book has been written to pay homage
to all the Jewish victims deported between 1941 and 1945
from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and to describe
|We are looking
for information about a Dr. Porges who lived in Prague
and whose portrait was sketched by David Friedmann in Prague
here for more
as a Ghetto and a Concentration Camp
Terezin, founded by Austrian Emperor Joseph I as
a military fortress in the basin of the river Labe at the confluence
of the Labe and Ohe rivers, only 60 kilometers from Prague and about
the same distance from Dresden, was a small border town in the autumn
of 1942. Neighboring Litome ice was already part of the Sudeten
district. Terezin had eleven barracks, a large number of other military
installations partly built into the redoubt as casemates, also the
Small Fortress, a police prison of the Prague Gestapo with a strong
SS guard division, and 218 civilian houses. The town was populated
by 3 498 Czech and 347 German inhabitants. Up to that time the number
of civilian and military persons living in Terezin never exceeded
The Wehrmacht (the army) successively cleared the
barracks and during the first seven months up to June 1972 the Terezin
concentration camp was divided into strictly isolated men's and
women's barracks. The prisoners were allowed to leave them only
supervised by the SS or the Protectorate Gendarmes a special division
of which was transferred to Terezin. If a prisoner came with a working
squad into the women's barracks and met his wife for a while, he
was punished with 25 strokes and a month of imprisonment in a bunker.
The civilian inhabitants lived in the town. Any contact with prisoners
was very strictly punished, even by death. During January 1942 ten
prisoners were executed for smuggling out letters from the camp
and for similar transgressions; during February seven. After this
no executions were carried out inside the camp but those destined
for execution were included in the next transport to the east with
instructions that they should be liquidated on arrival.
Even before the second "Aufbaukommando" (one thousand
persons) arrived at the Terezin barracks, transports of whole families
from Prague and Brno started to stream into Terezin. By the end
of the year there were 7 350 prisoners in the camp. During the first
half of 1942 another 25 862 persons were deported from Czech and
Moravian towns to Terezin and in the second half of the year an
additional 28.366. In other words, by the end of 1942 three quarters
of all the Jewish population living on the territory of the Protectorate
in November 1941 were "ghettoized".
was the fate of the Terezin prisoners ?
The first Head of the Terezin Council of Elders,
Jakub Edelstein, and his closest collaborators hoped that by organizing
productive work within the Terezin ghetto they might save a considerable
number of Czech Jews from deportation to the east, or, at least,
postpone their deportation. Work was to save them from death.
As we have already learned, Reinhard Heydrich and
Hans Gunther originally planned one ghetto for labor and one for
accommodation. The draft of the Protector's Directive on measures
concerning the relocation of Jews into closed settlements, which
was circulated on December 2, 1941, for comments, still envisaged
the existence of two ghettos. Besides Terezin the Moravian town
of Kyjov was mentioned. However, on February 16, 1942, when the
Directive was issued, its title was in the plural but the text referred
exclusively to Terezin. The town community was officially dissolved
and the Commander of the Security Police of the Reich's Protector
was entrusted with inaugurating the necessary measures for establishing
a Jewish settlement on its territory.
On July 3, the evacuation of the "Aryan" inhabitants
from Terezin was completed and on July 6, 1942 at 12.30 p.m. the
Gendarme guards were removed from the various prison barracks. Thus,
not only the Terezin barracks but the whole town of Terezin became
a concentration camp.
Terezin's temporary mission as a transit camp for
Czech Jews coincided with its second task - that of becoming a ghetto
for the old and for meritorious German Jews. Its third task -that
of decimation - was going ahead at full speed.
On June 2, 1943, the first transport of German
Jews, at that time still not numerous, reached Terezin. However,
the continuous flow of these transports accelerated and from June
21 there were also transports from Austria; transports from the
Czech lands also continued.
Between April and September 1942 the number of
prisoners in Terezin increased as follows (numbers valid at the
end of the month) :
Even faster was the increase in mortality : in
April 256 deaths, in August 2 327 and in September 3 941. While
the number of prisoners between April and September increased about
four times, the number of deaths was more than fifteen times higher.
The highest number of prisoners recorded in Terezin was on September
18, 1942: 58 491. On the same day 156 prisoners died; it was the
highest number in one day. Indeed, the summer of 1942 represented
the most horrible months in the history of Terezin.
For German, Austrian and, from April 1943, also
Dutch Jews this "removal" to Terezin (official term: Wohnsiterlegung
-move of residence) implied a privilege. Instead of being evacuated
to the feared east they started a journey into a town in the middle
of Europe. They were leaving convinced that there, in a privileged
ghetto for the old, they would find life - long board and lodging
and medical care. Many of them signed a so - called agreement on
buying a home (Heimeinkaufsvertrag) to ensure their security. How
this legend about Terezin worked can be documented by a record in
the diary of Egon Redlich. It was recounted to him by a Dutch woman:
" 'My son was with a Christian. He treated him well. I could have
left the child with him and come by myself. But before the journey
the Germans told us that the ghetto was very nice, the town fairly
large, with playgrounds and gardens and we would be allowed to move
up to 25 km outside the town. On the last night before departure
I decided to take the child with me.' Now she sees and regrets."
Unimaginably drastic scenes took place when the
disoriented German and Austrian Jews arrived at Bohu ovice railway
station with their 50 kg of luggage. Some had taken things with
them which were not only useless in the concentration camp but sometimes
grotesque. They had to carry their luggage three kilometers on foot
to Terezin where they were placed not in a spa room but in casemates
or lofts and their only food was ersatz coffee and a thin slice
of bread. Their disillusionment was terrible. Many of them were
not able to accept the reality and broke down both psychologically
More than 6000 people had to scrape along in lofts
without any light, without water, without any lavatories, many on
the bare floor. Only a few had a straw mattress and some of them
had at least some wood - shavings. Some had to live in casemates
which were dark and not well aired, so damp that the army had stopped
using them as store - rooms. In August 1942 a Terezin prisoner had
at his disposal an area of 1.6 square meters, including the lofts
and casemates. That was the space allotted to him for sleeping,
living and dying. In the barracks where 10 soldiers had occupied
one room, there lived 50 to 70 prisoners.
The water and electricity supply in the entire
camp totally collapsed. There was a desperate shortage of catering
facilities. It was impossible to manage the food distribution and
the prisoners got their poor food mostly cold. The sanitary conditions
were appalling. Long queues waited day and night in front of the
lavatories and latrines. Many epidemics, particularly intestinal
diseases, spread. For the most elementary health care the people
and the means were lacking.
Terezin was carrying out its decimating function
perfectly. During August, September and October, 1942, 10 364 prisoners
died there. However, if Terezin was to fulfil its disorienting,
propagandist mission and avoid the danger of epidemics spreading
to the surroundings, the "natural" death rate was not enough in
the view of the SS headquarters.
On August 17, 1942, the Protectorate Commander
of the Security Police, Horst Bohme, sent a warning teleprinter
message to Heinrich Mtller in Berlin who after Heydrich's death
temporarily headed the Reich's Security Main Office (RSHA). "At
present there are 43 thousand persons in the Terezin ghetto, more
than ten times the number of the orinal population. Another 26 thousand
Jews from the Reich will be brought here during August and September",
Bohme informed and warned: "Such overloading is not acceptable from
the point of view of the sanitary police and it endears the neighboring
Sudeten district. Moreover, the evacuation of German and Austrian
Jews to Terezin in such numbers will make any evacuation from the
Protectorate impossible." He acknowledged the necessity to clear
regions endangered by air - raids but he asked for supplies from
Vienna and other places not endangered by air -raids to be stopped
until the new barracks in Terezin were built.
The Berlin organizers of the "final solution" did
not accept Bohme's proposal. They decided on another possibility:
to drain off as many old and ill prisoners from Terezin as possible,
to transport them to the extermination centers and to murder them
The second series of deportation transports from
Terezin started on July 14 and ended on October 26, 1942. To a certain
extent it differed from the transports of Czech Jews deported between
January 9 and July 13. The difference was not in the final exterminating
effect, even though a small difference was involved there too. Out
of 16 001 prisoners of the sixteen transports in the first wave
175 persons survived to liberation, while out of 27 890 prisoners
of the nineteen transports carried out in the summer and autumn
only 85 survived.
In the first wave whole families were deported.
Two transports were directed to Riga, others to the General Government,
i.e. first to the Lublin district. Only one ended in the Warsaw
ghetto. In the Lublin district the prisoners from Terezin were deployed
either to different localities in which the local Jews had by then
been mostly murdered or to various other camps.
Of the 14 thousand prisoners sent in the first
half of 1942 from Terezin to the General Government about six thousand
men were chosen to work in Majdanek, mostly on building the camp.
Following the strategy formulated by Heydrich in Wannsee, the members
of their families who were unfit for work, together with other "useless
eaters", were liquidated - either by hunger or in the gas chambers
of Sobibor or Majdanek. However, the same fate was awaiting those
who were thrown into the merciless clutches of the system "Vernichtung
durch Arbeit" (annihilation through labour), to be exterminated
by devastating labour.
Another killing procedure was applied to the transports
dispatched in the summer and autumn of 1942. Whole transports were
destined for immediate mass destruction. Only those survived temporarily
who were selected for work in the "Sonderkommandos" (Special detachments).
