Monday, April 13, 2015

Day 7 - Prague - Terezin

Today our itinerary called for us to visit the concentration camp of Theresienstadt [Terezin] and the Lidice memorial.  First, however, we made a stop at the Olsany Jewish Cemetery to pay our respects to our very dear friend, Pavel Stransky, who had been accompanying us since 1998 when Ms. Tambuscio started the Holocaust Study Tour.  Each year he met with our group and spoke to them about his experiences during the Holocaust, being interned in both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz and how he met and married his lovely wife, Vera.  “The Holocaust”, he would always say, “was for me also a love story.”  Pavel would then ride with us to Terezin and walk with us through the ghetto and the fortress.  Pavel passed away a few weeks ago and this would be the first group of students who would not have the privilege and honor of meeting this gentle and wonderful man, so we wanted to have a chance to pay our respects and say goodbye at his gravesite.  Ms. Tambuscio told all the students about what Pavel had been to the Holocaust Study Program over the years, and Shalmi  told us a little of his story and how Pavel, as such a gentle and kind man, personified the term “perseverance”, holding on to life through many difficult and horrific circumstances.
We stopped briefly by the grave of Franz Kafka where Shalmi told us that Kafka was considered the father of Holocaust literature although he died in 1924.  Shalmi said that Kafka wrote about the absurd and that the Holocaust was not only about brutality, it was also about the absurd and surreal, especially from the point of view of the victims.  He told us of one of Kafka’s short stories, The Trial, in which a man is arrested, tried, convicted and executed without ever being told what crime he was being accused of having committed.  The Jews, similarly, could not understand what they were guilty of.

Theresienstadt was one of those sites which was part of both Phase 2 ‘Concentration’ and Phase 3 ‘Annihilation’ about which Shalmi had spoken to us at the Wannsee House. When Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939 there were 120,000 Jews in Bohemia and Moravia and the Nazis needed a place to concentrate them until they decided what to do with them.

Terezin was an existing walled in city outside of Prague which had been a garrison town established under Emperor Joseph II and named after his mother, Maria Theresa, to house the families of the soldiers who would be stationed at the Small Fortress nearby.  Terezin would be renamed Theresienstadt, the town would become the ghetto and the small fortress would become the concentration camp.  Theresienstadt would last from its establishment in October 1941 until its liberation at the end of the war, making it one of the longest lasting places established by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

At the ghetto museum we watched a film which included video clips of the propaganda film created by the Nazis called “A Gift of a Town” in which they had tried to dispel rumors of deplorable conditions in the ghettos which had been created by the Nazis.  We then walked through the exhibition with Shalmi and Kamila pointing out exhibits of special interest, including the children’s art, video testimony and even a large exhibit which listed all of the transports from Theresienstadt.  Kamila showed us on this exhibit, that Pavel’s transport which took him from Prague to  Theresienstadt was Transport IV/3  Designation AK  Left November 24, 1941 with 342 Jewish men. 

We next stopped at the prayer room which had been constructed by the Danish Jews who had been sent to Theresienstadt in October 1943.  Known as the Danish synagogue, it was discovered about 10 years ago.  Shalmi told us that the prayers on the walls reflected the heartbreaking dialogue of the Jews with their God.   Verses such as “We beg you, turn back from your anger and have mercy on the treasured nation that you have chosen” and “But despite all this, we have not forgotten your name.  We beg you not to forget us” were written on the walls. 

After lunch, we went into the Magdeburg Barracks which had housed the Jewish Council, leaders of the ghetto administration.  Shalmi led us through the exhibition,  which included a typical dormitory room, and sections devoted to the art, music, literature and theatre which ghetto residents left behind as their legacy.

Our last stop in Terezin was the  Small Fortress where Shalmi spoke to us  the purpose of concentration camps.  The concept of a concentration camp was invented by Soviet Russia to educate and produce a different person who would then comply with the regime and be able to be recycled into society.  Its function was to create conformity.  In these places your identity was taken away, you were never given enough food so there was constant hunger.  The camp was about submission and survival until one had undergone the change from a person to an object.  Jews were not placed in concentration camps for the most part, because the Jews, according to Nazi ideology, were a race of people and there was nothing that could be done to change that through a process of re-education.  Jews were in some concentration camps, later, for economic reasons, to use their labor before being murdered in death camps.  We visited the barracks section of the small fortress as well as the shower room and wash room, before getting back on the bus to head for Lidice. 

