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May 24, 2013

The Small Fortress (Malá Pevnost) in the Czech Republic, part 2

The Commandant's house at the Small Fortress

The Commandant’s house at the Small Fortress

In Part 1 of my blog post about the Small Fortress, I left off with the “Gate of Death” which is shown on the far right in the photo above. On the left in the photo above is the “Lord’s House” where the Commandant and his family lived, along with some of the guards and their families.

The front of the Commandant's house

The front of the Commandant’s house

Directly across from the Commandant’s house is the building which was used during World War II as the barracks for the SS guards when the Small Fortress was a Gestapo prison.  The building is shown in the photo below; it is now a Museum.

After the war, from the Summer of 1945 until 1948, the Small Fortress was used as a prison camp for German war criminals, and during that period, the Commandant’s house was used as the barracks for the police unit guarding the prisoners.

On May 6, 1947 the Czech government designated the building shown below as the “Memorial of National Suffering.” Two years later, after the last of the German war criminals had been executed, the first historical exhibition was set up in this building.

Museum at the Small Fortress

Museum at the Small Fortress is in building formerly used as a barracks for the SS guards

The Museum has a large fenced courtyard in front of it, part of which is shown in the photo above. The path up to the front door of the Museum is lined with birch trees, some of which you can see in the photograph above. Several statues of emaciated prisoners, such as the one you see in the photograph above, stand in the courtyard.

In October 2000, when I visited, there was an exhibition in this building entitled “The Small Fortress Terezin 1940 – 1945.” During that period the name of the town where the prison is located had been changed by the Nazis back to the original German name of Theresienstadt. The exhibit opened, after two years of preparation, on May 16, 1994. What I saw was the seventh permanent exhibit to occupy the same space in the Museum.

Statue of woman with hands tied behind her back

Statue of woman with hands tied behind her back

The photograph above shows a statue of a woman prisoner with her hands tied behind her back. This statue is located in front of the gate into the fenced courtyard of the museum building. On the left hand side, you can see a corner of the fence around the Commandant’s house. In the background is the Fourth Courtyard administration building where the Holocaust Memorial is located. The Museum and the Commandant’s quarters are both long narrow buildings. In this photograph, the Museum building is behind the camera, and to the right.

The photos below were taken in the Fourth Courtyard of the Small Fortress.

Entrance into the Fourth Courtyard in the Small Fortress

Entrance into the Fourth Courtyard in the Small Fortress

The photograph above shows the guard tower above the entrance into the Fourth Courtyard. (I have protected the identity of the two tourists with a blue dot.)

The photograph below shows the prison yard in the Fourth Courtyard. On the left is a building with group cells for prisoners; on the right are the solitary confinement cells.  After World War II ended, these prison cells were used to house ethic Germans in what is now the Czech Republic.

The execution state in the Fourth Courtyard

Prison cells and execution site in the Fourth Courtyard in the Small Fortress

The group cells on the left in the photograph above could hold 400 to 600 prisoners. Cell No. 44 was for prisoners who were condemned to die.

On May 2, 1945, there were 49 men and 3 women who were executed, just before the army of the Soviet Union arrived on May 8th to liberate the Small Fortress and the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

In the center of the photograph above, you can see that there is a raised section of the courtyard, which looks like an outdoor stage. After three prisoners from cell No. 38 attempted an escape in March 1945 and were caught, one of the escapees and two other men and a woman were selected at random to be executed here as a warning to the other prisoners. The other two escapees were captured and stoned to death in the First Courtyard, according to the pamphlet handed out to visitors at the Small Fortress.

Two of the group cells on the left side are open to visitors. One of them is shown in the photograph below.

One of the group prison cells in the Fourth Courtyard of the Small Fortress

One of the group prison cells in the Fourth Courtyard of the Small Fortress

Memorial inside one of the buildings in Small Fortress

Memorial to victims is inside the administration building in the Fourth Courtyard of the Small Fortress

When I visited the Small Fortress in October 2000, there was a small restaurant in the Third Courtyard. The restaurant is No. 32 on the tour, located on your left as you walk toward the main entrance to leave at the end of your tour.

