"To remember not to forget..."
From the poem "Butterflies Do Not Live Here"
By Paul Friedman (died in Terezin 6/6/42)
Two weeks of pure pleasure awaited me. Prior to sailing down the Danube River to Budapest, my husband and I had flown into Prague to spend several days in that city of 100 golden spires . However, we felt compelled to take one day off from those anticipated two weeks of pleasure, to visit Terezin Concentration Camp about one hour outside of Prague. That somber day in the Czech Republic, will certainly rank as one of my most memorable travel days ever.
THE STREETS OF TEREZIN
"ARBEIT MACHT FREI." For the second time in my life I passed beneath gates with those chilling words. The first time was many years ago at Auschwitz.
"ARBEIT MACHT FREI." ("Work Makes Freedom.") Once again that hideous Nazi sign dared to scream out its lie to me. It is difficult to imagine a more cynical mockery than the Nazi's promise of freedom to a people they planned to eliminate by Hitler's abominable plan of 'Final Solution'.
As when I visited Auschwitz, no guns poked from watchtowers. No heel-clicking SS officers changed the guard. Where days had once been gray and shapeless, like the clothing worn by Jewish prisoners, this day was bright and sunny like the red roses and blue sky that backdropped the towering Star of David standing watch over the Jewish section of the National Cemetery.
Where thousands of emaciated prisoners once struggled for survival, visitors now struggled to understand...to feel...to gain a deeper meaning to the words of those who, like young Paul Friedman, died at Terezin.
Who were these people that came from around the world to experience Terezin? We were people against the ideology of racism and anti-Semitism. We were people who feel this is a page in history that must be remembered. We were people who want to dispel what may be the biggest hoax of the twentieth century…the belief that the Holocaust never existed…
Our own particular group consisted of 14 strangers, all of whom had booked the same Precious Legacy Tour in Prague. We met in front of the larger-than-life red Golem (since replaced by a brown golem) in front of the Precious Legacy tour office in Prague's Jewish Quarter. Prior to boarding the mini-van for our one-hour drive to Terezin, we introduced ourselves and shared our diverse backgrounds.
AUTHOR AND GOLEM IN PRAGUE PRIOR TO BOARDING T0UR TO TEREZIN
Among the group was a rabbi from Florida, a physician from Ohio, an avant garde psychologist from New York, a real estate mogul from Florida, and a retired widow from Georgia. Strangers with seemingly nothing in common, yet we were newfound landsleiet with one thing in common. We all had a personal desire to make our own assessment of the enormity of the bestial Nazi crimes against humanity.
The fortress of Terezin (Theresienstadt), built between 1780 and 1790 under the Habsburg reign of Emperor Joseph II, was meant to defend Bohemia from the Prussians. Named after Empress Maria Theresa, it never saw battle but became a political prison for enemies of the Habsburgs in the 19th century.
At the end of November 1941, a ghetto was established in the fortress for the Jewish population from Bohemia and Moravia. It served as a collecting and transit camp. From here, transports left for the extermination camps in the East. Between 1941 and 1945, more than 150,000 Jews were deported to Terezin. Though not considered an official "death camp", more than 35,000 prisoners died in this camp due to torture, starvation, and disease.
Today, the TEREZIN MEMORIAL established in 1947 to remind the world of the disastrous consequences of the suppression of freedom, democracy, and human rights, consists of the following:
Small Fortress: When Bohemian and Moravian jails were filled as a consequence of Nazi terror, the Small Fortress became the Prague Gestapo's prison in 1940. Between 1945 and 1948, the Small Fortress served as a detention camp for the Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia.
National Cemetery: 2500 bodies of both Jews and Gentiles are buried in this cemetery. Red roses now blossom in this cemetery that is marked by a large cross as well as the Star of David.
RED ROSES BLOSSOM IN THE NATIONAL CEMETERY
Ghetto Museum: The museum contains the history of the Terezin ghetto and the memory of thousands of children who left behind drawings and poems as an ever-lasting reminder of the monstrosity of the "Final Solution".
A CHILD'S DRAWING IN THE MUSEUM
A poem by Frantisek Bass, imprisoned in Terezin before he was shipped to Auschwitz where he died at age 14, expresses in simple words the tragedy of the author's fate and that of his peers. The young prisoner wrote:
"A little garden, fragrant and full of roses.
The path is narrow and a little boy walks along it.
A little boy, a sweet boy, like that growing blossom
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more."
Magdeburg Barracks: In what once was the Magdeburg Barracks, there is a reconstruction of a dormitory room as it existed in the time of the ghetto. There is also a small stage that was used as the ghetto's theater.
REPRODUCTION OF DORMITORY ROOM
Jewish Cemetery: This cemetery has no roses between its solemn granite markers. Only a large menorah sculpture standing guard over the green burial site. Also on the cemetery grounds is The Crematorium. Although Terezin was not an extermination camp per se, so many people died there that it became necessary to build a crematorium to get rid of the bodies. The ashes of more than 30,000 Jews were dumped into the nearby Eger River.
MENORAH SCULPTURE IN THE JEWISH CEMETERY
"Yisgadal v'yiskadash sh'me rabbo…" Standing before one of the ovens in the Crematorium, the rabbi from Florida began the Kaddish (mourner's prayer). So overwhelmed with emotion, the rabbi could hardly remember the words of the traditional prayer which he had uttered thousands of times in the past. There was not a dry eye in the group.
AN OVEN IN THE CREMATORY
When I asked the rabbi to express his feelings about his visit to Terezin, he replied: "It is hard to come to Terezin without feeling empty…being changed. To stand in these sacred spots, to breathe the cool air, yet to sense that this was the final spot…or a way station to the final spot…is breathtaking. Your heart aches, your breath ceases and you are someone else for a moment who will never leave."
A visit to Terezin is not for everyone. A visit to Terezin is for people of the world who cannot pass through their lifetime in a state of denial or indifference. A visit to Terezin is for those people who do not want to forget the words of George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer, International Travel Consultant, and winner of 40 national Travel Writing Awards.