Scrapbookpages Blog

July 1, 2017

Brundibar, the opera, will play again at a former Nazi “death camp”

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 3:03 pm

My photo of entrance into Theresienstadt

You can read all about the alleged Nazi death camp, known as Theresienstadt, in this recent news article: http://www.cjnews.com/culture/entertainment/arts/opera-returns-death-camp

Title of the article: The Opera returns to the death camp

WEb-Brundibar-640x589.gif

Quote from the news article:

For John Freund, [a former prisoner at Theresienstadt] this performance of an opera he loves promises to be bittersweet.

The 87-year-old Holocaust survivor, who now lives in Toronto, hopes to be well enough to travel this month to Theresienstadt – a concentration camp and ghetto in the Czech town of Terezin, near Prague, where he was once interned. There, he will see a performance of the renowned children’s opera, Brundibar, which he witnessed as a teenaged inmate of the Nazi-era camp.

Freund served as a consultant to the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, which, on July 2, began a 10-day tour of Brundibar. The company of 48 children and youth are to perform the work in Prague, where it premiered at an orphanage in 1942, as well as Krakow and Budapest. The tour ends in Terezin, [rhymes with gasoline] where the opera was performed more than 50 times by the child inmates of the camp.

End quote from news article

I have a section on my website about Theresienstadt at:

http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/History/index.html

The following quote is from my website:

The Red Cross inspection of the Theresienstadt camp lasted for six hours but the cultural events at Theresienstadt 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.

End quote from my website

 

November 22, 2016

Voices of Terezin — rhymes with gasoline

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 1:30 pm

Gate into the Theresienstadt ghetto

Gate into the Theresienstadt [Terezin] ghetto where Jews were held

You can read about Terezin [Theresienstadt] in this recent news article: http://nhpr.org/post/112116-voices-terezin-vegan-schism-nfl-ratings

Begin quote from the news article:

Today, voices of Terezin, [Theresienstadt] the Nazi concentration camp [are] used to divert attention from the final solution. We’ll hear about how prisoners held under brutal conditions created art and music amid the horrors of the holocaust.

Plus, what happens when a protest movement professing all-or-nothing absolutism splits in two? We’ll find out how a splinter group of vegan activists toned down their goals and built a powerful machine for change.

End quote

The following information about Theresienstadt [Terezin] is from my scrapbookpages.com website:

The word “ghetto” derives from the name of an area of the city of Venice where the city’s foundries were located. In the Venetian dialect, a foundry was known as a “geto” which meant a workshop or a factory. The word “geto” was derived from the verb “gettare” which means “to cast” as in to cast iron in a foundry.

After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497, many of them settled in Venice. In 1516, a city decree forced the Jews of Venice to live on a small island with only two access points which were sealed off at sunset. This island had previously been the area of the “gheto nuovo” or new workshops.

However, even before the word ghetto came into use, the Jews, particularly in Poland, were confined to walled sections of the city where they lived. In 1492, the Jews of Krakow in Poland were put into a walled-off section after they were accused of setting fires in the city.

There were no walled Jewish ghettos in the Old Reich, as Germany proper was called, during Hitler’s regime. Hitler sent the German Jews to the Lodz ghetto, located in what had formerly been Poland or to Theresienstadt, located in what was formerly the country of Czechoslovakia.

After the Nazis invaded Poland and then occupied the country, they initially put the Polish Jews into ghettos, using the excuse that had been used for centuries, that the Jews were responsible for spreading disease. Later, these ghettos became a convenient way to concentrate the Jews in one location for eventual transport to the concentration camps for extermination in Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”

On October 10, 1941, the Germans initially decided to make Theresienstadt into a ghetto for selected Jews in the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and in the Greater German Reich, which included Austria and part of western Poland.

The Jews, who were to be sent to Theresienstadt, included those over 60 years old, World War I veterans, prominent people such as artists or musicians, very important persons, the blind, the deaf, and the inmates of Jewish mental hospitals and the Jewish orphanages.

Read more on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/History/GhettoHistory.html

 

 

 

April 8, 2016

Terezin (also known by its German name, Theresienstadt)

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:02 am
My photo of the Gazebo at Theresienstadt

My photo of the Gazebo at Terezin, formerly known as Theresienstadt

The two photos below show the Magdeburg barracks and the inner court yard of the building. Wolf Murmelstein, a former inmate at Theresienstadt says that the Gazebo, shown above, was not accessible to the inmates.