They were forced to operate the extermination equipment and to collect,
sort and dispatch to Germany everything usable from the stolen property
of those killed.
Minsk originally played an important role in Heydrich's
deportation plans but the transports announced for January 1942
did not take place. They were thwarted by the defeat of the Wehrmacht
in the battle of Moscow and the far - reaching retreat of the German
forces. Heydrich arrived to prepare the transports as late as in
April. He ordered Eduard Strauch, the local commander of the Security
Police and Security Service, to kill the deported immediately after
their arrival. Indeed, this was the fate of the prisoners of six
transports from Terezin. They were shot by execution squads in the
little pine wood at Maly Trostinets, near Minsk; each prisoner was
shot in the back of his head so that he fell forward into the pit
and was then buried. This mass killing was complemented by the so
- called "S cars" (Sonderwagen = Special cars) in which the prisoners
were killed by exhaust gases.
Only one of the Terezin transports stopped at Barovich.
Actually, it should have arrived in Minsk the day after the "grand
operation" about which Wilhelm Kube, the General Commissar for Belorussia,
reported to his superior in the following terms: "In the town of
Minsk on the 28th and 29th of July about 10 000 Jews were liquidated,
of which 6 500 were Russian Jews - mostly old men, women and children
- the remainder being composed of Jews unable to work, who were
sent to Minsk last November on the Fthrer's order, mostly from Vienna,
Brno, Bremen and Berlin." All the members of the Minsk Security
Police and the Security Service took part in this operation, shooting
away as though on an assembly line one after the other; in these
two days they killed about ten thousand prisoners or possibly a
few less if we assume that part of this bloody work was carried
out by the gas cars which were often faulty. "In order not to overstrain
the forces of the local Service Station", as it was stated at a
post - war trial in Koblenz, the Service Station in Baranovich was
ordered to stop the train with the Terezin prisoners and to liquidate
them on the spot.
The killing technique was straightforward. At the
Barovich railway station the prisoners were ordered to get out with
their utensils for lunch. Instead of lunch the SS and the collaborating
local police took them to a wood five kilometers away near the village
of Kolpenice, where all were shot. All of them were shot there.
A group of prisoners from the nearby Koldichev camp buried the dead
in prepared pits.
The penultimate transport to Maly Trostinets was
dispatched on September 8 and the last on September 22, 1942. In
between the Trostinets series the Terezin SS Headquarters succeeded
in pushing through two other transports, one to Riga and the other
to Raasika in Estonia. However, due to the constant influx of new
inmates, the deportation of 8 000 prisoners had not solved the problem
of Terezin. Minsk and Riga were too remote, transport by rail became
more and more difficult and the technology of extermination used
was too crude.
The "final solution" needed an industrialized method
of murder. For "Operation Reinhard", as the program of the extermination
of Polish Jews was called, death factories were built. The first
of them, at Chelmno, started to operate in December 1941, Belzhets
in March and Sobibor in May 1942. The last one and at the same time
the largest killing machinery in the General Government, Treblinka,
started to operate on July 23, 1942. First it was the turn of those
who were "resettled" from the Warsaw ghetto. The daily allocation
grew fast: the first day 7 300 persons, on the 6th of August 10
085 and on the 8th of September 13 596. The number of Treblinka's
victims is estimated at about 750 thousand.
Treblinka - like Belzhets or Sobibor - was not
a camp in the proper sense of the word. The arriving transports
went straight from the railway station to the baths as if for disinfection,
after which the prisoners were allegedly to have been sorted out
for labor squads and for the camps. In reality the baths were the
gas chambers. The prison camp of Treblinka itself was only the temporary
abode of the Special Detachment. The other prisoners did not survive
the day of their arrival in Treblinka.
In spite of the fact that the Treblinka death machine
was already overloaded with the Polish transports, Berlin arranged
for the Terezin SS Headquarters to dispatch a series of ten transports
of altogether 18 004 prisoners between September 19 and October
22, 1942. These were transports of old people (Alterstransporte).
Old people were included in earlier transports
too but in small numbers and as members of families. In this series
they represented more than four fifths of all deported. To these
old there were added the very ill or chronically ill people. Some
of them were brought to the train on stretchers.
Of course, this time too the Terezin Headquarters
tried to cover up the real purpose of the transports. They pretended
it was a transfer to another, privileged ghetto. In the diary of
Redlich we can find a record commenting on the registration of old
men and women for the transport: "If it were possible to believe
the Germans just a little, I might believe that they want to improve
the situation of Jews from the Reich, because they are sending only
Jews from the Reich, but one cannot believe the Germans. They are
terrible and strange enemies."
Indeed, the German and Austrian Jews were the first
to be included in the transports of the Treblinka series, in spite
of the fact that they were transported to Terezin just because they
were excluded from the deportations to the east. Their "privilege"
was only represented by the fact that they were deported there not
straight from their homes but by a detour via the Terezin camp.
Because of the influx of transports from Germany
and Austria in the summer of 1942 the idea of Terezin becoming a
"productive ghetto" totally broke down. While the average age in
the transports from the Protectorate was 46, from Berlin and Munich
it was 69, from Koln on the Rhine 70 and from Vienna 73 years.
At the beginning of July 1942, persons older than
65 years of age represented 36% of the 22 thousand inmates, one
month later already one half of the 43 thousand of the camp's population
and in the middle of September 57% of the 58 thousand prisoners
At that time Terezin could have been called a "ghetto
for the old" but never a privileged one. "A privileged ghetto...
a cover - up for the bloodshed and the victims of the east. A privileged
ghetto where more than one hundred people die daily," as Egon Redlich
characterized the situation in his diary.
The transports of the old to Treblinka deliberately
changed the age structure of Terezin. Out of 47 427 German and Austrian
Jews who were transferred in 1942 for life to the "privileged" old
people's home of Terezin, 10 128 were deported to the extermination
camps in the same year. On top this, as a consequence of the terrible
conditions in Terezin, 14 627 died before the end of that year,
i.e. more than 30%.
Because three transports of the old included 6
000 Czech Jews who left Terezin during October, by the end of 1942
the number of prisoners older than 65 years dropped to 33%, i.e.
to the level before the Terezin camp became a "ghetto for the old".
The last deportation transport of 1942 was at the
same time the first to go to Auschwitz. It was not one of the series
in which old prisoners were dragged away to death. It had a "normal
family composition" but out of 1 866 Jews who arrived in Auschwitz
only 215 men and 32 women were selected for work. The others were
sent to the gas chambers.
Transformation of Terezin
In the summer of 1942 the concept of a productive,
economically self - sufficient ghetto definitely failed. However,
Terezin as a ghetto for the old and as a buttress for Nazi propaganda
offered a certain number of Czech Jews, who were able to work, the
chance to stay in Terezin. Already in February 1942, when Eichmann
informed the Jewish representatives from Berlin, Prague and Vienna
about the plans for Terezin as a ghetto for the old, he announced
that some young people would have to be staying there too to carry
out the necessary jobs and to care for the old.
To change Terezin into a concentration camp it
was not enough to remove soldiers from the barracks and the civilian
population from their homes. In order to accommodate the maximum
possible number of prisoners, if only for the purpose of their decimation
in the camp itself or for their further early deportation, it was
necessary to use a great deal of materiel and labor on some basic
buildings, reconstruction and changes to existing premises. It was
necessary to ensure at least a minimum of drinking water and perfect
purification of the sewage flowing from the river Oh e into the
Elbe, to equip the living quarters, if possible, with three - tier
bunks, to put up barracks, particularly for manufacturing workshops,
nearly 12 thousand square meters in area, to equip the kitchens
with the necessary cauldrons, to secure hot steam for them and for
the delousing baths and also the disinfecting chambers, and to operate
and maintain medical equipment to prevent any epidemics. The high
mortality rate necessitated a crematorium with four furnaces and
with a capacity of 160 to 180 cremations daily; in 1943, 12 967
persons were cremated.
To obtain an idea of how demanding such work was,
we can give, for example, the basic data on the reconstruction of
the waterworks and the water supply. The water works originally
delivered water just for the barracks and the military hospital,
converted into a hospital for the SS. The civilians had pumped water
from their own shallow wells, which were not sufficient for the
tens of thousands of prisoners and, moreover, they had to be closed
because after putting up latrines it was impossible to prevent contamination
of the well water. The general repair and reconstruction of the
waterworks, the digging of five deep wells and the building of a
new supply surface pipe extending the original water distribution
system from five to sixteen kilometers, required about 50 wagons
of pipes and other materials.
Of course, the SS Headquarters was endeavoring
to ensure the maximum possible isolation of Terezin and its prisoners.
A railway siding was built from Bohu ovice to Terezin, which was
located away from the public railway network. In the beginning,
the Jewish transports arrived at Bohu ovice railway station from
where the prisoners had to walk to the camp. All freight delivered
to Terezin by train had to be reloaded at the Bohu ovice railway
station and transported by lorries. The railway siding would thus
save both fuel and the work of reloading. First and foremost, however,
the transfer between Terezin and Bohu ovice without a direct railway
connection took place in front of the nowise population and the
Terezin prisoners had many opportunities to contact Czech people.
