Scrapbookpages Blog

February 21, 2018

All about the Theresienstadt camp for Jews

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 3:47 pm

Everything you ever wanted to know about Theresienstadt — and then some.

Among the Nazi concentration camps, Buchenwald is famous for its human lamp shades; Auschwitz is noted for its gas chambers and Bergen-Belsen will be forever remembered as the place where British bulldozers shoved the emaciated corpses of the deliberately starved inmates into mass graves.

Theresienstadt’s claim to fame is the Verschönerung, the beautification program in which the Nazis cleaned up the ghetto in preparation for a visit on June 23, 1944 by two Swiss delegates of the International Red Cross and two representatives of the government of Denmark.

The Nazis began their beautification program in late 1943 in preparation for the inspection, demanded by the Danish King Christian X, which was more than six months away. Especially because the Theresienstadt ghetto was the home of many prominent and well known Jews, the Nazis wanted to fool the world into thinking that the Jews were being well treated.

The famous Red Cross visit to Theresienstadt came about because the government of Denmark was anxious to know about the conditions of the ghetto since 466 Danish Jews had been sent there, beginning on October 5, 1943.

Because of pressure brought to bear on the Germans by the Danish government, the Danish Jews received preferential treatment in the ghetto. They were sent back to Denmark on April 15, 1945, under the supervision of the Red Cross, three weeks before the ghetto was liberated by Soviet troops on May 8, 1945. Thus they escaped the typhus epidemic which devastated Theresienstadt in the last weeks of the war.

During World War II, information about the mistreatment and gassing of the Jews was known throughout Europe and the United States. Anne Frank in her attic and elementary school children in America had heard about the gassing of the Jews as early as June 1942. News of the gassing and other horrors in the concentration camps was broadcast on the radio by the British throughout the war.

The inmates of the Theresienstadt ghetto learned that the gassing stories were really true when a transport of 1,200 orphan children arrived from the Bialystok ghetto; upon being sent to a large shower room immediately after their arrival, the children became hysterical because they had heard the stories about the gassing of the Jews and assumed they were being put into a gas chamber disguised as a shower room.

On December 18, 1942, twelve allied governments, including the Czech government in exile in England, denounced the Germans for their treatment of the Jews. Possibly due to these complaints, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Nazi concentration camp system, issued an order on February 2, 1943 to stop the transports from Theresienstadt to the death camp at Auschwitz. At that time the total number of prisoners housed at Theresienstadt was 44,672. The transports to Auschwitz stopped for seven months.

Half the buildings in Theresienstadt needed more beautification in the year 2000.

The visit to Theresienstadt by the Red Cross was by no means the only visit to a Nazi camp, but it is the one that is the most written about because the Nazis used the occasion to disseminate propaganda by presenting the ghetto in a most favorable light. But even before the famous visit, the Germans had been honoring the 1929 Geneva Convention which required them to allow the Red Cross to provide packages to the concentration camps.

The Red Cross was aware of the camps from the beginning of the war and they began sending packages to the inmates of the major Nazi concentration camps, starting in August 1942; by February 1943 the Red Cross was sending packages to all the Nazi concentration camps. From the Autumn of 1943 to May 1945, the Red Cross distributed 1,112,000 packages containing 4,500 tons of food to the Nazi concentration camps, including the Theresienstadt ghetto and the Auschwitz death camp. In addition, the Nazis allowed packages to be sent to the concentration camp prisoners from friends and relatives outside the camps.

In recent years, the International Red Cross has been severely criticized for giving the Nazis good reports after their inspections; they even praised the Nazis for their diligence in delivering the Red Cross packages despite the hardships of the war.

According to the Red Cross statistics, 99% of the American Prisoners of War in the German POW camps returned home after the war, due largely to the packages containing food and typhus vaccine which were delivered from America by the Red Cross right up to the end of the war.

The Soviet Union did not allow the Red Cross in any of their camps during the war because they had not signed the 1929 Geneva convention and they were not required to open their gulags (concentration camps) or Prisoner of War camps for inspection.