MagdeburgRear

MagdeburgCourtyard

The title of my blog post today comes from a line in a news article which you can read it full at http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/04/04/holocaust-survivor-recalls-brundibar-a-childrens-opera/?_r=0

The following quote is from the news article, cited above:

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 in 1943, when she sang in the children’s opera “Brundibar” at the Terezin [Theresienstadt] concentration camp near Prague. The performance was part of a Nazi effort to present the camp as a model ghetto rather than a transit point to Auschwitz and the gas chambers.

What am I complaining about now, you ask.

I don’t like the fact that German names for Holocaust locations are now being changed to Jewish or Polish names.  The ghetto, formerly known as Theresienstadt, is now called Terezin.  The town, formerly known as Auschwitz, is now called by the Polish name Oświęcim.

The following quote is from the news article, cited above:

The composer of “Brundibar,” Hans Krasa, died at Auschwitz, alongside most of those who performed it in Terezin (also known by its German name, Theresienstadt). Ms. Lieblova lost her parents and sister in Auschwitz, but she was spared when she was sent to Hamburg to help clear the ruins of the city.

So it seems that the Allied bombing of the city of Hamburg did save some of the Jews at Auschwitz because the Germans needed workers to clear the rubble in their cities. The Nazis allegedly stopped gassing all the prisoners at Auschwitz, saving a few, because they needed workers.

You can read more about Theresienstadt on my website here:

http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/GhettoTour/index.html

The following quote is from my scrapbookpages.com website:

Every concentration camp had its orchestra, made up of inmate musicians, and concerts were staged even in the worst camp of all, the one at Birkenau, the Auschwitz II camp. Typically, the camp orchestra would play classical music as the prisoners marched off the the factories to work and even as they marched to their deaths in the gas chamber. During the week of cultural events [at Theresienstadt] in June 1944, on the occasion of the Red Cross visit, there were performances of Brundibar in the Magdeburg building.

 

 

 

March 21, 2016

Holocaust survivor says that her brother was gassed on the 8th of March in 1944

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:24 am

As every student of the Holocaust knows, the Nazis did not keep records of the prisoners that were gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, nor at any other death camp.

My photo of the ruins of gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau

My photo of the ruins of gas chamber number 3 at Auschwitz-Birkenau

A news article, which you can read in full here, reports that Holocaust survivor Liselotte Ivry said that

“her brother, Hans, was taken to the [Auschwitz-Birkenau] gas chamber on March 8 [1944] .”

Jews arriving at Auschwitz Birkenau

Jews arriving on a train at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944

The gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau were very close to the train tracks where the Jews arrived in 1944.

The following quote is from the news article, cited above:

Begin quote

Her mother, weakened and ill, perished in Auschwitz on Jan. 4, 1944; her brother, Hans, was taken to the gas chamber on March 8 [1944]. When she [Lisolette] saw him the day before [he was gassed] and offered him her mittens, he replied: “Where I am going, you don’t need mittens,” Ivry recalled in testimony about her Holocaust experience for the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation.

End quote

What did Lisolette’s brother mean when he said “Where I am going, you don’t need mittens.”  Did he mean that he was going to Hell because he was lying? I was told, years ago, by a Jewish friend, that Jews don’t believe in Heaven and Hell.

The following quote is from the news article, cited above:

Begin quote

Ivry was born Liselotte Epstein in 1925 in Listany, a small village in what is now the Czech Republic. Her father died when she was 3½, and she and her younger brother were raised by their mother, who ran a general store. She remembers an idyllic childhood of picking berries, playing soccer, sleigh riding in winter and swimming in summer with the geese and ducks in the pond in front of the house.

But that idyll would end all to soon. On Oct. 1, 1938, Adolf Hitler and the armies of Nazi Germany crossed into the Sudetenland, in western Czechoslovakia. By month’s end, the family was living with relatives in Prague. The following March, the Germans walked into Prague “and we were not allowed to go to school after that,” Ivry recalled. In time, Jews were not permitted in parks or movie houses or even on the sidewalk; they could shop only at certain hours. “Every day there was something new.”

The roundups of Jews began; in September 1942, Ivry’s family was sent to the concentration camp of Terezin [Theresienstadt], north of Prague; from there, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

End quote

According to Wolf Murmelstein, who often comments on my blog, there was a gas chamber at Terezin, the camp formerly known as Theresienstadt. So why was Hans Ivry sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 to be gassed?

