Monday, April 8, 2013

Walkabout in Terezin. The Mechanics of Genocide. WWII Terezin, Theresienstadt Ghetto, CZ

A.  With the release of the documentary, Defiant Requiem, there should be a renewed interest in the place, Terezin, or Theresienstadt, and what happened specifically there:  how can human spirit thwart genocide, even to a degree that does not stop the killing, but keeps the humanity.  The film tracks prisoners at Terezin Camp, Theresienstadt, CZ, during WWII and their performances of Verdi's Requiem (new arrivals substituting for those transported out) despite the upheavals. Survivors speak of this human spirit helping them overcome, some, their surroundings.

B.  Wars are not only against governments, but can be against kinds of people, to destroy an identified ethnic or other group in whole or part, and because the persons are within that group.  We are accustomed to attaching genocide to holocaust, but once in a while get the real definition.

The international legal definition comprises

 1. the mental element of intent to bring about that result; and

 2. the physical elements of

a) causing death, or serious harm in body or mind; or
b)deliberate infliction of conditions calculated to bring about the intended result; or
c)  imposing steps to prevent births in that group, or
d) forcing transfer of children in the group to another groups.

Punishable:  These can be direct acts, or attempts to so act, or complicity while others commit such acts or attempts, or conspiracy, or "direct and public" incitement, See http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/officialtext.htm/

 Theresienstadt. Terezin.  A stop on the way to genocide. The place.  People had to be rounded up, sent to a dispersal center, held there for transports, records kept of who went where and when (Good German Methodology), the activities, the intent, the complicity, the deaths, the conditions.  Genocide.

C.  History.

 Terezin was an old walled- garrison town, founded in 1782 by Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, and named for his mother, Maria Theresa. Theresienstadt. There are barracks, parade grounds, thick walls, defensive points, residences.  It was disused for a time, then housed a famous prisoner from WWI:  Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian national who assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, helping trigger WWI. See http://w3.salemstate.edu/~cmauriello/pdf_his102/princips.pdf/

The Nazis then recycled Theresienstadt, Terezin in the Czech language, as a collection center, a place to collect Jews and other targeted undesirable people, intern them, keep them for further transit, and send them out by the thousands in cattle car trains.

It then becomes a starting point, where many families track their members, thanks to German record-keeping and access to them through sittes like Yad Vashem. See http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/holocaust/about/03/terezin.asp.  Some family members have published those records, see The Guggenheim File, book De Akte Guggenheim, by Sylvia (Guggenheim) Griffiths. Highlight in your own copy all who were in Terezin at some point.

It is also a near-end, or ending point, for those who died because of the conditions, or were transported out to their deaths, see Places of Petr Ginz, a child diarist who ultimately died at Auschwitz.

D.  A Photo Walkabout.

Arrive in the evening, with rain looming, and no people walking about, and even buildings in reasonable condition look stark.



A first impression is transit, transportation, train tracks pushing through the old thick garrison walls. Those walls by now are covered in dirt and grass and even trees and bushes. Facilities for ammunition, storage, are there but locked.  This is an area where people without other permanent residence, we were told, congregate and have made a community.  We walked about feeling safe, as we also climbed up the walls.  We kept the car handy, but that was useless because walking any distance meant we left it alone anyway.  There was no difficulty.


Storage areas, large brick barn-shaped structures, with barracks above, were next to the walls. Would ammunition also be kept there, apart from the regular barracks area.  We understand that these were also used as barracks by the Nazis, but there are not individual signs.    Which were for prisoners, and which for Germans, no idea.  Turf roofs would have kept in the heat in winter.




As a garrison town, Terezin had residence capability for some families, but without specific signs, we could not see where officers' families might have lived.  In concentration camps (Terezin is not a concentration camp, not really a slave-labor camp, and not a death camp.  It was a dreadful-condition, crowded holding tank for transports, thata caused thousands of deaths by failure to care, failure to feed properly, lack of heat, but spruced up to fool the Red Cross inspectors at one point.


Terezin has been called a ghetto, but a ghetto usually means long-term residence forced in small areas;  in Terezin, this was then a camp-ghetto, with people crowding in with new train cars, and others being sent out to labor or death camps elsewhere.



It is important to keep both spellings going. Researching may turn up different sites.  Terezin, the Czech; Theresienstadt, the original Austrian and later German name.


There is modern housing now, renovations in part of Theresienstadt.  The old guns, however, aim right at them.


The pre-Reformation martyr, Jan Hus  1369-1415, is commemorated here at Terezin.  Hus and his followers, on into the Reformation itself, opposed the hierarchy and dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.  Why is he here, except as a symbol of protest against oppression?  Did Jews and others at the time or later believe that Roman Catholic Church was complicit, knew what was happening in the genocide, and turned away?  More research needed. The primary Hus memorial is at Prague, where he was burned at the stake.


The train tracks are not all uncovered, but appear and disappear.  This is the back-up point, with the transports backing up this far, and then the prisoners made to disembark.  Note the pebbles of remembrance. 


Try to take a picture into an area blocked off from easy view, and see what looks like a pen, or jail area.  Perhaps not, perhaps just a fencing for something else underground.



Stay at a family rooming house just outside the walls of Terezin.  Nice rooftop sitting area, and


Always secure your car.  This is an outlying town.  If we had not found this fine small hotel with its own locked yard just by the walls, we would have gone back to the town before.


The room was fine.  Four stars we avoid and do well.





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