The erection of a railway siding was therefore planned from the
very first day of the camp's existence. The route chosen led the
railway into the town through Bohu ovice gate. The building of the
railway siding started in August 1942 and, having reached a length
of 2 585 m, it was put into operation on June 1, 1943. Three hundred
prisoners had worked there and 180 tons of iron, 4 800 sleepers
and 5 000 tons of gravel were used.
Another measure for improving the isolation of
the Terezin camp was the building of a by - pass connecting Prague
and Teplice and the erection of a wooden fence without any gaps.
From the above it is obvious that a substantial
part of the working potential of Terezin had to be used to create
the elementary preconditions for Terezin to function as a concentration
camp in compliance with Nazi plans. No less important was the work
force used for the daily running of the ghetto, which had a population
of 45 thousand prisoners at the end of October 1942 and which in
December again rose to nearly 50 thousand. Demands on those prisoners
who were able to work were growing in connection with the role which
Terezin was to play in deceptive propaganda.
At his Jerusalem trial Eichmann euphemistically
described Terezin as being "very close" to the heart of Heinrich
Himmler, the SS Fuhrer of the Reich. A document was handed down
according to which in October 1942 Himmler mendaciously praised
Terezin, describing it to Mussolini as a little town, a ghetto for
the old where old Jews live, get their pensions and treats and arrange
their life according to their own taste.
At about that time Himmler intended to visit Terezin.
In the draft agenda for the inspection of Terezin he assigned 210
minutes to be spent there. Every minute of it was planned.
Before Himmler's arrival K.H.Frank was to have
carried out an inspection of his route. However, the epidemics in
Terezin made it impossible to take Himmler there and Frank preferred
not to risk it either. As late as December 7 Robert Gies, Frank's
personal assistant, wrote on the documents: "The inspection of the
Terezin ghetto is postponed until further notice." The documents
were submitted to Gies again on February 10, 1943, and again Himmler's
visit was prepared. However, two weeks later Gies added an entry
saying that the documents could be considered as dealt with and
ordering them to be shelved. It turned out that this time it was
for ever. Himmler never visited Terezin.
The 1941-1942 winter in Terezin was extremely hard.
"We shall again have 50 000 inmates here, now in winter..... They
intend putting up isolation barracks (there are more than 100 cases
of typhoid fever) but when will all this be..... the situation is
becoming catastrophic because of the high population density. It
is worse than it has ever been here -intense cold, typhoid fever
and starvation of the old", wrote Egon Redlich in his diary. "People
are living in holes in lofts where the temperature sometimes drops
to a few degrees above zero". But he noted also: "They inspected
the houses of eminent people and observed that too many lived in
one room. The Germans ordered the area in the flats for the eminent
people to be enlarged because visitors from Berlin are expected
and these houses will be inspected. The Germans want to put up Potemkin
villages (makelieve)." And the next day: "Today they removed about
40 persons to enlarge the area occupied by the eminent people."
In the first months of 1943 the typhoid fever epidemic
reached its peak. In January there were 127 new cases and in February
413. "Typhoid fever must disappear from the ghetto or else....."
Eichmann threatened on February 20 in Terezin but in March there
were 150 new typhoid cases and in April still another 79.
Three weeks after the Soviet Army completed its
encirclement of Hitler's armies at Stalingrad, Himmler, referring
to reasons important for the war-effort, ordered that at least 35
thousand prisoners be sent to the concentration camps by the end
of January 1943.. "This applies to every individual in the labour
force" he stressed in his order. As early as December 16 the Gestapo
Chief, SS Gruppenfuhrer H. Muller, informed Himmler how his order
would be fulfilled as far as the Jewish sector was concerned. Forty
five thousand Jews would be sent to Auschwitz, ten thousand being
from Terezin. "The 45 000 would also include those unable to work
(old Jews and children). After the selection of Jews for Auschwitz,
at least 10 000 to 15 000 Jews able to work would remain." Thus
Muller anticipated that on arrival at Auschwitz 30 to 35 thousand
human beings would be selected for the gas chambers.
In his letter to Himmler Muller explained the criteria
for including the Terezin prisoners in the transport. One half would
be people who had been assigned to less important construction work
in the ghetto and the other half would be Jews unable to work and
those over 60 years of age. His justification for this was his intention
"to reduce the too high number of 48 000 prisoners in the interests
of building up the ghetto." Muller asked Himmler to grant him special
permission, promising that only Jews not having any special contacts
and connections or outstanding distinctions would be included in
Himmler did not reply. He did not grant special
permission to deport the old prisoners and those who were not able
to work. The question is still open why, without Himmler objecting
and/or without any request for his permission at all, the preceding
transports of the old had taken place and why now the Gestapo Chief
needed his explicit consent. But it is a fact that between January
20 and February 2, 1943, not 10 thousand but only 7 001 prisoners
were dispatched from Terezin to Auschwitz and that people older
than 60 years were included only exceptionally. However, the SS
officers of the Auschwitz headquarters acted during the selection
of those who arrived more drastically than Muller had envisaged.
According to the headquarters official report,
only 930 prisoners from the first three transports were accepted
into the camp and according to the observations of the camp resistance
organization 435 Terezin prisoners were accepted from the two remaining
transports; all others were subjected "to special treatment" - killed
in the gas chambers immediately on arrival.
According to the Gestapo Chief 22 to 33% of these
transports should have been chosen for labor; however, the Auschwitz
headquarters selected less than 20% of the Terezin prisoners, despite
the fact that people over 60 years were not included en mass, as
originally suggested by Muller. The Auschwitz practice exceeded
even the murderous ideas of the Reich's Security Main Office, the
The commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp,
Rudolf Hoss, had a theoretical explanation for this practice. Even
after the war in jail he justified it and reproached Himmler that
because of him it was not carried out consistently enough in the
interests of the war economy and - allegedly - even in the interests
of the prisoners themselves.
"If those Auschwitz prisoners had been taken immediately
(i.e. from the arrival platform - M.K.) to the gas chambers they
would have been saved a great deal of suffering. Without having
done anything substantial for the war effort, often nothing at all,
they died in a short time." Hoss confessed that in his reports he
underlined this fact but according to him Himmler was intoxicated
by the growing numbers of prisoners carrying out forced labor. "If,
as I said and constantly repeated, only the healthiest and strongest
Jews in Auschwitz had been selected, it would admittedly have been
possible to report lower numbers of those who were able to work
but they would actually have been usable for a longer time."
This classic way of Nazi thinking was shared by
Oswald Pohl, chief of the concentration camps: "I do not like to
maintain poor hospitals in concentration camps because I need every
place for a healthy work force. The tasks of the war effort imposed
upon the concentration camps by the Fuhrer can be carried out only
with full - value labor."
This was not only the ideology adopted in selections
after the arrival of transports but also in selections inside the
camp complex. The people were starved, kept in atrocious sanitary
and housing conditions, exhausted by inhuman work for I.G. Farben,
Goring's concern, or the economic enterprises of the SS, and then
periodically earmarked for the gas chambers or otherwise liquidated.
They were no longer of use for the war effort and were only "a burden"
to the camps. Without them, those who were "really usable" could
remain longer under this heading. Such was the mechanism of the
system "Vernichtung durch Arbeit" (extermination through work).
When Hoss referred to the interests of the prisoners
themselves, saying that their immediate killing would save them
much suffering, I do not consider it to be an expression of his
Pharisaism. He was only brutally putting into words that Nazi attitude
to prisoners' work power which coldly weighed human life and death
as though deciding whether to leave a machine in operation or to
scrap it. Indeed, the term "to scrap" burdensome people literally
appears in Nazi documents.
As far as the fate of the five Terezin transports
from the beginning of 1943 is concerned, it should be added that
of their 7 001 victims only 96 survived to liberation.
After Heydrich's death the vacant office of Chief
of the Reich's Security Main Office was filled by Ernst Kaltenbruer.
He reported to Himmler that in keeping with the ordered increase
in the delivery of prisoners fit to work to the concentration camps,
the approved transport of 5 000 Jews able to work and below the
age of 60 years had been dispatched from Terezin to Auschwitz. He
renewed the request for Himmler's permission to deport 5 000 Terezin
prisoners older than 60 years to Auschwitz, and/or to the General
Government. At the same time he again promised that these would
be exclusively people who did not have any special relations or
connections or high war decorations.
He justified his request by the balance of the
age coosition and the working capacity of the Terezin camp. Out
of 46 735 prisoners there were 25 730 younger and 21 005 older than
60 years of age. According to Kaltenbrunner's calculations the camp
had a work force of 21 thousand prisoners of which only 6 000 were
used for construction (building a road and railway siding, manufacture
and production) while 15 thousand were earmarked for the maintenance
and operation of the ghetto. Of these, nearly one third had to be
used for attending and caring for the high number of old, ill and
It was necessary to lower the proportion of prisoners
older than 60 years, Kaltenbrunner argued, claiming that they were
the main sources of epidemics and that they were tying down a large
number of Jews who could be directed to more useful work. Their
deportation to Auschwitz would free the work force for the needs
of the war effort.
Suprisingly enough, Himmler refused Kaltenbrunner's
request saying that this would "be at variance with the official
statement that the Jews in the Terezin ghetto for the old could
live and die in peace."
