A History of the WWII Czech Concentration Camp Terezín (Part III)

National Cemetary at Terezín via Wikimedia / Petr1888
National Cemetary at Terezín via Wikimedia / Petr1888
Click here for the previous part of this articleAlthough Terezín was largely liquidated in September and October of 1944, many prisoners remained. On February 5, 1945, with the end of the war in sight, Heinrich Himmler allowed 1,210 Jews from Terezín (most of whom had come from the Netherlands) to be transported to Switzerland. In exchange, Jewish organizations in Switzerland paid the Nazis $1.25 million. On April 15, King Christian X of Denmark had Danish prisoners released from Terezín. By that time, only 413 of the Danish prisoners were still alive; they were bussed to neutral Sweden.The International Red Cross, now all too painfully aware of the grim reality behind Terezín, returned to the camp twice in April. On May 2, 1945, with Allied troops approaching from the east and the west, the Red Cross took over administration of Terezín. Six days later, the Soviets liberated the camp.During the time that Terezín served as a concentration camp, approximately 88,000 of the prisoners were sent to Auschwitz and other death camps. Around 33,000 died in Terezín itself, especially during the typhus epidemic that struck the camp during the death throes of the Third Reich. The approximately 15,000 children of Terezín – including those who created the drawings that can still be seen in museums in Prague and other countries – were almost entirely wiped out.Terezín was “home” to Jews from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Germany, The Netherlands, Austria, Poland, and Luxembourg. Tens of thousands of inmates were forced to live in an area only meant for 7,000. Furthermore, Allied prisoners of war were incarcerated in the camp, as punishment for making repeated attempts to escape from regular prisoner of war camps. Soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom were all sent to Terezín (in direct violation of the Geneva Convention). Most of these soldiers were physically and emotionally scarred by the experience for the rest of their lives.Notable survivors of the horrors of Terezín include the following:· Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychologist and author of the classic Man’s Search for Meaning.· Alice Herz-Sommer, Czech pianist. The longest-living survivor of the Holocaust, she died on February 23, 2014, at the age of 110.· Ivan Klíma, Czech author and winner of the Franz Kafka Prize.· Arnošt Lustig, Czech author.· Zuzana Růžičková, Czech harpsichordist.· Jan and Ellen Burka. Jan was a Czech artist; Ellen (née Danby) was a Dutch figure skater. The two met in Terezín and walked all the way to Amsterdam to marry after the Soviets liberated the camp.Now that the camp had been liberated, and the Nazis vanquished, it was time for the trials to begin. The camp, so recently the abode of the innocent, was now used to imprison the guilty. As noted in Part II, Anton Burger managed to escape and live as a free man for the rest of his life. The others were not as fortunate. Siegfried Seidl, the first commandant of the camp, was tried and convicted of war crimes. He was executed on February 4, 1947. Karl Rhamm, the third commandant, was found guilty and executed of crimes against humanity on April 30, 1947. Anton Malloth, a supervisor of Terezín’s Small Fortress, was finally tried in 2000 after evading justice in Italy and in Germany. On May 30, 2001, he was put on trial for murder and attempted murder. Although sentenced to life imprisonment, he was released ten days before his death on October 31, 2002.Today, Terezín is a large memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The grim sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” is still painted over the entrance. A large Star of David and an equally large cross stand in the cemetery. Drawings by the children who were imprisoned there decorate one of the rooms of the museum. Shocking black-and-white photos show the victims of the Nazi terror.Reservations for guided tours (in English, Czech, Italian, French, German, and Russian) can be made here. Those who would rather explore the memorial at their own place will find ticket prices here.
Erin Naillon

Erin Naillon

I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.
Erin Naillon
About Erin Naillon 290 Articles
I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.