Former SS Canteen in the Third Courtyard in the Small Fortress

Former SS Canteen in the Third Courtyard in the Small Fortress

The building where the restaurant is located was formerly the Canteen for the SS guards in the prison. It is a long building which separates the Second Courtyard from the Third Courtyard. The photograph above shows the door into the restaurant which is at the end of the building.

The photograph below shows the view of the main entrance that you see on your way out. Note the grass growing on the roof.  On the right is the doorway into the Administration Courtyard and on the left is the doorway into the Second Courtyard. Just beyond the restaurant, on the left side is the Third Courtyard, which was the women’s section of the prison.

Exit from the Third Courtyard in the Small Fortress

Exit from the Third Courtyard in the Small Fortress

On the right in the photograph above, you can see the square archway which is the entrance to the Administration Courtyard, shown in the photo below. Note the Arbeit Macht Frei gate at the end of the courtyard.

The Administration Courtyard with the Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the end

The Administration Courtyard with the Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the end

To the left of the gate into the Administration Courtyard, but not visible in the photograph above, is the entrance to the Third Courtyard which was used for the women prisoners after June 1942.  The Canteen, which was a restaurant in 2000, is to the left of the Women’s camp, but not shown in the photo below.

Entrance into Women's Camp inside the Small Fortress

Entrance into Women’s Camp inside the Small Fortress

The Women's camp in the Small Fortress had factories where the women worked

The Women’s camp in the Small Fortress had factories where the women worked

The Women’s Camp is Number 33 on the tour. In this courtyard, according to the pamphlet that I was given, “the first working transport for the Litomerice concentration camp was lodged here temporarily” in 1944.

Before our tour bus got to the Small Fortress, we went through the ancient town of Litomerice where I saw a spectacular white Baroque Christian church. Near an old and very elaborate gateway on the road through the town, I caught a glimpse of some old concrete posts of the type used for the barbed wire fences around the concentration camps. I learned that in the spring of 1944, a sub camp of the Flossenbürg concentration camp was set up in Litomerice.

Around 18,000 prisoners were brought to this sub-camp in Litomerice and given the job of building an underground factory, which was code named “Richard.” A large kommando (work group) from the Small Fortress was sent to this underground factory every day to work. The Nazis had started building all their munitions factories underground because every city in Germany was being bombed by the Allies. Working conditions at the “Richard” factory were horrible and when the typhus epidemic in the eastern concentration camps spread to the Litomerice camp, it resulted in the deaths of 4,500 prisoners in less than a year, including some of the prisoners from the Small Fortress.

After seeing the women’s camp, our tour group went out the main gate, which is shown in the photo below. This photo was taken as our group entered the Small Fortress.

Entrance to the Small Fortress is also the exit

Entrance to the Small Fortress is also the exit

The Small Fortress (Malá Pevnost) in the Czech Republic

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:32 am

The subject of the “Malá pevnost” came up in a comment on my blog a couple of days ago, so I decided to write about it today.  I visited the Small Fortress in October 2000 and took some photos, which I am posting.

The main entrance into the Small Fortress

The main entrance into the Small Fortress

The Small Fortress is now a Memorial Site, located in the Czech Republic, on the east side of the Ohre river, which divides the two parts of the old military fortress, originally known as Theresienstadt. The former Theresienstadt ghetto, which was turned into a concentration camp in World War II, is on the west side of the Ohre river. The Main Fortress, where the Nazi concentration camp was formerly located, is now the town of Terezin.

When Theresienstadt was originally built as a military fortress in 1780, it consisted of two parts: the Main Fortress, where the Jews were later imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II, and the Small Fortress which was originally built as a prison and was used as such from the time it was completed until a few years after World War II, when the last of the German war criminals, who were incarcerated here by the victorious Allies, were executed.

The Small Fortress was turned into a Gestapo prison in June 1940, more than a year before the Main Fortress was turned into a ghetto and a transit camp for Jews in November 1941.  My tour guide said that 90% of the inmates in the Small Fortress during the war were non-Jewish Czech Communists.