The circumstances surrounding this letter will
be dealt with later. Here we should only like to mention that in
the Terezin camp the old people primarily died "in peace". In 1943
other 12 701 prisoners, of whom 10 366 were German and Austrian
Jews, were maltreated to death.
According to statistics on the exploitation of
Terezin prisoners' labor, nearly 90% of the working capacity of
the camp was spent on running it. In accordance with the ruling
valid at that time for the operation of concentration camps, not
more than one tenth of the prisoners was supposed to be used for
their internal needs. The ratio in Terezin was just the opposite.
Moreover, of the remaining 10% working hours claimed as being productive,
a considerable part was spent on production for the needs of the
camp. The various plans for production for "export" were of little
significance: only a small number of prisoners took part and the
fate of Terezin was in no way influenced by them.
From April to June 1942 a group of women prisoners
repaired stockings for the Wehrmacht and the Disciplinary Police,
the material for which had to be obtained from unamendable pieces.
In July uniforms were sewn but this was only a one - off affair
which ended in September.
The most significant were two production programs
indicated as important for the war effort. The first was the so
- called "Produktion K (Kisten - boxes)" introduced by order of
the Council of Elders on June 1, 1943.
The factory space for "Produktion K" was a two
- mast circus tent erected on Terezin square. Two large tents on
both sides of this circus tent served for storing parts. In fact
the whole enterprise did not involve the packing of winter equipment
for motor vehicles into 120 thousand small cases. The parts were
dispatched from different parts of Germany, including the occupied
territories. The cases were merely nailed together in the camp.
Ready - made sides and lids were brought in - allegedly from Auschwitz
- in enormous quantities but very often there were not the parts
to go in them. Whereas the store for cases was sometimes so full
that the piles reached the textile roof of the marquee, both tents
storing parts were usually empty. How the Terezin Headquarters solved
such a situation is obvious from the reminiscences of one of the
prisoners, Hana Jelinkova: "When the cases were packed and there
was nothing more to do the Germans emptied the contents of the cases
onto the conveyor belt and our work started again." Such a procedure
was enacted particularly just before the arrival of officers of
the Wehrmacht for which "Produktion K" was earmarked.
A total of about one thousand prisoners, supervised
not only by the gendarmes but also by the SS, were assigned to this
kind of work. The last case was packed and dispatched on November
19, 1943, as published in daily order No. 385 of the Council of
Elders. Soon afterwards the circus tent was removed and the square
was tidied up for "Stadtverschonerung" - to beautify Terezin town.
The second program of production marked as important
for the war effort was mica splitting which started in June 1942.
The women prisoners who worked at it describe this job as stripping
the mica core of its worthless surface layer and/or splitting mica
into thin slices. This was an insulating material needed for airplane
production. In 1942, 183 thousand working hours were spent on this
work and the following year 331 thousand. At the end of 1943 work
in the mica shop was stopped and renewed only in September 1944.
The last information about mica splitting is in a record of the
production for the month of February 1945. At that time an average
of 842 women worked in the mica shop; they processed 6 288 kg of
mica from which they split off 2 226 kg, i.e. the average yield
was slightly more than a third.
Various other manufactures and working activities
- the production of ink powder, the spraying of uniforms with white
camouflage, the sewing of a parachute component, the cultivation
of silk - worms, the manufacture of boxes for explosive cartridges,
of rag dolls, bags or lampshades, toys, decorative metal goods,
etc. - were partly the result of attempts by the SS to prove their
part in the war effort, partly they served to enrich the SS bosses
of Terezin and partly they were meant to help create an illusion
and to contribute to Terezin's "tranquillity". In addition, they
were a factor in the decimation of the prisoners. The dynamics of
the deportation transports was in no way influenced by them.
Let us return to Himmler's surprising directive
which was announced to Kaltenbrunner by his headquarters on February
16, 1943, and which actually stopped the flow of deportation transports
from Terezin for seven months, when before that, over a period of
just over than a year, there had been forty transports totaling
51 thousand prisoners. The last six ended in Auschwitz. What made
Himmler decide that the seventh was not to leave?
The direction in which the answer to this question
lies is suggested by another of Himmler's directives, according
to which on May 25 he strictly forbade the request of the army to
establish a shooting range near Terezin: "Please inform the Wehrmacht
that I cannot permit the setting up of a temporary shooting range
near Terezin. This would provoke the most unforeseeable difficulties
for Germany and would result in atrocity reports by the press (literally:
Himmler, who was not afraid to kill millions of
people, including the Warsaw ghetto, was suddenly afraid of an army
shooting range in the neighborhood of Terezin, even of a temporary
The turn of 1942 was a time of shock for Germany
caused by the Stalingrad disaster of its armies and the collapse
of its North African expedition. The leadership of the Reich reacted
not only by total mobilization but also by intensifying its efforts
to disrupt the anti - Hitler coalition and on the basis of a separate
peace with the western powers to get them to join the anti-soviet
front. Himmler, in one way or another, had a hand in most of them.
On December 18, 1942, twelve allied governments
-including the Czechoslovak government in exile - issued a joint
declaration condemning the extermination of the Jewish population
of Europe by the German authorities and stipulating the responsibility
of the leading representatives of Germany for these crimes. It must
have been obvious to Himmler that his responsibility for the genocide
of the Jews was an embarrassment in his international - political
manoeuvres and his ambitious plans were becoming illusory. This
must also have been borne out by the results of contacts made in
Switzerland between Himmler's confidants and the representatives
of the American Secret Services from the middle of January 1943.
It did not enter Himmler's mind to stop the extermination
of the European Jewish population. What he wanted to do was just
to cover it up more skillfully. By means of Terezin too. For Himmler
Terezin was to become an argument against the existence of the murderous
"final solution of the Jewish problem". Himmler's directive which
led to the seven months' pause in the deportations, his negative
position with regard to the request of the Wehrmacht to set up a
shooting range near Terezin, his latest efforts to "beautify" Terezin,
his systematic preparations for receiving a delegation of the International
Red Cross - all these, without doubt, played a role in this context.
It may seem paradoxical but the reasons that led
Himmler to stop the deportations from Terezin to Auschwitz, led
also to their recommencement after seven months.
Terezin had to exist mainly to prove that the extermination
of the Jews was only a figment of Jewish "Greueropaganda" (propaganda
of atrocities). Of course, for such a cock - and -bull story Terezin
had to be made ready: the erected foreign visit would not see the
real Terezin but a non - existent, fictitious one. A special route
was chosen as the only one which the delegation would see and this
was arranged systematically, with scientific thoroughness, into
a perfect coulisse for the performance. A detailed program had already
been drawn up for Himmler's planned visit to Terezin and during
1943 this was expanded. The "beautification" of Terezin started
with a cosmetic make - up to give the concentration camp the appearance
of a normal town. From May 1 the word ghetto was to be dropped and
it was to be replaced by the term "Judisches Siedlungsgebiet" (Jewish
settlement territory) and later Terezin was simply called the Jewish
municipality of Terezin.
It was strictly forbidden to use the expressions
"Lagerkommandant" or "Lagerkommandatur". The Headquarters of the
camp became the "Service Station" and the commander of the camp
became the "Head of the Service Station". The names of streets were
changed too; instead of a combination of letters and numbers (L
1 to 6, Q 1 to 9) the streets were named the Station Street, the
Town Hall Str., Baker Str., Spa Str., Park Str., Upland Str., Huntsman's
Str., Lake Str. The names of the streets which the Terezin prisoners
had to give as their addresses on any post - cards they sent were
to give the illusion that Terezin was actually some kind of Theresienbad
(Terezin Spa) which was a name sometimes used by the SS in Germany.
There was no lake anywhere, the Terezin park was out of bounds to
the prisoners, and they could only see the mountains very far away
beyond the walls of the ghetto; to call any Terezin street Spa Str.
or Huntsman Str, was a cruel mockery for the prisoners.
Some even more cunning measures were initiated.
For example, a Bank of Jewish Self - government was established
and a special "currency" - the Ghettokrone - was introduced just
to feign the existence of a normal monetary system. A coffee -house
was solemnly opened and a rich cultural life was permitted. One
of the women prisoners, Eva Roubi_kova, noted in her diary: "Concerts,
lectures, plays and even shows are organized here daily and at the
same time German Jews are dying of hunger in the barracks". The
German authorities granted permission for parcels to be sent to
Terezin from abroad, mainly Portuguese sardines, but nine tenths
of them "got lost" on the way via Germany and the Protectorate.
But all this was merely the beginning of an organized
charade. It was still a long way to perfection. The Nazi organizers
considered one of the basic conditions for its successful implementation
would be a radical reduction in the number of prisoners.
It was actually impossible to achieve the planned
exhibition with Terezin so overcrowded as it was at that time -
at the end of July 1943 it again held within its walls more than
46 thousand prisoners. In addition, in the same month its capacity
was reduced even further by moving a substantial part of the Central
Office of the Reich's Security Archive into the largest barracks
and other areas there. Under such circumstances it was impossible
to prevent epidemics or their spreading into the surroundings.
