An Essay by Wolf Murmelstein
TEN BASIC FACTS ABOUT THERESIENSTADT
In this article, some basic data about
the Special Ghetto Theresienstadt (Terezin) is presented in order
to avoid misunderstandings and, worse, misrepresentations in
Writings, Films or TV.
1. THE GHETTO AND THE LITTLE FORTRESS
a) The Ghetto was placed in the town
of Theresienstadt (Terezin). The town walls made control easy;
the inmates had to stay in the barracks and low level buildings.
In a certain part of the town area, there were the SS Headquarters,
the Housing of the Czech Gendarmes, the accommodations of the
SS and, from the Summer of 1943, the Central Archives of RSHA
(German Security Service). The Ghetto was supervised by Adolf
Eichmann and his staff; inmates were persons considered Jewish
by the Nazis, even if they belonged to other religions. For some,
the Jewish connection could not simply disappear.
b) The Little Fortress (Kleine Festung
- Polizeilager Theresienstadt) was a high security prison under
the supervision of the SD/Security Police of Prague; inmates
were sent there for their misdeeds against the Nazis.
2. COMMANDERS AND SS OFFICERS RELEVANT
TO THE GHETTO
a) SS Capt. SEIDL, Siegfried - from the
beginning to July 1943 when he was sent to Bergen-Belsen as Commander
of a Special Section for Jews with foreign passports, or other
groups intended for exchange with the Allies, which the Nazis
did not want to let pass through Theresienstadt.
b) SS Lt. BURGER, Anton - from July 1943
until February 1944 when he was sent to Athens in order to set
up the deportation of the remaining Jews of South Greece and
c) SS Lt. RAHM, Karl - from February
1944 until May 5, 1945. As a former mechanic and painter, he
was the only person on Eichmann's staff able to supervise the
first Embellishment action aimed to fool the Danish Government
and Red Cross delegates. The joke was that "Uncle Rahm"
expressed the difference between him and his "more educated
predecessors; clearly no one would dare to address Commander
Rahm as "Uncle Rahm."
d) SS Lt. BERGEL, Karl - from the beginning
to the end, he was the SECURITY INSPECTOR.
e) SS Lt. Col. EICHMANN, Adolf - from
November 1939, he was the Head of the RSHA Section for "Jews."
He had the idea to set up a Ghetto for "Privileged Jews"
located in Bohemia close to then Reich border.
f) SS Cap. MOES, Ernst - on the Eichmann
staff, he was the specialist for the "Prominents,"
or persons with merits and/or connections who could not simply
disappear. He often stayed in Theresienstadt, having a personal
office at the SS Headquarters.
g) SS Major GUENTHER, Hans - the Eichmann
representative in Bohemia as the Head of the CENTRAL OFFICE FOR
THE JEWISH QUESTION IN BOHEMIA AND MORAVIA, and in that capacity,
he was the supervisor of Theresienstadt. Also called "Guenther
Prague" in order to tell him apart from his brother, SS
Major Rolf Guenther, who was stationed in Berlin and called "Guenther
h) SS Gen. FRANK, Karl Hermann - MINISTER
FOR THE PROTECTORATE OF BOHEMIA AND MORAVIA, and HIGHER COMMANDER
OF THE SS IN BOHEMIA, MORAVIA AND SUDETS (the Sudetenland).
3. THE THREE ELDERS
a) EDELSTEIN, Jakob - a Zionist official
in Prague, from the beginning until January 29, 1943 when he
was demoted to First Deputy Elder. He was put in prison on November
9, 1943 and then sent to Auschwitz in December 1943 where he
was murdered along with his family.
b) EPPSTEIN, Paul - a lecturer of Sociology,
from his arrival on January 29, 1943 until September 27, 1944
when he was put under arrest and then murdered.
c) MURMELSTEIN, Benjamin - a rabbi and
scholar, he was the Second Deputy Elder from his arrival on January
30, 1943 and then Elder from September 27, 1944 until May 5,
1945 when the Red Cross Delegate, M. Dunant, took control and
SS Commander Rahm left.