After the war, General Dwight Eisenhower signed a one-sentence order on August 4, 1945 which read “Effective immediately all members of the German forces held in US custody in the American zone of occupation in GERMANY will be considered as disarmed enemy forces and not as having the status of prisoners of war.”

The DEF status meant that the German soldiers who had surrendered would not be entitled to protection under the Geneva convention: no Red Cross inspections were allowed in the US prison camps after the war and Red Cross parcels for the defeated Germans were banned by the US War Department.

Even before the December 18, 1942 complaint by 12 allied governments, the Nazis had already turned the Theresienstadt ghetto into a propaganda tool to fool the rest of the world about their alleged plans to exterminate all the Jews in Europe.

On Sept. 13, 1942, the Nazis had opened shops in Theresienstadt where the Jews could buy second-hand clothing and other goods. Eventually 8 such shops were opened.

On Dec. 8, 1942, the Nazis had opened a cafe, facing the main square in Theresienstadt, where the Jewish inmates could meet to socialize and listen to music.

The Neuegasse was the street where the Cafe and ghetto shops were located. There was a store in which the prisoners could buy used clothing with camp money and another building where the Cafe was located. These buildings faced the town square.

An Antique Store was located where the ghetto Cafe used to be.

On May 12, 1943, a bank was opened in Theresienstadt and camp money was printed to pay the Jews for their labor in the ghetto factories. This money could be used at the ghetto cafe or to buy items at the ghetto shops.

In order to give the impression to the outside world that Theresienstadt was a regular town and not a concentration camp, the Nazis decided in July 1943 to change the numbers and letters on the streets and buildings to names, so that any friends or relatives sending mail to the camp post office would not suspect anything. The camp name “Ghetto Theresienstadt” was changed to “Jewish Settlement Theresienstadt” for the same reason.

In the Spring of 1944, the Nazis began extensive improvements to the ghetto in preparation for a Red Cross visit. In their mission to impress the IRC delegates, the Nazis outdid themselves, and after the beautification project was completed, they were so proud of their handiwork that they made a movie of Theresienstadt entitled “Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt” or “The Leader gives the Jews a town as a gift.”

Before the Red Cross visit, the town square in Theresienstadt had been fenced off and a large circus tent was erected there in May 1943. Inside the tent, over 1,000 ghetto Jews did factory work in the Kistenproduktion, which was the making of boxes. After the Red Cross requested an inspection, factory production was stopped by the end of 1943, and in the Spring of 1944 the fence and the tent were removed and grass and flowers were planted in the square. A music pavilion was built on the south side of the square, just across from the camp cafe. The cafe and the camp shops were improved for the inspection.

A playground was built for the children in the Stadt park, across from the present Ghetto Museum building. The most beautiful park in the town, Brunnen Park, was made public and the Jews were then allowed to use all four of the parks in the ghetto.

Stadt Park was where the Nazis built a playground for the ghetto children. Brunnen Park was another park in Theresienstadt.

On the outskirts of the town, the Sokol building, formerly used to house Jews who were suffering from encephalitis, was changed into a social club for cultural events with a library for the use of the Jews and a Synagogue. A Columbarium to hold the ashes of the Jews who died in the camp was built near the crematorium and tombstones were placed on the graves in the cemetery. The beautiful 18th century barracks buildings were refurbished and improved inside and out.

With Theresienstadt now beautified, the next step was to relieve the overcrowding in the ghetto so that the IRC would not realize the actual inhuman living conditions there. In September 1943, December 1943 and May 1944, just before the scheduled visit, there was a total of seven transports on which 17,517 Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

The Czech Jews from these transports were placed in a “family camp” at the Auschwitz II camp known as Birkenau. The men, women and children were allowed to stay together in contrast to the other prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau who had to live in separate fenced-off sections where the men and women were segregated from each other.