There were obviously other fears too. The April
uprising in the Warsaw ghetto also left an impression. A repetition
of the Warsaw events in any form was the last thing Himmler needed
in Terezin. It was therefore necessary to weaken the resistance
potential of the camp. Unlike earlier ones, renewed transports did
not include primarily those who were unable to work, but on the
contrary, mostly young and sturdy prisoners with their families,
i.e. Czech prisoners. They were more dangerous not only because
of their age but mainly because of their political views. Their
experience was different from that of Jewish prisoners from Germany.
Their persecution and imprisonment was the work of the German occupants,
not of their own country. Their hatred of and their resistance to
the occupation linked them with their Czech fellow - citizens.
The organizers of the "final solution" also exploited
these "beautification" transports for other purposes. Terezin in
itself was not sufficient argument against the existence of the
"final solution". Another performance had to be produced which would
- of course again in a fictive form - illustrate the fate of hundreds
of thousands of Jews deported to the East. From this came the idea
of setting up a Jewish family camp in Birkenau, the largest branch
of the Auschwitz camp, and to popularize it as much as possible
as "Labor camp Birkenau near Nowa Beruna".
On September 6, 1943, 5 000 prisoners left Terezin
in two transports and in the middle of December another 5 000. These
transports were not called "eastern transports" as hitherto but
"Arbeitseinsatztransporte", labour transports. Their fate in Auschwitz
did indeed differ from that of earlier transports dispatched from
Terezin to Auschwitz. The prisoners did not go through the selection
process and none of them were sent from the arrival platform to
the gas chambers. All - men, women and children - were placed in
Birkenau section BIIb, where a family camp of Terezin prisoners
was set up. The families did not live together, but even this arrangement
was a "privilege" because, with the exception of the gypsy camp,
the men and women in Auschwitz were kept in separate sections of
the camp, fenced off from one another by barbed wire.
In the family camp the prisoners had still other
"privileges". Soon, a children's block was established and the children
were given somewhat better food; there was also a "weaving shed",
a tailor's workshop and a large store of clothes; a new camp road
was built and drains were dug. In other words: the camp was set
up to show how the Jews relocated to the East were living and working
and how their families and especially the children were cared for.
The price for these "privileges" afforded to these
ten thousand prisoners in the family camp can be measured by the
simple fact that their "natural" mortality rate was not lower but,
on the contrary, somewhat higher than the total mortality rate of
the Auschwitz complex. Within six months of their arrival in September,
and/or in December 1943, nearly one third of the family camp died
because of the camp's conditions.
Moreover, these "natural" deaths were radically
accelerated. On the night of the 8th to the 9th of March those who
arrived in the September transports and were still living were killed.
They were allegedly sent to work in Heydebreck but in fact their
route led to the gas chambers. It was characteristic that for purposes
of credibility the SS Headquarters did not include any hospitalized
prisoners in this "labor transport". In the interests of the uninterrupted
liquidation of 3 732 Jewish prisoners they saved seventy or eighty
prisoners of whom - as far as it was possible to establish - only
38 survived the end of the war.
Among Terezin's Jews slaughtered on 8th March,
1944, there were at least 3 700 Czech Jews. Thus, this was the biggest
mass execution of Czechoslovak citizens carried out in the whole
six years of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.
Within the framework of "beautifying" Terezin the
SS Headquarters of Terezin got rid of a further 7 500 prisoners
by transporting them to Auschwitz; of this number only one third
had been sent to Terezin in transports from Bohemia and Moravia;
two thirds were from Germany, Austria and Holland.
After their arrival in the middle of May, 1944,
the total number of persons deported to the Birkenau family camp
rose to more than 17,500. For the planned performance this would
be too much but the high mortality rate and the murders on March
8 served their purpose.
The collected correspondence of the German Red
Cross at our disposal together with that of the Reich's Security
Main Office and the documentation of the Reich's Ministry of Foreign
Affairs enables us to reconstruct the background to the inspection
of Terezin which was carried out as well as the visit to the family
camp in Auschwitz by the International Committee of the Red Cross,
which did not take place.
The first documented positive reaction of the Reich's
Security Main Office to the prospective admittance of a meer or
a delegate of the International Committee into Terezin is dated
28 June, 1943. On the morning of that day representatives of the
German Red Cross, of Hitler's "Fuhrerkanzlei", and of the Reich's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Interior arrived in Terezin where
Eichmann gave an explanatory talk before a three - hour tour of
the town. He asked them to inform their supranational organizations,
especially the International Committee of the Red Cross, about their
observations and declared that, if it wished, this Committee could
send a delegation to visit the camp. It was characteristic that
the German Red Cross was invited to visit Terezin in June 1943,
although it had not asked to do so. The initiative originated in
Berlin's Gestapo Center, as was stressed by Walther Hartmann, chief
of the foreign seion of the German Red Cross, in his report on what
he had seen and mainly heard in Terezin.
From October 5 to 14, 1943, the Terezin camp was
the destination of three transports delivering 456 Danish Jews who
had not succeeded in escaping or hiding before the German raid.
The Danes had not only helped the large majority of eight thousand
Jews to escape to Sweden but they had answered with a wave of protests
and solidarity demonstrations; among other actions there was a week
- long strike by Copenhagen University, joined by other universities
too. In this atmosphere the Danish Red Cross asked immediately to
be allowed to visit the interned Danes in Terezin. The Danish Ministry
of Foreign Affairs exerted constant pressure to get permission for
a visit to Terezin as soon as possible. The German authorities,
however, would only set a date in the spring of the coming year.
Terezin was still not beautified enough and in addition the Terezin
countryside would look better with green foliage on the trees.
By May the scene had been set. The circus tents
in the square, where the "K" production had taken place, had been
taken down and instead a bandstand had been erected in the middle
of the lawns as in a spa. In one of the parks a wonderful children's
pavilion equipped with a small pool, a merry - go -round, cots and
toys had been put up but was, of course, locked and strictly watched.
The one - time Sokol Hall, used as a sick - bay, was changed into
a social center with a large hall for lectures, concerts and theatre
performances, a library and restaurant with a terrace decorated
with large colorful sunshades. One of Terezin's ramparts was equipped
as a sports area with a playground for volley-ball, basketball and
football. Along the inspection route the facades were repaired,
the streets newly paved, and the pavements brushed and washed. The
three - story bunks were replaced by beds, but of course only in
the ground - floor rooms which the visitors could inspect. Attention
was paid to the smallest and oddest details.
Obviously, the last link in the chain of preparations
was the dispatch of the May transports. As soon as the first had
left, the chief of the Security Police and the Security Service
informed the German Red Cross: "The SS Reich Coander consents to
the inspection of the Terezin ghetto and of one Jewish labor camp
by you and by a representative of the International Committee of
the Red Cross. Representatives of Denmark and Sweden will also take
part in the inspection of the Terezin ghetto. The expected date
of the inspection will be at the beginning of June, 1944. I shall
inform you about the exact date."
There is no date on the letter but the deputy of
the head of the foreign section of the German Red Cross, Heinrich
Niehaus, put his initials on it on 18 May and also a note to the
effect that on 19 May at 18 o'clock he passed this information via
telephone to Dr. Roland Marti, head of the delegation of the International
Committee of the Red Cross in Berlin.
A similar notification was also sent to the Reich's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 17. However, it concerned only
a visit to Terezin and the participation of Danish and Swedish representatives.
Himmler permitted the two Scandinavian countries' representatives
to visit only Terezin because Danish prisoners were in this camp,
but not to participate in the planned inspection of "one of the
Jewish labor camps". This was exclusively reserved for the International
Committee of the Red Cross and the German Red Cross.
Why, did Himmler in the middle of May, 1944 give
his consent to the two inspections after delaying for such a long
time? The choice of this particular date was due to other reasons
When looking for a way out from the lost war and
in an endeavor to split the anti - Hitler coalition, the Reich's
government was trying to use the "Jewish problem" to make contact
with the Western Powers. On the one hand, the genocide of the Jews,
already carried out, greatly complicated any such contacts, but,
on the other hand, Himmler thought that such contacts were legitimate
because of the "Jewish problem". During the last phase of the war
Himmler spoke about Jews in this sense as about his "most precious
capital". They would play the role of hostages, as goods convertible
to political values. The political talks were to take place under
the guise of humanitarian discussions as though dealing with the
rescue of the Jewish population. It was therefore important for
Hitler's government to present the murder of millions of Jews as
pure "Greuelpropaganda" (propaganda of atrocities).
In the spring of 1944, Himmler started one of the
biggest hoaxes of its kind, known as "goods for blood, blood for
goods". In exchange for one million Jews from the territory occupied
by Hitler's Germany Himmler's people requested 10 000 lorries on
the understanding that they would be used exclusively on the anti
- Soviet front - line. It was a deceitful maneuver. There were no
longer one million Jews living in the German Reich. Moreover, Himmler
instructed his negotiators to make any promises because his actual
intentions were quite different. Of course, just because it was
a deceitful maneuver it was even more important to gain credibility
at any cost.
