Theresienstadt 1939, Theresienstadt, A gift from Hitler. A place of hope and happiness for Jews and Jewesses alike. Theresienstadt was somewhere they could wait the war out without fear until the shadow of Nazism passed. It was a place filled with the most prosperous artists and musicians, daily shows and operas, lectures and seminars, gardens and coffee shops. A place with grace and character.
An entire town that was given to the Jews as a gift from the Fuehrer. A paradise for Jews. That is at least, what the Nazis wanted people to believe. Forty miles north west of Prague, Czechoslovakia, surrounded by the central Bohemian Mountains Hitler pinpointed the small town of Theresienstadt to be his paradise ghetto, his “gift”. Located in a scenic community, Theresienstadt had broad streets and a large square surrounded by two large parks and two smaller ones.
Here within an area five blocks wide and seven blocks long, over 140, 000 Jews would spend the last months of their lives, and only a few handfuls would survive. The first Jewish prisoners entered Theresienstadt on November 24, 1941. In the beginning, when the Fuehrer first presented the city to the Jews, many came willingly to the ghetto because life as a Jew was becoming intolerable and dangerous elsewhere with the rise and spread of anti-Semitism. The Jews wanting to enter Theresienstadt merely had to sign a contract turning over all remaining assets and property to the S. S, and in return the S.
S pledged to take care of them as long as they inhabited Theresienstadt. Theresienstadt was un-like any other ghetto in the fact that Hitler planed to use the ghetto as a “model” ghetto. It was a model that was supposed to represent all the ghettos set up across Europe. Theresienstadt was a place the Nazis and Hitler showed to comfort and reassure the world as to the overall treatment of the Jews. It was a ploy to try to cover up the real horrors and massacres of the Jews that were breaking out across Europe.
Theresienstadt was a ghetto designed to divert all attention away from the dying and suffering, Hitler wanted to hide the truth from the world and create a hoax. With thousands of Jews being transported and murdered, among them were people who would be recognized and missed in communities. These were people that were famous; musicians, writers, painters, actors, and well-known scholars. All of these sudden disappearances of these famous people would raise questions among the countries in which they disappeared. Hitler’s solution was Theresienstadt. Also among the Jews sent to Theresienstadt, were war veterans or any Jew whom had worn a German uniform.
Hitler felt he needed to appease the German army and respect even a Jew who had honorably served Germany. Theresienstadt became a ghetto where most of the well-known Jews of Europe would reside happily for the remainder of the war. Theresiensadt, now a beautiful town filled with the most prosperous Jews of Europe became the set for a well-planned propaganda film that the Nazi’s used to deny the final solution. The ghetto had become a scene for a sick play for the worlds viewing. Rules and regulations in Theresienstadt were much more relaxed than in other ghettos. Music, and art were encouraged and even forced upon the Jews so that Hitler could show the world what went on behind the gates of Theresienstadt. In 1944, Hitler set about a beautification project to up grade the city for a propaganda film. Playgrounds were built, store fronts painted, a new caf’e was added, along with the filling of storefront windows for the sole purpose of the film. The Jews were forced to perform operas and piano concerts.
Actual scenes were set up outside playgrounds and in houses to show how, humanely the Jews were being treated. Afterward Hitler invited the Red Cross to view the town. What the Red Cross didn’t know was that merely two weeks before, over five thousand Jews were deported to the concentration camps in the East so that the city would appear less crowded. Hitler succeeded in two things with Theresiensadt; one he fooled the world with his well-planned hoax and propagation film, making people believe the Jews were treated humanely. The other success was, that he kept Theresienstadt as close to a ghetto in the sense that still fit the purpose and definition; to kill off as many Jews as quickly and efficiently as possible.
At one point there were 88, 000 people living in an area no bigger then seven-football fields long and five football fields wide; all of them were to fit in 219 houses, 14 military barracks and administration buildings. Any new arrivals at that point were jammed into cellars lacking plumbing and with no heat, or windows, and sometimes no floors, which meant the people would sleep in the dirt. They were crammed into any space available including attics, which also had lack of heat and plumbing and were stifling in the summer for lack of ventilation. The people would freeze to death in the winter and die of heat exhaustion in the summer. Rooms that had once housed four to six people now housed close to 60.
To make room for such an amount of people, they would construct bunks that stacked on top of one another all the way to the ceiling. A person could not roll over in bed without disturbing the residents on either side; such disturbances led to beatings. The total living area through out all of Theresienstadt had shrunken to about 18 square feet per person. If a person weren’t dying of a disease or hunger, they were certainly driven mad for lack of privacy. One would never have a second alone anywhere in all of Theresienstadt.
Numerous people would overhear any conversation a person had. Solitude was un-imaginable. With people living so tightly, epidemics broke out left and right. In the first year, alone enteritis claimed over 4000 lives. Other common epidemics such as conjunctivitis, hepatitis, and typhus were also spread by the conditions in the ghetto. One of the main spreaders of disease and epidemics was lice because of the close living conditions.
Even though the S. S kept the delousing station running non stop, the second a person returned to their bunks the lice would be back within a day or two. Besides the lice, there were thousands of bugs infesting Theresienstadt. One woman remembers killing 120 bugs on her wall in one night, just to find another 50 the next day. Physicians removing plaster casts often found swarms of bugs living underneath infesting the persons arm. Keeping clean in Theresienstadt was close to impossible.
A resident would be considered lucky if they could shower once every two months. The water was restricted to be on only three times a day for one hour. During this time thousands of people would have to do their laundry and bath. Laundry was done once every three months at most, and the clothes would be dirty within a day of washing. One toilet in Theresienstadt would serve anywhere from a hundred people to 500. With that kind of traffic toilets were never kept clean and always backed up and overflowing.
During 1943, alone 30% of the population were ill due to conditions, which did not include the starving. The other 70% were busy taking care of the sick, starving or working. During July the death rate was 32 people a day and by August it rose to 75 people a day, then even higher still in September to 131 people a day dying in Theresienstadt. It was more then 25, 000 thousand deaths a year, which is 25 times the death rate in any normal central European city. Most of those were due to starvation, lack of medicine, disease, and torture.
Like most ghettos, there was an obsession with food in Theresienstadt. Meals consisted of old bread, some potato’s turnips, watery soup, and possibly meat; which was more than likely horseflesh. If a person were lucky, they would receive a small amount of margarine or sugar. Once a week rations would be handed out fluctuating in consistency; some week people received 4 ounces of turnips and others potatos, sometimes horsemeat, sometimes nothing but bread. Usually 8 ounces of skim milk were rationed once a week along with the solids, but almost all of the people in Theresienstadt saw much less food than what was recorded.
Shortages of kitchens made it so that people would have to stand for hours waiting in line for their small ration of food. Waiting for food meant standing outside no matter what the weather consisted of. Some people would get frostbite from waiting for food, and others become sicker and developing pneumonia while standing in the rain. There was such a low amount of food that people would smuggle in possessions like watches or clothes to trade for food. People would give away their most prize possessions for a loaf of bread and some watery soup. Others even went to the extent of wiping their bowls, after they licked them clean, with their sleeves so that they could suck out the last remaining nutrients.
There would be long conversations about food, talking about what they had before and the feasts shared, while rubbing their tummies. Some called this obsession about reminiscing about food while rubbing their tummies “magenonamie” which meant stomach masturbation. One visitor to Theresienstadt said, “the stench of the place almost made her …