In June 1942, Heinrich Heydrich was assassinated in Prague and the Nazi leadership wanted someone to pay.  Lidice was a small town outside of Prague with about 500 inhabitants. On June 10, 1942 the Nazis descended upon this small town  in the mistaken belief that the residents had aided the paratroopers responsible for Heydrich’s assassination.  The men were all shot, the women were sent to Ravensbruck, very young children who could pass as Aryans were sent to Germany to be raised by German families, and 82 children who were older or who looked non-Aryan were transported to Lodz and then later to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

The Lidice memorial is to the memory of the 82 children.  It is a bronze monument which depicts the children in each of their images, from photographs.  There are 42 girls and 40 boys who look out over what used to be their village.  It is an extremely powerful memorial that made a significant impact on our group members. 

We returned to the hotel to get ready for our special dinner at the Restaurant Neboziezek which is on Castle Hill overlooking Prague.  Riding up to the restaurant on the funicular provided us with spectacular views of the city.  After a sumptuous dinner we returned to the hotel and said goodbye to our local guide Kamila as we will be leaving Prague tomorrow morning.

Student Reflections:

Caitlin says:
Visiting Terezin today, we got to explore the lives of different individuals within the camp and by doing that I felt that the Holocaust stopped being a story and became a reality.

Charlotte says:
Today was surreal because when I was in the Small Fortress at Terezin,  I felt like I was in a place where I was powerless.  In a huge place where people couldn’t control anything, I just felt so small.

Rose says:
Visiting Pavel’s grave first thing this morning was saddening to me because we didn’t get to hear his story.  But seeing everyone bring a stone to his grave to show respect felt like such a strong testament of our love.

Kyle says:
Visiting Terezin filled me with all different emotions from disbelief that these horrible things could even happen here to human beings just like us, to shock of how it almost looked like a normal town.

Cydney says:
I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I stood before the children’s memorial.  The different expressions and emotions shown in the children’s faces left me with a pit in my stomach.

Julia says:
I felt an emotional connection to the memorial to the children from Lidicie.  I saw a  boy and a girl standing next to each other and I thought of my brother and I and started to cry.  I cannot imagine my life changing that much within seconds.

Kayla says:
As we walked past the graveyard in Terezin, I noticed that instead of names, there were numbers.  I realized just how much the identities of the victims were stripped from them, as even after death they did not have a name.

Kelly says:
Today made me realize how faith in God can act as a catalyst for hope.

Autumn says:
Today was filled with all types of sadness, but one that struck my heart was Pavel’s grave.  Standing over him and never getting to meet him tell his love story almost had me in tears, as I put the stone on the tombstone to say my goodbye.   But now he is reunited with his true love and I want to thank him for everything he has done for this group.  RIP, Pavel.

Deanna says:
Today overall was very emotional and overwhelming.  The most touching part about today was seeing each individual face on the children’s memorial because they were each unique and realistic.

Seungyoon says:
The Small Fortress in Terezin was not a museum.  People were once living here and suffered, but now I’m standing here.  This was very surreal to me to imagine how the Jews were in these rooms before me.

Taylor says:
Visiting the memorial for the 82 children murdered in 1942 made a strong impression on me.  As I sat and thought of those children I became emotional thinking of each future of a child that never had the chance to grow up.

Camille says:
When I was looking at the children of Lidice, I felt they would come to life because they looked so real.

Henry says:
The crematorium was a cold room, seemingly calm, but it could never mask how efficiently they burned bodies here.

Caroline says:
I had a very uneasy feeling while looking at the children’s memorial.  It really made me question, “How could someone hurt a child?”

Alejandra says:
Today, visiting Terezin showed me how the nature surrounding the concentration came made it full of both life and death in the same spot.  This blend made the atmosphere of the area seem very surreal.

Karishma says:
Outside the crematorium is a maple stump – the seed given to Jewish children from a soldier.  Throughout the field are unmarked tombstones shaped to resemble tree stumps that I thought could symbolize children that had their lives taken.  9000 unknown burials, 9000 Jewish children deceased.

Darya says:
The fact that most of the concentration camp had bright colors to it gave off an eerie and surreal feeling because the events that occurred in such a place was the complete opposite of the bright and cheery appearance the ghetto gave off.

Julie says:
I was taken aback by the crematorium and standing in the doorway made me realize how many people the Holocaust really affected. 

Watch today's eight videos at our YouTube Channel


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  2. It's so sad they did not get to hear Pavel's story from him. RIP Pavel you are missed and remembered.
    This is really the turning point of the educational journey, when knowledge and sites become more emotional. Just remember it's okay to cry or smile or be emotionally confused it's very heavy information to take in. Just remember don't let the saddness blind you from the knowledge that you will be taught.