On April 25, 1944, when Eichmann offered one million
Jews to one of the Hungarian Jewish leaders, Joel Brand, he added:
"You can take them from Hungary, Poland, from the Eastern March,
from Terezin, from Auschwitz, from where you want." On May 19, a
special German airplane flew with Brand on board to Istanbul where
he was to present this offer. He was not flying alone but was accompanied
by Bandi Grosz, a Jewish double agent working for the Germans and
Hungarians but also for the English and American intelligence services
too. From British documents published in the seventies as well as
from the memoirs of Joel Brand, it is obvious that Grosz carried
not only an offer that Hungary would change over to the side of
the Allies on condition the Soviet offensive stopped at the Hungarian
border, but in particar a proposal from the chief of Himmler's Security
Service in Budapest, Gerhard Clages, that two or three higher German
intelligence officers should meet with their American counterparts
to discuss a separate peace. In case of failure, Grosz was to organize
a meeting with British officers via officials of the Jewish Agency
in Istanbul. Grosz stressed to Brand that the intelligence service
mission was the main thing and Brand's mission was intended just
as a cover. Referring to his talks with Clages, Grosz explained:"The
Nazis know that they have lost the war. They know that peace cannot
be reached with Hitler. Himmler wants to use all possible contacts
to get down to negotiations with the Allies." He added: "Your Jewish
affair was only an auxiliary question."
Here, in its purest form we meet with Himmler's
classical method of using "humanitarian" actions for the political
goals of Hitler's Germany and also for his own, personal aim of
becoming more acceptable to the world. However, this is not the
only point of Himmler's procedure. What was important in this "humanitarian"
maneuvering was that the extermination machinery should not be appreciably
Eichmann promised Brand before his departure that
for fourteen days there would be no Jewish deportation transports
from Hungary to Auschwitz; already four days before the airplane
with Brand started, the greatest killing in Auschwitz history, measured
by the number of murdered per day, per week, per month, started
in accordance with the prepared scenario.
Let us recall the basic chronology :
The same day the first three transports leave from
Hungary for Auschwitz.
Nearly everyone ended in a gas chamber.
The same day the first of three transports leaves
from Terezin for the family camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau;
by May 18, 7 503 prisoners had been deported.
May 17, Himmler gives his consent for a delegate
of the International Committee of the Red Cross to inspect Terezin
and "one Jewish labor camp"; at the same time he permits Danish
and Swedish participation in the Terezin inspection.
May 19, Dr Marti, head of the delegation of the
International Committee of the Red Cross in Berlin, is informed
about Himmler's decision.
By that time both sites were ready for inspection.
The Berlin delegation of the International Committee as well as
the Swedish Embassy, which had been asking to inspect Terezin for
a long time, surprisingly enough, were not ready to go. Allegedly,
Dr Marti had to start an urgent journey to Geneva and his deputy,
Dr Maurice Rossel, later sought to justify himself by saying that
he had not had enough time for preparation. The Swedish Embassy
in Berlin refused to participate at all for the remarkable reason
"that because of a Swedish holiday none of the Embassy employees
could leave Berlin".
On 23rd June, 1944, Dr. Rossel and two Danish delegates
finally visited Terezin. The "beautification" procedure and the
direction of the inspection which started at noon and ended before
evening was absolutely perfect, so perfect that even a blind person
must have realized that everything was merely a phony set - up.
Despite this the Nazi organizers of the "final solution" got an
excellent reference from Dr Rossel. "Let us say that to our complete
amazement we found in the ghetto a town which is living a nearly
normal life... This Jewish town is remarkable..." he wrote in his
report and as evidence he enthusiastically described his own impressions
and took as reality everything that the SS had put before him.
In addition, "ex privatissima industria", Dr Rossel
sent photos taken by him in Terezin to the German Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Eberhard von Thadden, who had accompanied him to Terezin.
Among them were also pictures of children prisoners playing in a
park. Within four months all these children had ended their lives
in a gas chamber. The German Foreign Office thanked Rossel and Thadden
assured him that the photos would be "used on occasions when foreigners
turn to him again concerning alleged horrors in Terezin". This happened
and Nazi propaganda made use of Rossel's report. Thadden sent Rossel's
photos to the Swedish Embassy and the deputy of the Reich's press
speaker, Helmut Sundermann, at a conference on July 19, presented
Rossel's testimony against "enemy propaganda about alleged deficiencies
and about the treatment of Jews settled in Europe".
Rossel's report unequivocally marked Terezin as
a "final camp" (Endlager) from which nobody who came there would
normally be transported any further. This assertion was made about
a camp in which at that time there lived less than 28 thousand persons,
i.e. a mere fifth of the number of persons "evacuated" to Terezin
up to that time. By July 1944 nearly 32 thousand had died in the
Terezin camp and more than 68 thousand had been deported further
to the East to the extermination camps and their facilities.
At that time the International Committee of the
Red Cross had already authentic and reliable information on the
deportations from Terezin to Auschwitz. In addition they were also
in possession of a report by two Slovak Jewish prisoners, Alfred
Wetzler and Walter Rosenberg (Rudolf Vrba), who successfully escaped
from there, in which they described the fate of the Terezin transports
to Auschwitz in detail. Thus, Rossel's report contradicted the report
by Wetzler and Vrba and could cast doubt upon their disclosures
in general and not only on the fact that from Terezin the Jews were
deported to the extermination camp of Birkenau. How to explain that
the International Committee of the Red Cross had not used Himmler's
permission to inspect also "one Jewish labor camp" about which Niehaus
had informed Dr Marti. Nowhere, in any published or archival document
known to me, did I find any evidence or even an indication of any
initiative exerted in this direction by the International Committee.
We therefore assume that contentment with Terezin and its interpretations
as a "final camp" were the cause of this passivity.
As a result of this the "Arbeitslager Birkenau
bei Neerun" (labour camp Birkenau at Nowa Beruna), created as a
family camp of Terezin prisoners to be visited by a foreign delegation,
was no longer needed. In the first half of July, 1944, when the
organizers of the "final solution" were by then quite sure of this,
it was liquidated in the usual manner of that time. Nearly 6 500
prisoners, among them hundreds of children, were killed in gas chambers,
but about 3 500 men and women able to work were sent to various
As a result of the pressure of the practically
uninterrupted bombing offensive of the Anglo - American air - force
in the winter and spring of 1944, a large - scale program for the
production of German fighter - aircraft - Jagerprogramm - based
on building gigantic aircraft factories was worked out at the highest
level of the Reich. In connection with this program Hitler decided
in the first week of April 1944 that 100 000 Jewish workers chosen
from the Hungarian contingents could be used for this construction
work. Later this number was doubled and Jewish labour could be drawn
also from other than Hungarian sources.
Since these giants of the aircraft industry were
to be erected on German territory (Hitler also considered locating
one of them on Protectorate territory), Hitler's decision actually
meant the cancellation of Himmler's earlier order of December 1942,
i.e. that the concentration camps on German territory should be
"judenrein" (cleared of Jews), who were deported from there to Auschwitz
Soon after April 1944, Jewish transports also started
to leave Auschwitz for forced labor in the West, beyond the borders
of the branch camps of Auschwitz, to German and also Austrian and
Czech soil. This flow influenced also the fate of the Terezin family
camp in Birkenau.
On 1 July, 1944, under dramatic cicumstances, a
transport of one thousand men left there for one of the ancillary
camps of Sachsenhausen, Schwarzheide. There, the prisoners were
placed at the disposal of the firm Braunkohlen - Benzin, the notorious
"Brabag", working at synthetic petrol produion, clearing the debris
after numerous air - raids, building air - raid shelters and similar
jobs. Many perished directly in Schwarzheide as victims of hard
labor, hunger, illnesses and air - raids. A further 300 or so died
in Bergen - Belsen to which they were transported at the end of
February 1945 because they could no longer work and had become "idle
eaters". At the end of March a group of prisoners was sent from
Schwarzheide to Sachsenhausen. Of those left many died during the
evacuation march which began on April 19. They are buried near Neustadt,
Saupsdorf, Horni Ch ibske and Varnsdorf. In the latter on May 5,
250 Jewish prisoners were loaded into freight cars and transported
to Litome ice; only a few dozen returned from there. The group dispatched
from the Terezin family camp to Blechhammer, an ancillary camp of
Auschwitz, in the first half of July 1944, numbered about 400 to
500 men. They worked there on the erection of a synthetic petrol
plant and in its production. From there, the prisoners were evacuated
on January 1, 1995 in a death march to Gross - Rosen, then on to
Buchenwald and to Dachau. In the middle of July a large transport
of women left Auschwitz for the concentration camp in Stutthof;
among them were about 500 women prisoners from the family camp.
In Stutthof they were divided into several groups and one of them
was transported to the Praust camp at Gdansk where they worked on
the site of the military airport; others were dragged through other
ancillary camps of Stutthof. During the evacuation some of them
got as far as the network of the Neuengamme camps of Hamburg. On
July 4, a transport of about one thousand women left the family
camp straight for Hamburg. First they worked on clearing debris;
later they were divided into smaller groups - one worked in Neueraben,
later in Tiefstack, others in Welden or Eudelstadt at various building
sites, digging trenches, etc. Those who did not perish due to exhaustion
or illness were gradually transferred to Bergen -Belsen. There ended
also those women who had originally been transferred from the family
camp to Christianstadt and then from there, in one of the longest
death marches starting on February 2, they followed the route via
Cheb and Zelle near Hannover to the Bergen - Belsen camp.
The fate of the 3 500 prisoners of the Terezin
family camp, transferred from Birkenau to forced labor, was cruel
: two thirds died from slave labor and death transports.
