jöckel had also shown interest in the construction. The walled in space in the ravelin XV was to become a trap for the ghetto prisoners. It could take in approximately 40,000 people. Prisoners drawn into the trap could then be shot or drowned. Rahm had an “explanation” for the second building – it was supposedly to serve as a duck farm.
The Jewish elder B. Murmelstein, under pressure from fellow prisoners, informed commandant Rahm of the nervous atmosphere in the camp caused by the two constructions. Rahm denied the rumours, citing the respective purpose of the constructions as a food storage facility and a duck farm with pond.
While the German occupied area in Europe evidently shrunk and the military situation forced the Nazis to withdraw, Terezín remained largely untouched by the global events. A new scheme to mislead an international committee was being prepared. (Further events of the spring 1945 will be described in Newsletter 2/2010.)
The last execution in Terezín
On the day Berlin was conquered by the Soviet troops, 2 May 1945, when the defeat of Nazi Germany was already irreversible, the last and historically largest execution took place in Terezín’s Gestapo police prison. Six days before the Red Army arrived in Terezín, 51 mostly young members of leftist resistance groups were killed by the order of the Prague Gestapo.
The death of a number of them was directly caused by confidential agents working with the German Gestapo, without whose aid it would have been difficult for the Nazi secret police to penetrate the secrets of the Czech resistance movements and subvert the activities of resistance fighters.
The informer network began to be built by the occupying forces mostly from 1942. A prominent role in it was played by Jaroslav Fiala, whose activity actually attracted attention of (the prominent Nazi official in Czechoslovakia) K. H. Frank himself. Fiala was arrested at the end of the war due to his attempts to acquire an alibi for his actions and on 2 May 1945 he was executed in the Small Fortress along with many of those whose fates were affected by his work as a Nazi informer. There were thus 52 people executed in all, Fiala can however hardly be counted with the Nazi resistance fighters that this article deals with.
Several of the 51 victims were more or less active in the resistance movement for years, but only came to direct contact with the machinery of oppression during the summer and autumn of 1944, or at the beginning of the last year of the war. A characteristic trait of the resistance movement in the last years of occupation was the tendency to unite separate resistance groups and make them answer to single command which would coordinate all activities during the final confrontation with the enemy.
The illegal Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was one of the organizations active in these endeavours and many of the victims of Terezín’s last execution were, whether they were aware of it or not, connected to the party. Before they were brought to the Small Fortress and rounded up in yard IV, they for the most part had not met before.
With the end of war approaching and liberating armies advancing toward the Czech territory, the Nazi “scorched earth” policy also became dangerously close. It involved destruction of important values, objects and equipment, including evacuation of concentration camp and prison inmates to areas further removed from the front line. The Gestapo command in Prague which was in charge of the Terezín police prison acted on these instructions.
By the order of K. H. Frank and leaders of the Prague Gestapo, a list of particularly dangerous prisoners was worked out and a “XYZ” note was added to their names. This abbreviation stood for elimination of the selected individuals without formal trial for which the Nazis did not have the time in the spring of 1945. Frank’s initiative in this matter demonstrates among other things his ruthlessness and his well-known hatred towards everything Czech, as his order was in direct contradiction of the order of the head of the Berlin RSHA (Reich Main Security Office), Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Based on testimonies of Nazis given after the war, Kaltenbrunner visited Terezín in late April 1945 and prohibited any executions of prisoners.
On the fateful second day of May, Prague Gestapo officials arrived at the Small Fortress with a list of roughly 70 prisoners marked XYZ, who were then rounded up from their cells in yard IV. None of the expected what was to follow in the coming moments, on the contrary, they believed they would be set free, as the day before that a group of inmates suffering from tuberculosis left the prison.
It was only the sounds of shooting heard from the place of execution that alerted them to the actual purpose of their being called out and the remaining prisoners did not react when their names were shouted out and hid among other prisoners. Thus, around 20 people saved their lives.
There are very few authentic data on the actual course of the execution, or rather murder without any judicial decree that went on for two hours. There were three women among those executed, the youngest victim was 18 years old, the oldest 57. The bodies were cremated in the crematorium of the Litom??ice concentration camp. Today, the ashes are kept beneath the main column of the National Cemetery in front of the Small Fortress. The tragedy of the executed is underlined by the fact that the guards and SS men left Terezín only three days later.
The spring of 2010 in the Terezín Memorial and seminars for teachers
The beginning of spring 2010 was traditionally marked in Terezín by the “How to teach about the Holocaust” seminars for teachers, organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Education of the Czech Republic, the Education and Cultural Centre of the Jewish Museum in Prague and the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno. The two weekend lectures saw participation from 90 Czech teachers who thus started their possible “education journey” offered to them by the Terezín Memorial and the two aforementioned institutions, that is, the possibility to acquire further information and knowledge in subsequent higher grades of the educational seminars, namely an international seminar in Terezín, followed by another seminar in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum or the Ravensbrück Memorial. Then, as has also become an annual tradition starting 2005, 20 teachers take part in seminars organized by The International School for Holocaust Studies of the Yad Vashem Memorial in Israel. This year for the first time, 20 Czech teachers who actively teach about the Holocaust in their respective schools will take part in seminar at Memorial de la Shoah in Paris.
The “How to teach about the Holocaust” seminars have been taking place in Prague and Terezín for 11 years now, with more than 1600 Czech teachers participating. Further seminars are already scheduled for 2011. More information can be found on the Terezín Memorial’s website, in the Education section.
The third seminar which took place in the spring was the seminar for teachers from Slovakia. This seminar spanned four days and the participants learned about Terezín and its history, with lecturers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia teaching them about the Holocaust in Slovakia and the ways it was related to the Terezín ghetto. They also focused on the question of the Romani Holocaust. One day was dedicated to visit of the Education and Cultural Centre of the Jewish Museum in Prague.