The Czech Jews were allowed to wear civilian clothes instead of the blue and gray striped prison uniforms that the other inmates had to wear. Most importantly, they were allowed to send letters back to Theresienstadt to tell the others about how well they were being treated in the camp. Six months after it was opened, the “family camp” was closed and only 1,168 of the Theresienstadt prisoners survived. The rest were presumed to have perished in the alleged gas chambers.

The Red Cross inspection of the camp lasted for six hours but the cultural events went on for a week. During the week of the inspection, there were numerous performances of the children’s opera called Brundibar in the new cultural hall in the Sokol building.

A jazz band, called the Ghetto Swingers, played in the music pavilion in the square. This was a real concession by the Nazis since they had banned jazz or swing music in Germany. Hitler regarded swing as “degenerate” music because two of the leading musicians, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, were Jewish.

The Nazi concentration camps typically had an orchestra which played classical music as the prisoners marched to work or to the gas chambers. The Germans loved classical music and Germany was world famous for the cultural contributions of Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. One could say that the Nazis literally put down their violins in order to kill the Jews.

Unfortunately, most of the Theresienstadt Jews did not live to enjoy their new improved ghetto. In the fall of 1944, after the June Red Cross visit, the transports to Auschwitz began again. In Sept. 1944, there were approximately 30,000 prisoners living in Theresienstadt.

Eleven transports, totaling 18,402 inmates of the ghetto, were sent to Auschwitz between September 28, 1944 and October 28, 1944, the date of the last transport to be sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Of the Jews sent to Auschwitz on these eleven transports, there were only 1,574 survivors. The rest allegedly died in the gas chamber, were worked to death or perished in the typhus epidemics which were rampant there. After these transports left, the number of Jews remaining in Theresienstadt was around 11,000, including 819 children under the age of 15.

On February 5, 1945, a transport of 1,200 Jews left Theresienstadt on passenger trains, bound for Switzerland, a neutral country in the war. Another transport of 623 Jews was sent to Sweden. By that time, the Germans realized that they were losing the war and they were trying to fool the Allies into thinking that they did not have a deliberate plan to kill all the Jews.

It was around this time that the Allies were escalating their efforts to end the war by bombing German civilians in Nürnberg on January 2, 1945 and Dresden on February 13,1945. But unlike the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to force the Japanese to surrender, the Allied destruction of Germany’s beautiful cities did not deter the Germans in their plan to annihilate European Jewry.

Three months after their inspection of Theresienstadt, the Red Cross visited the Auschwitz death camp in September 1944 but failed to notice that the purported shower rooms there were really gas chambers. In 1948, the Red Cross released a three volume report in which the findings on the Auschwitz visit were included: “Not only the washing places, but installations for baths, showers and laundry were inspected by the delegates. They had often to take action to have fixtures made less primitive, and to get them repaired or enlarged” (Vol.III, p. 594). Apparently the Red Cross representatives couldn’t tell the difference between the fake shower heads in the gas chambers at Birkenau and real shower nozzles in a genuine shower room.

On March 5, 1945, Adolf Eichmann visited Theresienstadt to check out the camp before the next Red Cross visit which was scheduled for April 6, 1945. By then, there was complete chaos in Europe in the final days of the war; Theresienstadt had become shabby again because most of the inmates were elderly people or young children who were not able to work.

Most of the able-bodied Jews had been sent on the transports to the death camp at Auschwitz, where there were also factories in which the Jews were being put to work for the German war effort. Eichmann ordered the town to be cleaned up again, and the ghetto passed the second Red Cross inspection with a good report.

Following the second inspection, on April 15, 1945, all the Danish Jews in the ghetto were transported back to Denmark with the help of the Red Cross. On May 3, 1945, the Nazis turned the whole Theresienstadt ghetto over to the Red Cross workers who now had the unpleasant task of trying to save the survivors from a raging typhus epidemic.

Typhus is caused by body lice, and the Germans had tried unsuccessfully to control the lice in the death camps in Poland by using Zyklon B, the same chemical that they had allegedly used to kill the Jews in the alleged homicidal gas chambers.

