Hitler's Death Camps: The Sanity of Madness

By Konnilyn G. Feig | Go to book overview

THE CZECHOSLOVAKIAN CENTER

TEREZIN/THERESIENSTADT: THE FORTRESS TOWN OF PRETENSE

Heinrich Himmler converted the nondescript military fortress town of Terezin into Theresienstadt -- the one truly unique German concentration camp facility. Terezin became a symbol of pretense and games that allowed the world, the Germans, and the Jews to convince themselves that the Nazis held to a code of human decency after all. Himmler created his model ghetto in Theresienstadt; and visiting International Red Cross commissions obligingly gave it their stamp of approval. Terezin was one of the Nazis' great public relations effort -- characterized by a complex pattern of "lies, deceit, camouflage, swindle, falsehood, ruse." 1

Terezin acquired its infamy during World War II when the Nazis created there and in nearby Litomerice the largest complex of Nazi camps in Czechoslovakia. They selected for the core of that complex one of Czechoslovakia's best preserved fortresses. It was at Terezin that the Nazis destroyed the bulk of the proud Prague Jewish community, one of the oldest in Europe. It was at Terezin that the Nazis made CzechoslovakiaJudenrein. So one begins one's Terezin journey in Prague.

For seven centuries the Prague Jews experienced tension, brief expulsions, separation into ghettos, anti-Semitic laws, plague; but still, the community flourished. The state completed the process of legal emancipation of the Jews by 1867 and abolished the Prague ghetto. In 1896, because of unhealthy conditions, the municipality pulled down the old Jewish quarter, leaving only the important historic sites. Most Jews from the area dispersed throughout the city. Many historic buildings with priceless collections remain today, veiled by the melancholy beauty of a world belonging to the past and marked by the tragic fate of its creators' descendants. Their memory is consecrated in the Pinkas Synagogue which has been converted into a monument to the 77,207 Prague Jewish victims of Nazism. 2

The buildings constituting the famous State Jewish Museum of Prague are located in the old Jewish ghetto area, a medieval enclave in the heart of the city. Recently, on the edge of the old ghetto, businessmen erected an elegant Intercontinental Hotel with a Penthouse Restaurant. Sitting in the restaurant,

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