Former Theresienstadt Ghetto

Former Theresienstadt ghetto is now the town of Terezin

The Czech town called Terezin would not be of much interest to the rest of the world today if it had not been for the one unfortunate chapter is its 220-year-old history. The whole town became Ghetto Theresienstadt, opened by the Nazis on November 24, 1941, as a way station for the Jews of the Greater German Reich on their way to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. This was part of Hitler's systematic plan, which was code-named "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question."

After World War II ended on May 8, 1945, the Jewish survivors went back to their former homes or to the American occupation zone in Germany. In 1946, Terezin reverted back to a normal town when the 3,500 former Czech inhabitants were allowed to return. When I visited the town in early October 2000, I found it to be an eerie and depressing place, devoid of any joy or laughter; the whole town exudes a feeling of desolation and blight, as if neither time nor paint could ever restore the town to its former status before it became an integral part of the unique history of the genocide of the Jews. As it stands today, Terezin is a disconcerting combination of beauty, squalor, foul odors, melancholy and pathos.

On my visit in October 2000, I spent 7 hours in the town, walking around on my own without a guide, stopping occasionally to sit on the park benches and to eat at two of the three restaurants there. Terezin is quite small and one can walk the length of the town in 15 minutes.

There are 219 residences in the town and all the local people that I saw seemed to me to be dejected and unhappy. I did not encounter a single local person who had a smiling face, an energetic gait or the rosy glow of health. I saw apathetic mothers pushing strollers with blond, blue-eyed toddlers; there were old men shuffling along with the aid of a cane, and old women carrying shopping bags as they made their way to the several small stores whose grimy windows display cheap, utilitarian merchandise for sale. I observed one older woman standing on the market square in seeming quiet contemplation, as though she were remembering the tragic history of the town; then I realized that she was just bored with waiting for her dog to finish his business on the green lawn.

The only sound I heard was the noise of huge dump trucks, pulling trailers, rumbling through the town on the road to Litomerice (originally named Leitmeritz by the Germans), and fouling the air with their exhaust fumes. There was no sound of music coming from the apartments, no birds singing in the parks, and no children's laughter.

Entrance to Brunnen Park

Weeds had grown up around the benches at the far end of Brunnen Park and the street bordering on the Stadt park was carpeted with chestnuts that had fallen from the trees.

Weeds have grown up around a park bench near Hamburg barracks

Other than the dogs walking in the parks with their owners, there was no animal life that I could see: no squirrels, no pigeons, no birds, not even a cat sitting on a window sill. The colorful geraniums in the window boxes on some of the apartment buildings looked suspiciously like artificial plastic flowers to me. There were a few flowers blooming in the center of the town square, but there were no flowers planted in the other parks, nor in any planter boxes on the sidewalks.

Dump truck passes seedy hotel across from courtyard behind Ghetto Museum

More old Buildings

Restaurants and Hotel

Children's Barracks

Adult's Barracks

Historic Buildings

Art Museum

Map of Ghetto

Walls and Gate

Ghetto Museum

Town Square