Typhus had been brought into the Theresienstadt ghetto by the 13,454 survivors of the eastern concentration camps who had begun arriving after April 20, 1945. Some of them had been sent to Auschwitz a few months earlier and were now returning.

In the final days of the war, the Theresienstadt ghetto became a hell hole, where a typhus epidemic was totally raging out of control, just like the unfortunate Bergen-Belsen camp which the Nazis had voluntarily turned over to the British on April 15, 1945.

In the end, the whole world learned of the alleged true story of the Theresienstadt ghetto and the genocide of the Jews, in spite of the Nazi beautification program, or maybe because of it.


  1. Ernst Zundel interviews Alexander McClelland an Australian soldier who was a pow interned at Terezin which was the small fortress of Theresienstadt –

    Comment by Les — March 5, 2018 @ 7:36 am

  2. Don’t you mean the true story of the Theresienstadt ghetto and the “alleged” genocide of the Jews? There was NO Genocide of the Jews only those that died by natural causes that were caused by the allies who bombed the hell out of Germany making the getting of life-saving supplies practically impossible. The only “Holocaust” that ever happened was against the Germans. The Jews made out quite well, well enough that there are supposedly 4 million survivors who the Yad Vashem survivors database have recorded as……drum roll please SURVIVING!

    In the end, the whole world learned of the alleged true story of the Theresienstadt ghetto and the genocide of the Jews, in spite of the Nazi beautification program, or maybe because of it.


    Comment by Jim Rizoli — February 21, 2018 @ 4:23 pm

    • Theresienstadt inside the ghetto – The Mortuary and a ceremonial room today:

      In the morgue it was possible to prepare the deceased for the funeral. The dead were washed three times according to the Jewish custom. Then they wrapped her with paper and put her in the coffins.
      There were two ceremonial rooms. In the left-hand side of the left the deceased were brought to Jewish, on the right the Christian faith.
      Even Christians could be determined according to the Nuremberg race laws as Jews and imprisoned.
      Several times a day, a short service was held for up to thirty people at a time.
      Then the bodies were taken to the cemetery or crematorium. The relatives were allowed to accompany the deceased for another twenty yards.
      Terezin was thus one of the few camps in which the funeral rite could be at least partially met.
      This served as well as the greening of the market place of the propaganda as ‘Vorzeigeghetto’.

      The Graveyard
      First in individual graves, later in mass graves of up to 9000 dead, people were buried.
      At this point, the city cemetery of Terezìn had been previously. In addition to the inhabitants, victims of the First World War – including Serbs, Russians and Italians – were buried here.
      When the construction of the memorial began, the graves were relocated.
      The cemetery should be a place of remembrance for all Jews who died in Terezin. That’s why you will not find individual, named tombstones here. The gray little pedestals are anonymous memorial stones representing all victims.
      In addition, a tree had been planted in memory of the children of Theresienstadt. This has now arrived, but remains as a sad-looking symbol in the cemetery.

      The crematorium
      From 1942, the cremation of the deceased in the crematorium followed. This was built under SS control by the prisoners themselves.
      Up to 180 bodies were burned each day in the four ovens. Nevertheless, mountains of dead piled up in front of and in the crematorium. The work also dealt with a group of prisoners. This tremendous psychological burden can probably only be guessed.
      For once in its history, the stoves of the crematorium remained cold. That was on the day of the visit of the International Red Cross.
      The deceased was burned tied on a wooden board, which used coffins again. In the autopsy room, for example, the gold of the dead was removed – everything of value to the SS later. This dishonor of the deceased was just another point on the long list of humiliations to which the Jews were subjected.

      Millions of lives were destroyed during this period of the Third Reich, human rights were completely disregarded and yet it is the task of our young generation to think ahead and master the past.

      I am now 90 years old and saw in April 1945 during a brief military operation from a valley on a mountain outcrop part of the old fort in disrepair, without knowing what we had past, when our Lieutenant mentioned: Yes, that is the ‘Judenstadt’.

      I promised myself to go back one day, which I did!

      Comment by Herbert Stolpmann — February 22, 2018 @ 4:28 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: