Yesterday, we had a day filled with somber reminders of why we’re in Eastern Europe, but we also had the good fortune of having nicer weather than our first day here
After a tasty breakfast at the hotel, we left at 8:30 am to travel to the town of Terezin. Historically, speaking Terezin has some unique features. It was originally built in the late 18th century to protect the Austrian-Hungarian empire from Prussia to the north, but became known as the “model ghetto” during Nazi occupation.
Upon arrival in Terezin, we went to the “small fortress” – the size is quite relative. This portion was designed as a military installation and also served as a political prison in its earliest years. Here we explored prison cells for men and women, washrooms (for show when the International Red Cross came to inspect), tunnels that connect various parts of the fortress, and the areas where prisoner executions took place.
We boarded the bus again for the short ride to the walled down of Terezin or the “large fortress.” Also fortified, this portion originally served to house those that served and supported the fortification. When the Nazis took over Czechoslovakia, the Czech inhabitants were forced to move out, and Jews from the region were concentrated there. The ghetto of Terezin is hard to imagine as the town has been beautified as a memorial site. Additionally 2,000 residents still live in Terezin—many of them the relatives of those that were originally forced out. It was surreal to have lunch in a café within the walls of Terezin. One of the students pointed out that Katy Perry was on the radio, there was a flat screen tv in the room, and we were eating lunch in a place were thousands starved. The Nazis packed in over 60,000 Jews into a city designed for 3,000 inhabitants—a statistic that made the death toll more conceivable.
After Terezin, we had an hour’s ride to Lidice (or more correctly the memorial to the former town of Lidice). For those do not know, the story of Lidice is terribly devastating as Hitler used the town as one of his many examples in an effort to maintain complete control through utter terror. Lidice was a small town of Christian Czech citizens who were blamed for playing a role in the assassination attempt (which ultimately was successful due to infection) of Nazi leader Rhinehard Heydrich. The people of Lidice likely played absolutely not role in the shooting of Heydrich, but they were made an example of anyway. Hitler ordered the male citizens of Lidice executed the women and children sent to the concentration camps, and the town destroyed entirely. His orders were fully carried out in a two day span where the male population was taken to the outskirts of town and murdered without explanation. Many of the women were sent to Ravensbruck camp and some of the children were placed in the home of good German children for re-education. The town of Lidice no longer exists—the surviving inhabitants along with people from around the world who were horrified by what had happened helped build a new Lidice just beyond the original town’s boundaries. We toured the museum and memorial to the town. We saw the sun in the Czech Republic for the first time when we began walking the memorial—it provided much needed warmth for this experience.
When we returned to Prague, we shopped and refreshed ourselves before dinner with Dr. Felix Kolmer, a survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz who is a native son of Prague. Dr. Kolmer’s presentation was timely as we had fresh images of Terezin in our heads and will be going to Auschwitz in just days.
All in all, it was a very long, somber day, but one that solidified the purpose of our trip and our study of the Holocaust. We are all hoping the sun makes a return appearance today.