The Model Camp
Terezín in Relation to Central Europe—U.S. Holocaust Museum Map
It was known to the Germans as Terezienstadt, and to the Czechs as Terezín. The Nazis pawned it off as a showcase, a model camp. They even were able to convince the International Red Cross that it was a safe haven when they came for an inspection visit. Originally built in 1780, by Joseph II as a fortress to protect Prague from northern invaders, the village was named for his mother Maria Teresa, hence the name Terezín. During World War I the fortress was converted into a prisoner-of-war camp. Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, died here.
For propaganda purposes Hitler promoted Terezín as a city he had built to protect Jews from the war. A Nazi film was even made to illustrate how famous artists, musicians and writers were taken to Terezín so that they could practice their art and remain safe throughout the war. Instead, Terezín became a transport camp, a stop-over place were inmates were encouraged to “perform” their work, but from where they would be taken to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
The majority of prisoners who came to Terezín were from Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Nearly two hundred thousand men, women and children passed through its gates. Of the 15,000 children who were brought to the camp, only 132 were known to have survived. Approximately 33,000 died at the camp. Almost 88,000 inhabitants were deported.
About 5,000 people lived in the village of Terezín, but at the height of the war, the camp was forced to hold over 55,000 Jews. Housing was close, and people were crammed into small quarters. As the numbers grew larger, the community, deepened. Creativity flourished. During the day, prisoners produced the kind of art that was wanted, but in the evenings they clandestinely documented their stories of Terezín, in pictures, verse, in text and in music. Inmates stole paper and supplies whenever they could. A number were executed for stealing. Poems and drawings were stuffed behind walls and buried. Some were found after Terezín was liberated, others were to be dug up later as a few survivors made their way to Terezín to “claim their memories.” Through the decades a number of these works have been published so that the world now knows of the “model” camp.