  3. As I read yesterday's post, I was thinking that it was nice that you had a light day in Prague, as I knew you were building to the heavy emotional material in upcoming days. Judging from the photos and reflections posted today, those emotions are now quite apparent.

    From the picture alone, the Lidice memorial was a powerful and mesmerizing reminder that made me reflect for some time. I can only imagine the impact it had on everyone that was there in person today.
    Vinny Criscenzo

  4. I think it was nice for the group to pay respects to Pavel Stransky and to remember him.

  5. Why'd you put rocks on the grave stone instead of flowers on the first picture and is that Pavels grave?

  6. To what Henry recalled, the crematorium is just a room, but what happens in there is unbelievable for those who had passed away, each with their own story that had ended too short.

  7. It was really sad to read about the 82 children who were killed. And it was sad to see that you weren't able to meet him.

  8. It's terrible to see that 82 children were killed. The children's memorial makes me really sad. I can't imagine how terrible the people were that took away 82 children's lives.

  9. Just looking at pictures of the memorial for the 82 children makes me emotional and almost ashamed to be human, if humanity willingly or not let such a cruel and unthinkable tragedy take place. I cannot imagine what it would be like to actually see the memorial in person.

  10. I'm sorry to hear about the passing of Pavel Stransky and I see how involved he was with this trip in years past. It was also interesting to see the passages on the walls of the Danish synagogue, the same ones that we studied in class. The loss of eighty-two children is heartbreaking and unacceptable for another person to commit such ruthless behavior.

  11. What an amazing experience you are all having together. It is so difficult to imagine anyone ever harming a defenseless and trusting child. Stay strong gang, and let the feelings that you felt today remain with you always. Those children will now live on through your memories. See you soon! xoxo Mrs. Groff

  12. It’s amazing to see how much ground and history you can cover in just seven days. I find it very moving that you all paid tribute to Pavel Stransky , who sounds like he was an unbelievably positive gentleman despite his suffering and had a good heart who used it to educate others. I also didn’t know that they had a ghetto museum and am excited that my classmates are going to be bringing back experiences and stories to share with us. I can’t even begin to imagine the feeling of standing in that much history as those students who stood in Danish synagogue and Magdeburg Barracks. It is also invaluable to be able to have the opportunity to be educated at the Small Fortress. I had no idea that the idea of the concentration camps came from the USSR. I can’t imagine the unimaginable grief that those 82 children who lost their families over a mistake and then were sent to their unjustified murders— their families did not assist the paratroopers responsible for Heydrich’s assassination. Even viewing the picture of the monument, I get a hollow feeling that causes tears to spring to my eyes.

  13. Overall, from reading the information, reflections, and responses on the trip to Prague and Terezin, I was very emotional, disturbed, and shocked. More specifically, the prayers on the walls of the Danish synagogue and the bronze monument of the children really caught my attention.

    From reading the short quotes of the prayers that were written on the walls of the Danish synagogue, I was very surprised at how strong the faith of the Danish Jews/ Jewish people were at times of distress and horror. Even though they were being humiliated, tortured, persecuted, and even killed, they still seeked forgiveness and mercy to their God. It really opened up my eyes in terms of faith. Along with that, the sight of the bronze monument of the 82 children really caught my attention. To think, 80+ innocent children were murdered for not being physically acceptable to the Aryan race/ Germans. I cannot imagine the feeling of their family members or even being in their place. Honestly, I would not have the guts or power to physically look at the destruction caused by the Nazis.

  14. The Prayer Room sounds so powerful. It must have been very hard to read all of the prayers on the wall that the people were writing to God. It is truly heartbreaking to hear about those messages that were never answered.

  15. Pavel Stransky and his wife sound like a beautiful example of how Jews brought life and happiness into even the bleakest circumstances. That they found love when they were surrounded by hatred and prejudice is heartwarming and emphasizes how the Jews managed to remain human even as Nazis persecuted them and tried to strip them of their identity.
    What is the state of Terezin currently? It seems similar to several cities taken over, renamed, and repurposed by the Nazis. Has the site been presereved as a monument to the awful things that happened there, or has the land been returned to the people of Prague who lived there before the Holocaust?
    The Lidice memorial is so beautiful. I find it interesting and powerful that each of the children were molded accurate to pictures of the child, rather than the faceless memorials that you have visited over the past few days. This type of memorial seems to speak to the humanity and individuality of each child.