As every student of the Holohoax knows, the Nazis never did anything the right way.  If Hans had been gassed at Theresienstadt, there would have been no record of it, and his sister would never have known what happened to him.

 

March 7, 2016

Only 1 percent of the Jewish children at Terezin survived?

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 6:54 am

If you ever take a city bus to Theresienstadt, be sure to ask for a ticket to Terezin, the name by which this place is now known.  The ticket seller will not know what you mean if you say Theresienstadt, which is the German name of the place that was called “the Paradise Ghetto” years ago when prominent Jews and their children were sent there.

The following quote is from a news article which you can read in full here.

Begin quote

Life was anything but peaceful for Inge Auerbacher at a young age. From the time she was 7 years old to 10 her home was Terezin, a Nazi “holding” camp.

According to Auerbacher, she says 15,000 children passed through the Czechoslovakia camp and only one percent survived. Auerbacher was born in Germany and raised Jewish. Her father, Berthold Auerbacher, was a solider for the German Army during World War I. Just a child, she couldn’t fathom why her own country sent her there in 1942. “I didn’t know where I was,” she added.

“It was like going in to hell.”

71 years later, after she was freed in 1945, Auerbacher has written four books. She also has become a motivational speaker. Her message is to help create peace among everyone. Specifically, making sure no one is hungry and discriminated against like she harshly was in Terezin.

End quote

I have visited the town formerly known as Theresienstadt twice. I have a section about the town on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/index.html

The horrible building where little Inge was forced to live

The horrible building where little Inge was forced to live as a child in Theresienstadt

Children's nursery at Theresienstadt was converted to a post office

Theresienstadt children’s nursery  was converted into post office

The newspaper article continues with this quote:

Terezin, the performances setting, was a stopping place before people were sent to “The East” such as the Auschwitz gas chambers. Left behind were writings and artwork, salvaged by survivors, which first made “I never Saw Another Butterfly” a book. “They are memories of Prague or wherever they came from,” said Auerbacher. “Certainly some wrote the poems which signified  what was going on around them.”

Auerbacher spoke after the performance sharing her story and her message. A message she is hoping resonates uniting diverse backgrounds, not separating them.
End quote

Another building where children lived at Theresienstadt

Building where children lived at Theresienstadt

The building shown in the photo above is one of the first buildings that tourists see after getting off the bus to the camp.

A park at Theresienstadt with hotel in background

A park at Theresienstadt with hotel in background

One of 3 courtyards in Magdeburg building at Theresienstadt

One of three courtyards in Magdeburg building where Jewish self government was housed

You can see more photos of the buildings at Theresienstadt on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/GhettoTour/index.html

December 11, 2015

Throwing ashes of Jews into rivers — fact or fiction?

TheresienstadtGate

The gate into the Theresienstadst ghetto is shown in my photo above, taken several years ago. This place is now known as Terezín [rhymes with kerosine and gasoline].

The subject of throwing ashes into rivers came up in this recent news article:  http://m.taggmanager.cz/en/1075

Newbies, who want to know more about throwing ashes into rivers, can read about Theresienstadt on this kosher website:  http://www.outsideprague.com/terezin/terezin.html

This quote is from the kosher website cited in the link above:

The other statistics for Terezín [Theresienstadt] are equally as difficult to comprehend. Within three years 87,000 people were sent from Terezín to the concentration camps in Poland. Less than 4000 survived. The ashes of 22,000 people were thrown into the Ohře River at the end of the war, in an attempt by the SS to disguise their activities. At the beginning of the war, Terezín was a town of 7,000 inhabitants, including soldiers stationed there. By the end its population had swelled to almost 58,000. 9,000 people are buried in graves around the fortress and around 35,000 people in total perished in Terezín during the war.

My photo of one of the buildings at Theresienstadt

My photo of a building at Theresienstadt

One of the regular readers of my blog is Wolf Murmelstein, who is a survivor of Terezín,  the place formerly known as Theresienstadt.

My photo of the wall around the Theresienstadt ghetto

My photo of the wall around the Theresienstadt ghetto

As a child, Wolf was confined in the Theresienstadt ghetto where his father, Benjamin Murmelstein, was the last Jewish elder of the ghetto.