The following quote is from a pamphlet that I obtained on the my tour in October 2000:

People were sent [to the Small Fortress] for taking part in the democratic and communist resistance movement, for aiding parachutists sent from the west and east to help the Czech resistance, for supporting partisans, escaped prisoners-of-war and Jews, or for individual acts against the Nazi regime. They were intellectuals, workers, farmers, clericals, artists and students, men and women. The fate of the Jewish prisoners here was particularly tragic. After arrest by the Gestapo for taking part in the resistance movement or breaking the rules established for Jews in Terezin town, they were sent here, given the hardest work and subjected to the worst terrorism by the guards. It was actually a transit prison as most of the inmates were sent after a certain time before a Nazi court and from there to other prisons and penitentiaries or to concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Austria.

Before we got to the Small Fortress, the road went through the old walled town of Theresienstadt, which is now called by the Czech name Terezin, but at that point I didn’t know yet that this was the old ghetto because, from the road, it looks much like all the other small towns that we had passed through.

The road that goes through the town of Terezin, October 2000

The road that goes through the town of Terezin, October 2000

Suddenly I saw the zigzag brick walls of the ramparts that surround the Small Fortress. The red brick fortifications around the two fortresses are 4 kilometers long. There are double walls around the fortress with a dry moat in between them.

When the bus stopped at the Small Fortress, I was startled to see a cemetery in front of it with a large Christian cross in the middle and a much smaller Star of David behind it, placed closer to the entrance gate. I soon learned that this was not an insult to the Jews, but a representation of the truth since, contrary to what I had read in several tourist guidebooks, very few Jews had died in the Small Fortress, according to our guide.

Graves in front of Small Fortress

Graves in front of Small Fortress

Star of David marks Jewish graves at Small Fortress

Star of David marks Jewish graves near wall around the Small Fortress

I learned that the Small Fortress was used by the Nazis, beginning in 1940, as a Gestapo prison for Communists, anti-Fascist resistance fighters, partisans and guerrilla fighters who were captured during in the war. There were 27,000 men and 5,000 women sent to the Small Fortress for “interrogation.” According to our guide, there were approximately 1,500 Jews sent to the Small Fortress for fighting with the resistance movement or for breaking the rules of the Theresienstadt ghetto. The guide told us that 90% of the inmates in the Small Fortress during the war were non-Jewish Czech Communists.

According to a pamphlet that our tour group was given when we entered, there were 10,000 corpses buried at the Small Fortress between 1945 and 1958 after the bodies were exhumed from mass graves at the Small Fortress, the Theresienstadt ghetto and the nearby Litomerice concentration camp. In the two photos shown above, there are 2,386 individual graves in the cemetery in front of the Small Fortress.

Gate inside the Small Fortress

Gate inside the Small Fortress

The main gate into the Small Fortress, which is shown at the top of my blog post, was designated Number 1 on the tour of the Small Fortress. After going through the main gate, our tour group walked a few yards into the prison, then turned left to go through the Administration Court which was Number 2 on the tour. You can see the number 2 on the left side of the square archway in the foreground of the photograph above. The sight of the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” on the arch over a doorway in the background of the photo was very upsetting to the Jews on the tour because  “Arbeit Macht Frei” has now become the slogan of the Holocaust.

The “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign was only put over the gates into camps where prisons had a chance of being released.  According to a booklet that I purchased at the Small Fortress Museum, there were 5,600 prisoners released from the Small Fortress, which was a Gestapo prison for political prisoners and captured partisans, not a death camp for Jews.

Prison Cells in the Small Fortress

Prison Cells in the First Courtyard of the Small Fortress

The First Courtyard of the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, which is shown in the photograph above, was divided into Blocks A and B. There were 17 group cells and 20 small cells for solitary confinement. Up to 1,500 prisoners used this small courtyard as their exercise yard.

According to the visitor’s pamphlet that we were given, the group cells held up to 100 prisoners at one time. Cell number 1 was reserved for prisoners from the Soviet Union. Cells number 2 and number 3 were used to imprison Jews who were “arrested for political activities and violating anti-Jewish regulations.”

Notice that the photograph above shows grass growing on the roof. The prison cells were rooms between the double walls around the fort, and the roof was covered with dirt.

Door into Prison Cell in Small Fortress

Door into Prison Cell in Small Fortress

The photograph above shows the door to one of the group prison cells in the First Courtyard.  The Plaque on the right hand side, which is written in Czech, English and Hebrew, reads as follows:  “In the years 1940 to 1945 more than 1500 Jews were imprisoned in the Small Fortress. Their destiny was worst of all the groups of prisoners. About 800 from them were tortured to death here, most of others perished after the deportation to concentration camps. Dedicated to the memory of the victims by the Embassy of the State of Israel.”