Autumn Liquidation Camps
In the late summer of 1944, a super-make-believe
story was filmed in Terezin. It was a propaganda film shot as a
"document" about the sweet life of the Jewish settlement at the
end of the fourth year of war. One of the Jewish prisoners dubbed
it a film "about a town which the Fuhrer gave to the Jews". Nazi
propaganda never used the film - not just because everything was
unbelievably exaggerated but also, no doubt, because it contradicted
the theme of Nazi race ideology about Jews being "sub - human".
In the film the Jews were depicted as people of high culture and
a high level of civilization, as people who through their intellectual
and physical work attained great achievements.
Not long after the film was finished on September
23, Paul Eppstein, Otto Zucker and Benjamin Murmelstein, the heads
of the Jewish administration of Terezin, were summoned to the SS
commander's office and informed that an inspection of Terezin's
workshops had proved their uselessness for the war effort and therefore
5 000 men would be deported to forced labor. On September 28 and
29 and October 2, three transports with 5 499 prisoners left for
Auschwitz. They left under dramatic conditions. The departure of
the first transport was postponed for two days. Incredibly, the
prisoners who had already assembled for transportation, were able
briefly to leave the otherwise strictly isolated "shlojska" (Schleuse
- sluice or lock) transport assembly area. A day before dispatching
the transport the Jewish Senior Elder - Judenaltester, Paul Eppstein,
was arrested. He was transferred to the Terezin Small Fortress and
In spite of the fact that particularly the first
of those transports, marked Ek, was carefully chosen from the point
of view of the ability of every individual to work and of the general
professional structure complying with the alleged role of this transport
to build a new working camp headed by engineer Otto Zucker, on the
platform in Birkenau one thousand prisoners were immediately selected
for the gas chamber, including O. Zucker and the staff chosen by
him. The fate of the following two transports and others which followed
up to October 28 were little different.
The eleven transports of autumn 1944 left with
18,402 men, women and children and of those only 1,474 survived
to liberation, i.e. a mere 8%. The relatively highest percentages
of survival - 15.2% and 20.4% - were exhibited by the Ek transport,
dispatched on 28 September and the Em transport, dispatched three
days later, respectively.
These transports are sometimes called liquidation
transports. If this name indicates that 16 928 victims were tortured
and murdered, it is correct.
One of the reasons for dispatching these transports
was without doubt an attempt to weaken the resistance potential
of Terezin. The general development of the war and eecially the
Slovak National Uprising caused panic in the ranks of the leading
representatives of the occupation regime in Bohemia and Moravia.
K.H. Frank and Konrad Henlein desperately turned to Himmler and
even directly to Hitler for help.
Himmler in his letter of September 26, 1944 replied
to Frank as follows: "Dear Party - member Frank, I received your
letter. I know that you will not lose your nerve. ..... I am convinced
that we must expect an uprising of the Czechs soon, at the latest
within the next few weeks. The measures to be taken are clear to
us. Heil Hitler! Yours sincerely, H. Himmler." Among the first acts
of the Slovak National Uprising was the liberation of prisoners
detained in Jewish camps; these afterwards played an important role
in the detachments of the insurgent fighters. A Czech analogy of
the events which took place immediately after the beginning of the
Slovak uprising, e.g. in the Jewish camp Novaky, would be especially
unpleasant to the SS Reichsfuhrer Himmler. It was not only the military
value of an insurgent unit which might originate in such a case
in Terezin. A contingent rising in this place would destroy a base
which for years by false maneuvers Himmler and his party - machine
had been building up in Terezin to further his complicated foreign
- policy maneuvering as well as for the German home front. At the
same time, just at this final period of the lost war, Terezin was
for Himmler especially precious as a fallacious alibi in the "Jewish
problem", with the Terezin prisoners as hostages. Therefore it was
important to rid Terezin of those who might endanger Himmler's plans.
The autumn transports from Terezin to Auschwitz indeed paralyzed
the resistance organizations of all orientations.
The need to use the working potential of Terezin
for the German war economy did indeed exist but this did not stop
genocide as the "final solution". Those Terezin prisoners who survived
the selection at the platform in Birkenau were predestined to the
fate of the murderous system "Vernichtung durch Arbeit" (liquidation
Some of them were sent to work in the Auschwitz
branch camps and perished in the Monovic factory of the I.G. Farben
Complex, in the cement works of Golesow near Cieszyn, in the coal
mines Furstengrube or Bismarckhutte. More than 1 200 men were sent
to Kaufering and Landsberg where the prisoners of eleven branch
camps of Dachau were decimated working on the large - scale construction
of one of the factories of the aircraft industry. Other men's and
women's groups of Terezin prisoners were sent to plants producing
components for military aircraft, to the branch camps of Gross -
Rosen and Buchenwald in Friedland, in Kudow - Sackisch, in Freiberg,
in Niederorschel and elsewhere. Other groups of Terezin prisoners
were sent to work in munition factories in Oederan, in the Meuselwitz
plant of the HASAG concern, to the underground factory in Langstein
and Dora, in the Ordruf quarries, in the Merzdorf textile factory,
in the Lenzing chemical plant and also to dig trenches, anti - tank
barriers and various fortifications in Birnbauml, Kurzbach, Schlesiersee,
Trachtenburg and many other places. Very often groups of prisoners
from those employed in production were relocated to these construction
sites to slow down the forward march of the Allied armies.
Last Conversion of the Terezin Camp
After the departure of the autumn transports at
the end of October 1994 only 11 068 prisoners were left in the Terezin
camp and among them a mere four hundred men able to work.
The first major action which opened a new chapter
in the history of the Terezin camp, was typical. By means of the
autumn transports the large majority of living witnesses knowing
what had actually taken place in the three years' existence of the
camp were removed from Terezin, particarly those who knew too much.
Eighteen present or former members of the Council of Elders of that
time were transported to Auschwitz as well as nearly all the remaining
prisoners of the construction groups and those of the first administration.
Three days after the series of transports ended the SS headquarters
organized the removal of the dead witnesses. The Terezin columbarium,
filled with paper urns containing the ashes of prisoners tortured
to death in Terezin and cremated in the crematorium of the camp,
was liquidated. About 17 thousand urns, possibly more, were dumped
in the Oh e river, the remainder in a pit near the Litom ice concentration
The radical reduction in the number of prisoners
in Terezin - reduced to a mere fifth of the highest number ever
present in the camp - created new conditions for the prisoners'
lives. The accommodation improved markedly and also sanitation and
hygiene. The kitchens, the water supply and other technical facilities
built for a large number of prisoners could serve better. Catering
was improved by the possibility of also using food parcels sent
to prisoners deported from Terezin.
The situation in Terezin was influenced by the
atmosphere connected with the intensive negotiations of Heinrich
Himmler and his plenipotentiaries, particularly Kurt Becher, with
the representatives of international Jewish organizations and the
American Office for War Refugees.
On November 9 the Berlin Central Office of the
Gestapo informed the Reich's Ministry of Foreign Affairs that within
the framework of plans approved by Hitler on how to "make use of
Jews for the German war effort in a manner other than by their work
for the Reich", a transport of 1 000 prisoners would be sent to
On December 6 a train dispatched from the Bergen
- Belsen camp with 1 368 Jewish prisoners actually crossed the Swiss
border. Among them were 97 Jews from Czechoslovakia. Four days earlier
- according to the recollections of Felix Kersten whom Himmler had
been using for his international political contacts - the Reichsfuhrer
of the SS at a meeting in Triberg promised to free two to three
thousand Jewish prisoners from Terezin on condition that the world
press would not interpret this release as a sign of weakness on
the part of Germany. Himmler refused to set 20 000 Terezin prisoners
free. (At that time, however, such a large number of Jewish prisoners
were not present in Terezin anymore.)
Shortly afterwards - on December 5 - during an
inspection of Terezin, an unknown functionary of the Reich's Security
Main Office visited the Jewish Elder Benjamin Murmelstein (officially
appointed as late as December 13). According to Rahm, the Commander
of the camp, he was satiied with what he had seen. This visit gave
birth to the legend that on the basis of this inspection "by a special
commission from Berlin" it was decided not to liquidate Terezin
but to make use of it for propaganda purposes.
Various alternatives for liquidating Terezin are
documented from the circles of Prague's Gestapo and from Eichmann's
Office at the Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin. There are documents
about actual preparations, particularly about the building of a
"food store" in Terezin ravelin No. XVIII, which could easily become
a gas chamber, and the building of a "duck pond" in ravelin No.
XV, which could be easily changed into the area where all of the
camp's inmates could be shot by machine -guns, burned by flame -
throwers or drowned by a gush of water from the Oh e river. However,
the leadership of the Reich had different plans for Terezin.
On January 15, 1945, Himmler met Jean - Marie Musy,
the former chairman of the Swiss Confederation Council for the second
time, and displayed his readiness to enable the departure of Jewish
emigrants if Germany received for every one of them goods to the
value of one thousand dollars. The first of these transports left
Terezin on February 5 and two days later was welcomed on Swiss soil.
According to Himmler's records of his meeting with
Musy in January, this Swiss politician, who sympathized with Nazi
Germany, repeated again "that this Jewish problem by itself is only
a secondary affair because the main thing is that it could stimulate
greater developments". These, however, did not take place and the
first Terezin transport to Switzeand was also the last one.