The building where Benjamin Murmelstein worked at Theresienstadt

The building where Benjamin Murmelstein worked at Theresienstadt

Wolf recently wrote this in a comment, which I have edited because English is not his first language:

On October 31, 1944, the Nazis took all the boxes containing the ashes of persons dead at Theresienstadt out of the COLOMBARIUM.

All the boxes were brought to the nearby Eger river, where a group of twenty prisoners had to empty the boxes, and throw the ashes into the river. Needless to say, those prisoners had been shot just after having done that work.

Throwing the ashes of murdered victims in the water of a river is a very old pagan rite and perfectly consistent with the Nazi doctrine of the extirpation of Jews.

Clearly the tragic story of the SONDERKOMANDO members is no way suitable for a Hollywood film [such as Son of Saul].

I have visited Theresienstadt twice, after which I wrote about it on my this section of my website: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/History/index.html

I wrote about the ashes of the Jews on this page of my website: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/TheresienstadtGhetto/History/RedCrossVisit.html
The following quote is from my website:

On the outskirts of the town [Theresienstadt], 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 [International Red Cross] 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 the death camp at 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 are presumed to have perished in the gas chamber.

End quote

“That’s all she wrote, and she rubbed that out.”  [old saying]

September 27, 2015

The many gates at Theresienstadt

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:49 am
Main gate into the walled town of Theresienstadt

Main gate into the walled town of Theresienstadt

This morning, I went to Wikipedia to get the facts on Music at  Theresienstadt.  On the Wikipedia page, I saw the photo below, which was purported to be the gate into the Theresienstadt camp.

The gate into the Small Fortress, NOT the gate into the Theresienstadt camp

The gate into the Small Fortress, NOT the gate into the Theresienstadt ghetto (Click on photo to enlarge)

Gate into the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt

Gate into the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, NOT the gate into the Theresienstadt ghetto

The wall around Theresienstadt fortress

The wall around the Theresienstadt fortress

When Theresienstadt was 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.

Old building in Theresienstadt ghetto

Old building in Theresienstadt ghetto (click on photo to enlarge)

Detail of old building at Theresienstadt

Detail of old building at Theresienstadt

The Small Fortress is on the east side of the Ohre river that divides the two parts of the old military fortress, which was named Theresienstadt. The Theresienstadt ghetto is on the west side.

The Main Fortress is now the town of Terezin, which is open to visitors, and even has a hotel where tourists can stay if they don’t mind spending the night in the exact location where Hitler’s SS soldiers once slept.

Gate into the section of the Small Fortress which has the Arbeit Macht Frei sign

Courtyard of the Small Fortress which has the gate with the Arbeit Macht Frei sign

The Small Fortress became a Gestapo prison in June 1940, even before the Main Fortress was turned into a transit camp for the Jews in November 1941.

The following quote is from a pamphlet that I obtained when I toured the Small Fortress:

Begin quote:

People were sent here [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.

End quote

After visiting the firing range in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, tour groups go 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 the 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 my tour group emerged when we came through the Gate of Death.

September 2, 2014

Who burned the files at Terezin, formerly known as Theresienstadt?

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:15 am
Records for the prisoners at Theresienstadt were stored in this building

Records at Theresienstadt were stored here

One of the regular readers of my blog is Dr. Wolf Murmelstein, the son of Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein, who was the last of the Jewish elders at Theresienstadt. I have a series of essays, written by Dr. Wolf Murmelstein on my website at http://scrapbookpages.com/Contributions/Murmelstein/index.html

Recently, Dr. Wolf Murmelstein made a comment on my blog, which I am quoting:

“… before [the] end of WWII the nazis destructed as many archives they could burn. I myself remember [know] at Terezin at end of April a lot of files had been collected from offices, [thrown] on [a] truck and then brought to a place and burned.”

It is my understanding that the Soviet liberators of Theresienstadt burned the files of the prisoners, but I have not been able to find a source for this.  I have also not been able to find out if the Nazis really did burn the files at Theresienstadt.

A few years ago, I toured the town of Terezin, where the Theresienstadt ghetto was located.  I photographed the building where the records were held; this building is shown in the photo at the top of this page.

I wrote about the records at Theresienstadt on my scrapbookpages.com website.

