I knew little more than Auschwitz, before I went to Terezin. But the Nazis set up concentration camps, and smaller feeder camps all through central Europe. The more notorious camps, like Auschwitz in Poland, became known because of their “effective elimination” programs like the gas chambers. Before the gas chambers came to be, the Nazis used all sorts of methods, including exhaust chambers, where a truck exhaust was funneled into an enclosed chamber packed with humans. It is horrific.
Most sobering is what the Nazis did for appearances’ sake. This is what makes Terezin unlike all the other camps. There, at Terezin, the Nazis turned a fort built in the 1700’s into a large cage for the Jews. But the ghetto in Terezin became known for “humane” treatment–the Nazis allowed sporting games, musical concerts, medicine and food to be provided. For SHOW. As a front for what they really were doing at Terezin and the rest of the major concentration camps, the Nazis invited the outside world to see what a nice job they were doing caring for the Jews in the Terezin ghetto. The Red Cross arrived to inspect Terezin in 1944. The Nazis “passed”.
We watched the Nazi Propoganda video at our visit. And then stood utterly speechless as we saw the truth unfold from beneath the deception. Terezin, at the time of the visit, even underwent construction for gas chambers, underground.
Beneath the surface, if the humans at Terezin survived the starvation, the cold, the cramped conditions (1.5 m3 of space), and the labor, they were shipped to other “extermination” camps like Auschwitz within months. Worst–what they did to the kids. An entire population of children stayed at Terezin for months, put up the show for the Red Cross, and the day of Yom Kippur, were shipped to Auschwitz. The model “family camp” put on for the Red Cross visit disappeared days after they were forced to write post-dated postcards to key outside world destinations. Chilling.
The stories I learned from Terezin linger in my mind. But three thoughts have dominated the others in my mind:
1. Story: I love to write; I am fascinated with the difference between what seems to be and what actually is, what looks nice on the surface, and what truth boils underneath. This is why I write: life holds stories that need to be told, especially ones with difficult truths buried under a decent façade.
2. Art: A few brave souls at Terezin dared to express themselves in art–paintings, writings, sketches–and hid them for others to find later. Many of these artists survived, against incredible odds. Art brings hope.
3. God: Despite the inexplicable horror hovering in a place like Terezin, God is evident. He is there in the art left behind, and the stories that have survived, and even in the tremendous loss and despair. God was there, even as today He is here–and He is not silent.
Thank you for sharing in my visit to Terezin, even though the horrors of a Nazi camp are difficult to swallow. More than anything, we need to remember.
On this Memorial Week, I want to say thank you to all who have gone before us, whose bravery has paved a way to a brighter future for us. Here is to above all remembering history’s difficult lessons and using them to learn and never repeat again. In Memoriam.
Starting the Conversation: What heros and events do you take time to remember? In memory of those who have gone on before …