4. CONTROL ON THE GHETTO
The Ghetto was controlled by about 20
SS men stationed with various tasks at the Headquarters and about
100 Czech Gendarmes. There were no female SS guards at Theresienstadt;
in the office of the Commander Rahm worked a young woman who
wore, the day that I saw her, a green gown. The Gendarmes, employed
some women to carry out searching tasks. Clearly, the SS Commander
of the Ghetto could always call on the many SS units stationed
5. SOME EVENTS OUTSIDE AND THEIR EFFECTS
ON THE GHETTO
The Ghetto leaders, like all the other
fellow inmates, had no possibility of being informed, exactly
and in time, about things going on outside; they could only learn
outdated rumors or some remark made by an SS officer, such as
"Vienna, too, is now in the hell." Conclusions were
not easy to reach. They had no news about most of the following
relevant outside events listed below:
A) UPRISINGS IN 1943 IN THE WARSAW GHETTO AND THE TREBLINKA DEATH
a) The 600 young Theresienstadt Ghetto
Policemen had first been replaced by 150 men, aged over 45 years,
and then deported some months later.
b) The first Ghetto Police Chief, Karl
Loewenstein, a former German officer, had been imprisoned for
c) There had been two deportation waves
in September and December 1943 and 10,000 inmates of Bohemia-Moravia
origin had to leave in order to reduce the population of the
Ghetto; special orders concerned those persons of Czech national
B) SLOVAKIAN UPRISING IN AUGUST 1944
WHERE JEWS TOOK PART
In the "September 1944 Transports,"
a large number of men, of working and fighting age, had to leave
for Auschwitz; they were followed by their families in later
C) THE 20 JULY 1944 PLOT AGAINST HITLER
BY GERMAN OFFICERS
a) Former officers of the German and
Austro-Hungarian Army, holding high decorations like the Iron
cross, were not exempted from transports any more.
b) A group of former "Abwehr"
(German Military Intelligence Organization led by Canaris) agents
were included in the last transport list.
D) HUNGARY UNDER GERMAN OCCUPATION AND
THE CHANGING OF SIDES BY RUMANIA AND BULGARIA
Clearly, persons holding Hungarian, Rumanian
or Bulgarian passports had no protection any more.
E) THE ACTION OF KING CHRISTIAN X OF
DENMARK AND HIS GOVERNMENT, TO GRANT HELP TO THE DANISH JEWS
IN THERESIENSTADT (TEREZIN).
Denmark was under Nazi occupation; nevertheless,
the King and the Government took action in order to ask for a
Red Cross visit to Theresienstadt, according to well known treaties.
That visit could not be refused, but only delayed for some months,
in order to have time for an "embellishment" to fool
the visitors. The Jewish leaders realized the importance of any
foreign visit for the survival of the Ghetto, and that even a
make-believe "embellishment" could bring some improvement
of conditions of life, which eventually occurred. The visit took
place on June 22, 1944; it was important but in no way decisive,
as Denmark itself was still under Nazi occupation.
F) THE ACTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL RED
During the Second World War, appeals
for help for the civilian prisoners reached the International
Red Cross, which had to make the decision to enlarge its operation
field. At the end of the war, the Red Cross obtained permission
from the Nazis to take care of civilian prisoners in the Concentration
Camps, and also in the Theresienstadt Ghetto. On April 6, 1945,
the Delegates of the International Red Cross Commission of Geneva
visited the Ghetto, which had been improved by a new Embellishment
The Elder Murmelstein took this opportunity
to launch a "cry for help," saying that "The future
of Theresienstadt is of great concern to me." The Delegates
understood this "cry for help" and the same day, they
obtained from SS General K.H. Frank, State Minister and High
SS Commander in the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia, the authorization
for the Red Cross to take care of the Ghetto, and an order that
no more prisoners should be deported from Theresienstadt.
On April 20, 1945, the Red Cross Delegate,
M. Paul Dunant, informed the Elder and the Council accordingly
and in the last days, established his office in Theresienstadt
and stayed there when the SS left on May 5th, until the Red Army
arrived three days later.
G. THE ACTION OF JEAN MARIE MUSY
In September 1944, as soon as possible,
the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of USA and Canada had the realistic
idea to contact Jean Marie Musy, a Swiss politician known for
his good connections to the Nazis in general and especially to
Himmler. Jean Marie Musy was ready to help; as far as Theresienstadt
was concerned, he obtained the release of 1200 prisoners who
were sent to Switzerland. His son, Benoit, came for a visit on
April 16, 1945.