There were approximately 32,000 prisoners who passed through the Small Fortress during the time that it was a Gestapo prison from June 1940 until May 8, 1945.

According to a pamphlet that tourists were given on the tour, between 2,500 and 2,600 of the prisoners died, including between 250 and 300 who were executed. However, our tour guide told us that most of the prisoners at the Small Fortress were Communist resistance fighters who were fighting against the Nazi Fascists.  (Remember that there was a war going on.)

After the arrival of the Soviet Army on May 8, 1945, the prisoners at both the Small Fortress and the Theresienstadt ghetto had to be held under quarantine until the typhus epidemic could be brought under control. In just the two months of April and May, 1945 there were approximately 1,000 deaths from typhus in the Small Fortress.

The pamphlet that we were given at the entrance of the Small Fortress has this map on which all the places of interest are numbered for easy reference. The entrance shown at the top of this page is number 1 on the map and the graveyard in front of the fortress is number 34, the last thing that visitors see as they walk toward their tour bus in the parking lot.

Entrance into the tunnel at the Small Fortress

Entrance into the tunnel at the Small Fortress

Door Number 18, shown on the far right in the photograph above, opens into the mortuary room, which I saw only from the outside on my tour. This is where corpses were stored until they could be taken to the crematorium to be burned.

Door Number 17, shown in the middle of the photo above, is the entrance to a tunnel which goes through the old fortifications on the north side of the Small Fortress to the former military firing range which, according to a pamphlet that I was given at the Small Fortress, was used by the Nazis for executions.

The tunnel is about a quarter of a mile long, although it seemed more like a mile, as I was walking through it. The tunnel is not underground, as you can easily see by looking through a few narrow slits in the wall along the way, but it feels like it is underground. The tunnel goes through the double walls of the original fortifications, but it was not used during World War II. It is shown to tourists because it is one more scary feature in this place of horror.

Exit from the tunnel in the Small Fortress

Exit from the tunnel in the Small Fortress

When you first enter the tunnel, it doesn’t seem to be very long, but just as you think you are nearing the end, the tunnel makes a turn and continues on. The exit from the tunnel is shown in the photograph above, where you can readily see that the tunnel is above ground. However, if you suffer the least bit from claustrophobia, it would be wise to let the tour leader know in advance so that arrangements can be made for you to reach the execution site through the door used by the condemned prisoners. The sandy path from the tunnel leads to the execution site which is between the ramparts.

Firing range at the Small Fortress

Firing range at the Small Fortress is at the end of the tunnel

The photograph above shows the place where prisoners were executed in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt. One of the fortification walls is in the background and the spot where the condemned prisoner stood is in the center of the picture. The concrete form in the foreground was one of three places, under a free-standing roof, from which the firing squad would shoot while in a prone position.

According to a small booklet which I purchased at the Museum, between 250 and 300 of the 32,000 prisoners, who were inmates at the Small Fortress, were executed. This included 49 men and 3 women who were shot on May 2, 1945 just before the prison was liberated. Most of members of this group were in either the Predvoj resistance or the Communist party which had been banned by the Nazis.

The first recorded execution in the Small Fortress was on May 11, 1943 when a leader of the Communist resistance, Frantisek Prokop, was shot at the firing range. On September 28, 1944, Dr. Paul Eppstein, the second Elder of the Theresienstadt Ghetto was executed here because of his resistance activities.

The "Gate of Death" at the Small Fortress

The “Gate of Death” at the Small Fortress is No. 21 on the tour

After visiting the firing range in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, our tour group went through the Gate of Death which was the gate through which condemned prisoners had to walk to reach another execution site outside the fortress. If you don’t want to go through the tunnel to get to this execution site, you can reach the Gate of Death by walking straight ahead when you enter the Small Fortress, instead of turning left into the Administration Court.

You will then enter the Fourth Courtyard which is where our tour group emerged when we came through the Gate of Death. The photograph above shows the Gate of Death, taken from inside the Fourth Courtyard. In the background, you can see the high wall of the firing range.

Continue reading Part 2.  After World War II ended, the Small Fortress was used as a prison for ethnic Germans.