Gateway to Death
The Unique Character
of Ghetto Terezín
The ghettoization of the Jews within the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was part of the global Nazi policy meant to serve several interim aims. The hopes nurtured by the Jewish leadership that it would forestall deportation “to the East” were shattered early on. Nevertheless, despite all odds, the struggle for the community's survival continued in various ways to the last.
Research focusing on the totality of Hitler's racial policy underlines the fact that victory in war and the annihilation of the Jews were parallel aims.1 Thus any plans or projects on the part of Jewish leaders or organizations to bring about a change were doomed to failure from the start. With hindsight we may assert, however, that there was still one important factor with some bearing upon the total execution of the “Final Solution”: the time coefficient, bringing the turning of the tide of war.2
Unlike other concentration camps, Theresienstadt had a dual role from the moment of its establishment in the fall of 1941: it was to serve both as Siedlungsgebiet (settlement) and Sammellager (assembly camp) and, as such, as a means for decimation of its population.3 After the Wannsee Conference on the “solution of the Jewish question,” held on January 20, 1942, a third function was added: it was to act as an alibi—to camouflage the ongoing annihilation process before the eyes of the free world. A special paragraph of the minutes referred to Theresienstadt euphemistically as an “old-age ghetto”: “It is intended not to evacuate Jews above the age of sixty-five but rather to remove them (überstellen) to an Altersghetto. Theresienstadt is under consideration [for this purpose]. Along with them Jews seriously wounded during the war [World War I] and Jews with military decorations (Iron Cross, First Class), will be taken to the old people's ghetto.”4