The number of Terezin prisoners, which increased
from the end of October to the end of the year 1944 by only 416
persons who were transferred there on December 23 from the Slovak
camp in Sered, began to grow very fast as from
January 31, 1945.
In the middle of January the Reich's Security Main
Office decided that all Jews able to work and living in mixed marriages
should be sent to Terezin "for confined forced labour". On the last
day of January, the first of nine transports marked Arbeitseinsatztransporte
(transport of forced labor) arrived in Terezin. The majority of
the 1 056 prisoners had been working in the mica factory at Hagibor
in Prague, which had been closed the day before. Altogether 3 654
Jews were sent to work in Terezin from the Protectorate territory.
Nearly all of them came from Prague, only 53 from Olomouc and 53
from Ostrava, while 55 were transferred to Terezin on February 12,
1945, from the labour camp at the country estate of Lipa. Similar
transports arrived at Terezin from Berlin and other German towns
and also from Vienna, from where on March 8 a transport of 1 073
Hungarian Jews was dispatched. They had been evacuated from Budapest
and had been living up to that time in labor camps on Austrian territory.
From Slovakia three other transports arrived with 1 031 prisoners
who could no longer be routed to Auschwitz or Sachsenhausen as originally
The number of inmates in the Terezin camp between
August 1944 and April 1945 is shown in the following table :
Under the burden of a lost war and in a desperate
effort to save himself for the post - war world, Heinrich Himmler
and his people resumed or activated contacts already established
earlier with Folke Bernadotte, the represeative of the Swedish Red
Cross, and Carl Jacob Burckhardt, of the International Committee
of the Red Cross, with Roswell McClelland in Switzerland and Iver
C. Olsen in Sweden, with representatives of the American Office
for War Refugees, with the brothers Sternbuch, Hilel Storch, Norbert
Masur and many others, representatives of international Jewish organizations.
They started by discussing humanitarian problems but Himmler and
the other German negotiators always tried to overstep these bounds.
Himmler always wanted to make use of his "precious capital", the
Jewish prisoners under his control in Terezin.
In accordance with the well - tried model, the
"beautifying activity" ("Stadtverschonerung") of Terezin was again
introduced. On March 5, 1945 Eichman announced a second visit of
the International Committee of the Red Cross. He forbade the cremation
of the dead bodies of Jewish prisoners, reasoning that Jewish ritual
did not allow it. The mass graves were levelled and an imitation
of a Jewish cemetery with Hebrew inscriptions was established. The
pavements were again washed and the windows were furnished with
curtains. The SS Headquarters checked nearly every day on how the
rehearsals for the children's opera "The Beetles" was progressing.
From Prague they ordered everything needed for staging The Tales
of Hofmann. A day before the inspeion, sugar, cheese and chocolate
were distributed to the prisoners. On April 6, the delegation of
the Red Cross International Committee arrived. The report by Otto
Lehner was even more monstrous than the earlier one by Maurice Rossel.
Nearly three months after the liberation of Auschwitz
and the exposure of the apocalyptic horrors, Lehner attrited Hitler's
government with well - meaning intentions with regard to Terezin
and the Jews. He wrote: " The Reich government's idea when founding
Terezin was to establish a Jewish community, which would afford
them self - government and thus be a small -scale experiment in
a future Jewish state..." He even dared to write that Terezin "from
the social aspect certainly surpassed the majority of European towns"
and Terezin prisoners - Lehner called them "inhabitants" - were
generally better fed than the German civilian population!
On April 3, Felix Kersten sent a letter to Hilel
Storch, the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Sweden,
informing him of Himmler's decision to hand over the concentration
camps together with their prisoners to the approaching Allies without
fighting. Less than three days later Himmler sent an order to Buchenwald
to reduce the number of the camp's prisoners by sending the largest
possible number in the direction of Flossenburg. More than 28 thousand
prisoners were driven onto these evacuation transports. The number
who did not survive these death transports is estimated at 12 to
15 thousand persons. Among them were many Terezin prisoners.
The concentration camp Bergen - Belsen, to which
many evacuation transports with Terezin prisoners had been directed
from various places of forced labor, was liberated four days after
Buchenwald - on April 15. Its death toll was terrible. From the
beginning of the year 35 thousand prisoners had died there and a
further 13 thousand died within a few days or weeks after the liberation
as a result of their sufferings and epidemics.
On the day when American soldiers looked in horror
at the piles of corpses in the newly liberated Bergen - Belsen camp,
Swedish Red Cross buses drove all Danish prisoners away from Terezin.
The next day Eichman's subordinates arrived in
Terezin. They were Hermann Krumey and Otto Hunsche accompanied by
Rudolf Kastner, the leading representative of the Hungarian Jewish
Rescue Committee. Krumey informed Rahm, Terezin's commander, about
Himmler's command to hand over Terezin to the Allies. Rahm commented
on the order with the words: "I do not understand the world anymore".
On April 19, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of the
Reich's Security Head Office, stopped in Terezin on his way from
Berlin to Vienna. He ordered a group of prominent prisoners to be
dispatched after him to Austria. However, Karl Hermann Frank, the
supreme commander of the SS and the Police in Bohemia and Moravia,
vetoed this. Let the Jewish hostages stay in his sphere of power.
Afterwards, he actually tried to make use of them when several days
later he sent his messengers on a desperate but of course hopeless
mission to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Commander of the Allied Forces.
Frank promised to guarantee the safety of captured and interned
persons if the American and British Governments permitted the military
grouping of Hitler's army, commanded by Marshal Schorner, to continue
the war on the Eastern front and for this purpose to make use of
the resources of Bohemia - Moravia. "The same also holds for the
political prisoners and for the Jews confined in Terezin" states
his grotesque memorandum.
On the night of April 20 to 21, a phantasmagoric
meeting took place between Heinrich Himmler, the Reich's Fuhrer
of the SS, and Norbert Masur, the representative of the World Jewish
Congress. To be able to attend this secret meeting Himmler had to
leave the dinner held in the bunker of the Reich's Chancellery in
Berlin in honor of Hitler's birthday. During the discussions with
Mazur, Himmler referred to Terezin and to the February transport
to Switzerland and asserted that Terezin was a camp of a special
type established by him and Heydrich as a town inhabited only by
Jews and administered by Jews, where everything was carried out
by Jewish work. He recalled with nostalgia that he and Heydrich
had once wished that all camps, which had unfortunately been branded
by the wrong name of concentration camps, would look like Terezin.
The factual result of the two - hour meeting was
limited to Himmler's promise to free 1 000 Jewish women from Ravenruck
and 200 Jewish prisoners explicitly mentioned by name. Himmler repeated
his former promises about the treatment of Jewish prisoners in the
remaining concentration camps and in particular that they would
not be evacuated; this promise was not kept, either before April
20 or after April 21.
On the very same day - 20 April, 1945 - the "beautified"
Terezin was drastically confronted with the reality of the last
chapter of Hitler Germany's genocidal campaign against the Jewish
inhabitants of Europe - with the transports of prisoners being evacuated
from the concentration camps before the arrival of the Allied forces
and with the murders connected with them.
On April 19, the Headquarters of the SS announced
that Terezin had to be ready to accept "collection transports from
the abandoned camps". On the morning of the next day, Terezin had
17 515 prisoners; within ten days the number had risen to 29 227.
The main wave of these transports overburdened Terezin within 48
hours after the arrival of 25 freight cars with 1 800 half - alive,
half - dead and dead people at 6:30 in the morning on that 20 April,
At that time Terezin was the endpoint of the Calvary
of transports, lasting many days and often several weeks, which
crossed Polish, German, Austrian and Czech territories on foot or
in freight cars open to the cold and rain. Tens of thousands of
prisoners died in these transports, perishing from hunger, thirst
and disease, poorly dressed, without the possibility of the most
primitive personal hygiene, without basic medical care and, in addition,
exposed to the terror of the SS guards who shot anyone on these
death marches who was already exhausted or ill and could no longer
walk or who tried to escape. Often only small remnants of the numbers
which were originally dispatched reached Terezin. Some of the transport
columns were shot when the tower of the Terezin church was already
It was an apocalyptic sight when the stale, foumelling
freight cars were opened; the dead fell out and human beings half
- mad with hunger staggered out totally exhausted, all infested
with lice, many feverish and many infected with spotted fever, which
afterwards developed into a terrible epidemic affecting more than
two thousand inmates of whom every fourth died in Terezin.
The number of prisoners arriving in Terezin in
these death transports finally exceeded thirteen thousand. Nearly
5 400 of them were from Hungary. 4 200 from Poland, 1 000 from Rumania,
800 from the Soviet Union, 690 from Slovakia, 450 from France and
the same number from Jugoslavia. Among them were also Belgians,
Greeks, Italians and individuals from many other countries. Thousands
of them were not Jewish, especially among the Polish prisoners.
The smallest number was of 298 Terezin prisoners
who had been dragged away to the East with the deportation transports
and who now were returning to Terezin in this way. The sufferings
they had had to survive had changed them to such an extent that
their closest relatives did not recognize them. Many of those who
survived until the liberation of Terezin, died in the following
days or weeks after terrible suffering.
These 298 men and women represented