The Spiritual Legacy of
the Terezín Inmates
Both revolt and spiritual resistance in the struggle against the Nazis are indisputably topics for which the parameters have become palpable only in the course of the past half century. In the immediate postwar period the glorification of armed combat persisted, and public interest focused primarily on events such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, concentration camp revolts, and escapes from the camps. Today, perhaps as a result of chronological distance and constant interaction between past and present, we can offer more profound and articulate conclusions in this area of research.
Spiritual resistance is without question fons et origo, the source of every single act of rebellion and resistance. For many centuries books, creative activity, and above all writing constituted traditional Jewish sources of self-preservation. No wonder, therefore, that in the time of the European catastrophe so many people striving for survival gave expression to their revolt in words, documenting their ghastly experiences in the ghettoes, concentration camps, and Nazi torture chambers through poetry, songs, satirical verses, drawings, and caricatures.
In his treatise “Goethe und Ghetto” pondering the moral significance of creativity in the Terezín ghetto, Victor Ullmann wrote: “By no means did we sit weeping by the rivers of Babylon; our endeavors in the arts were commensurate with our will to live.”1
What took place in Terezín is undoubtedly a unique phenomenon: culture became the elixir of life for the ghetto inmates. At issue are the activities of thousands of artists, both professional and amateur, spectators and listeners, concerts and performances of the highest standard, poetry readings, other creative activities, and above all the composition of musical works, an outpouring unparalleled in the life of the concentration camps. All this was an outcome of the secret Nazi design, the dual mission of this camp: it was intended for the decimation of its inhabitants as part of the overall extermination design but was simultaneously creating an instrument of propaganda for a false alibi.