The Historic City of Terezin

Terezin (KZ Theresienstadt) Festungstor
Terezin (KZ Theresienstadt) Festungstor (Photo credit: Guido Radig)

In 1780, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II built a fortress-city to the Northwest of the city of Prague to act as a protective wall against invaders from the northern lands. He named this place "Terezin," after his mother Maria Teresia, and it stood strongly, though it never came under direct siege itself.

Terezín - Tyršova - View North
Terezín - Tyršova - View North (Photo credit: Txllxt TxllxT)

In World War I, it was used as a prison camp for supporters of Russia, and it is in this place that Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated the Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand and therefore brought the war to its beginning, died of tuberculosis in 1918. Perhaps, more than its World War I heritage, however, Terezin is infamous for its use in the second of such wars.

Czech-2013-Terezin-Theresienstadt-Arbeit macht frei
Czech-2013-Terezin-Theresienstadt-Arbeit macht frei (Photo credit: Godot13)

The Gestapo made use of the walled city, which they called "Theresienstadt," as a concentration camp for those Jews in Austria, Hungary, and some other areas; more than 150,000 Jews were reported residing in Terezin. Of those, around 80,000 were then transferred to Auschwitz, and some 30,000 died in the ghetto itself, more because of the unsanitary, unlivable conditions that the city offered them than from the direct hands of the Nazis. Truthfully, Terezin was the place to which those Jews who were being sent to camps would hope to be sent. Far from places like Auschwitz or Treblinka, which were widely known as "death camps," Terezin was just a walled-in city. Sometimes there were glimmers of hope there.

Terezin's highest recorded population at one time was 55,000 or so, a stark contrast to the pre-war population of just less than a tenth of that. Survivors tell tales of the intense familial bonds that would be formed by living in such close quarters, watching others waste away from hunger, disease, malnutrition. Perhaps, if one listens closely enough, one can hear them walk those streets and sing their doleful songs.

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