I wanted to visit Terezin the holocaust concentration camp, about 60km north of Prague Czech Republic. I don’t know why I wanted to go. I have lived most of my life in Britain and all the Wars in Europe have been less important to our local culture. I first noticed the contrast while living in Vienna. Jokes were not made on this subject, unlike home were it was fairly common.
So I drove out of Prague and headed north to Terezin, once past Melnik it is a beautiful drive through quiet Czech countryside. However the chat in the car was unusually subdued, Czech’s don’t like to talk about this place much either, they were looking forward to fulfilling my wishes and moving on quickly. To that end we did not spend much time in Terezin.
Terezin Ghetto Museum
On arrival we visited the Terezin Ghetto Museum. We had driven through little bustling towns; however Terezin has lost its soul. Getting out of the car we at once noticed the quietness and lack of people in what was a reasonably large town – but yes, who would want to live here, to play here, to grow up here?
At least 15,000 children died here.
I walked into the Terezin Ghetto Museum, paid my entrance fee, turned left, and immediately was stunned by life size pictures of children from the camp. I cried.
There are notices around the Museum telling you not to take any photos. I took some. I disagree completely with their sentiment regarding photos – I think that everyone should be made to take a photo and display it at their workplace or somewhere in their home. It is just too easy to forget what we are capable of doing to each other.
After a few hours walking around the town I wanted to escape – and I could…
The Terezin Crematorium is a very simple and purpose built structure constructed with only one thing in mind – to dispose of bodies as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are four oil fueled furnaces with a ramp into each like a production line.
The front hall was used for unloading bodies and coffins with a dissection room next door. All of this is completely intact. Attached to the main building was the local police station, the Terezin crematorium staff also were housed here.
When the Terezin crematorium ran at its peak there was 18 staff working full time around the clock seven days a week non-stop. SS command officers often supervised the running of the crematorium to ensure they they ran as quickly as possible.
The corpses were not put into the furnaces inside the coffins, rather they were removed and the coffin kept for reuse. The staff were ordered to rake through the ashes and find any gold or silver from the ashes and hand them over to the SS guards.
Daily records of cremations in each furnace had to be kept. Key data on cremation copied from cards attached to the feet of each corpse, were also written on each urn containing the ashes of the dead inmate. The data included name, transport number, and the appropriate cremation number. Only then could the urns be taken to the columbarium located in the fortified wall just opposite the crematorium. Thousands of urns were lined on wooden racks and the inmates believed that after the war they would be duly buried, however access to the columbarium was prohibited to the inmates.
But Terezin Ghetto prisoners were not the only ones whose dead bodies were cremated in the Terezin Crematorium. It also served as the cremation of corpses from the nearby Police Prison in the small fortress. A guard from the small fortress always had to be present to make sure that none of the crematorium staff would see any of the corpses. However blood seeping from the coffins or the blood-stained sacks, sometimes containing several corpses made it clear that many of the victims died harsh and violent deaths.
In 1944 – 1945 Terezin was used to cremate corpses from the nearby Litomerice concentration camp whose mortality rate was enormous due to its terrible conditions and epidemics.