6. WHO KNEW, AND WHEN, ABOUT THE GAS
CHAMBERS AND AUSCHWITZ
It is reported that Leo Baeck, in 1948,
at a gathering with his followers in the USA, should have stated
that he had been informed since August 1943 about the Gas Chambers
of Auschwitz. Avoiding any discussion about the consistency of
those statements as reported, it must be pointed out that:
- Leo Baeck had never given regular evidence
in competent People's Court about his supposed knowledge of things
going on in Auschwitz and the Gas Chambers.
- The People's Court of Litomerice
competent for Theresienstadt/Terezin had determined, after
a thorough investigation, that the first alarming information
had come from the group of Slovakian Jews who arrived on December
31, 1944 from the Sered Camp while the whole truth had been known
only after April 23, 1945 upon the arrival of groups of Concentration
7. THE GAS CHAMBER PROJECT IN THERESIENSTADT
In February 1945, Murmelstein had been
alerted by the Chief Engineer about two strange building projects
where the work had to be performed, based only on oral orders,
without any design. At the right moment, Murmelstein after
having given instructions in the event of his arrest went
to Commander Rahm, and told him about the fears of the Ghetto
population. Rahm replied that the building project concerned
a safe warehouse and a sea for volatiles. At any rate, Rahm went
suddenly to Prague and returned three days later, bearing the
order to stop all the suspicious work, an order that he could
have only obtained from State Minister and High SS Commander
K.H. Frank who, himself, at that time followed his personal policy
considering the Ghetto to be good for a deal.
8. THE TWO EMBELLISHMENT ACTIONS
The order to start an Embellishment Action
came at the end of December 1943 and Elder Eppstein entrusted
this job to his second deputy, Murmelstein, who was already supervising
the Technical Department and the Health Department. The work
went on better after the arrival of the new Commander Rahm, who
had a good understanding of technical problems. The results seemed
to be satisfactory at the visit of the Denmark Delegates on June
22, 1944. At first, Rahm advised that the work had to continue,
since further visits had been planned, but some weeks later,
The second Embellishment Action started
as Murmelstein after the October 1944 transports
gave instructions to clean and reset the Ghetto and, at the same
time, submitted a report that Theresienstadt should be made fit
for new visits. The idea was that a Ghetto, seen by foreign visitors,
cannot simply disappear. After an inspection by an SS Col. from
Berlin, this second Embellishment Action could officially go
on and the material necessary had been made available. The work
performed in those months improved life conditions in the Ghetto.
On March 5, 1945, Adolf Eichmann visited
Theresienstadt for an inspection; at the end he stated: "It
is fit to be shown." On March 28, 1945, German General Consul
at Geneva informed the Red Cross Commission that "in order
to refute the hostile propaganda, a visit to Theresienstadt is
possible." As noted above, the Red Cross visited the Ghetto
again on April 6, 1945 and the same day started action for its
9. THE FILM
Work on the film started in August 1944
and the shooting required some weeks, involving almost all of
the Ghetto and no persons to be deported had been listed at all.
The film had no title and the film cutting lasted until March
1945. The title "DER FUEHRER PRESENTS THE JEWS WITH A TOWN"
is absurd as no Nazi would have spoken about a present for the
Jews. It may be supposed that the film had been intended to be
shown after the destruction of the Ghetto when no visits would
have been possible any more.
10. LEO BAECK ON MURMELSTEIN
When, on May 3, 1945, the Red Cross Delegate
met with the Elder, the Council and the Department Managers of
the Ghetto for a briefing, Leo Baeck wanted to express his personal
feelings of gratitude to Murmelstein for the work he had performed,
hoping that his ability would be at the disposal of the new administration
after the take over of power. Furthermore, after Murmelstein
had resigned, Baeck in a letter dated May 6, 1945 expressed thanks
for the work performed and for what was done for the aged and
HE WHO, AT THAT TIME OF DARKNESS, HAD
NO RISKS TO TAKE, NOR RESPONSIBILITY, IS NOT ENTITLED TO PASS
JUDGMENT ON THE DEEDS OF THOSE WHO FACED DANGER WHEN STANDING
BEFORE A NAZI.
The writer can be reached for further
information and comments at this e-mail address: email@example.com