The following quote is from my website:

The Administration Courtyard of the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt has rooms lining both sides of a yard where the offices of the prison were located. The first room on the left side of the court is the reception room, which is shown in the photograph above. It was called the Geschäftszimmer. Here the prisoners were registered and all their records were kept. This room was managed by the deputy prison commander, W. Schmidt, who was executed as a war criminal by the Allies after Germany was defeated.

Next to the reception room was the Wachstube or Guards’ office, where the prisoners’ letters were censored and the inmates were interrogated. The next room, which is number 5 on the tour, is the Commandant’s office. The tour pamphlet says that the position of Commandant “was held throughout the war by Heinrich Jöckel who was notorious for his cruelty.” Our tour guide delighted in telling us that Jöckel was imprisoned for a year in a cell formerly occupied by Jewish prisoners where he was forced to use the toilet formerly used by them. He was executed as a war criminal in 1946.

If any of my readers has any information about whether or not the records at Theresienstadt were burned, or if they are still in existence, please enlighten us in a comment.

October 23, 2013

New Lanzmann film “The Last of the Unjust” will be in theaters November 2013

Claude Lanzmann has a new film, entitled The Last of the Unjust, which was shown at the New York Film Festival in September 2013. You can read a review of the film here.  I previously blogged about Lanzmann’s new film here.

The film is based on interviews, which Lanzmann did, in 1975, with Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Jewish Elder in the Theresienstadt ghetto.  Benjamin Murmelstein died in 1989, but his son Wolf Murmelstein is still vigorously defending his father’s reputation.

When Lanzmann’s new film is shown in theaters in November, I believe that many viewers will have some difficulty in understanding it.  To prepare for seeing this film, anyone who wants to understand it should read an essay, written by Wolf Murmelstein here.

The title of the film comes from a play on words, taken from André Schwarz-Bart’s novel, entitled The Last of the Just.  Benjamin Murmelstein was being sarcastic when he called himself “The Last of the Unjust.” His reputation had been ruined because of the accusations against him after he survived the Theresienstadt ghetto.  Murmelstein was acquitted of the charge of collaborating with the Nazis, but getting his reputation back was more difficult.

This quote is from the article in the New York Times:

But the first on-camera remarks of Murmelstein’s that Lanzmann includes in “The Last of the Unjust” refer to the rabbi’s own state of exile in Rome and the lessons of Rome for modernity. Just as the city of Rome endures long after the end of Roman civilization, so, Murmelstein explains, all of Europe is enduring the absence of another vanished civilization—that of Judaism. “Judaism is missing,” Murmelstein says. “It is lacking from the world that was destroyed.”

In “The Last of the Unjust,” Lanzmann attempts to put back some of the Judaism. He films a cantor chanting Kol Nidre (from the service of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement) and the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, in the last surviving synagogue in Vienna. He films the Old-New Synagogue in Prague—and there finds stelae inscribed with the names of Czech victims of the Holocaust, a litany of names that ring to the eye with a music of their own. There’s a defiant, in-your-face aspect to the filming of the liturgy—the destruction of the Jewry of Europe also meant an attempt to destroy Judaism, but Jewish religious observance has survived.

In the year 2000, I visited the Old-New Synagogue on Siroka street in Josefov in Prague, but I did not see the names of the Czech victims of the Holocaust.

Old-New Synagogue in Prague is still being used

Old-New Synagogue in Prague is still being used

I also visited the Pinkas Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter in Prague. Every inch of the stone walls in the interior of the Pinkas Synagogue was inscribed with the names of the 77,297 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic) who died in the Holocaust.

Tourists line up to enter the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague

Tourists line up to enter the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague

According to information given at the Pinkas Synagogue, most of these Jews were sent first to the ghetto set up by the Nazis in the old military garrison in Theresienstadt, which is now the town of Terezin, and were then transported to the death camp at Auschwitz in Poland where they were murdered in the gas chambers.

For his film, Lanzmann also visited the train station where Jews got off the train for the Theresienstadt camp.  I blogged about the train station here.

The article in the New York Times continues with this quote:

Hanukkah means “dedication,” and the holiday celebrates a miracle by which the Second Temple, defiled by marauders, was rededicated, resanctified. “The Last of the Unjust” is itself a sort of rededication, an attempt by Lanzmann to restore something central to the Jewish world of Europe. And he achieves this through the words and the story of Murmelstein, a rabbi who took on an unbearable burden and came through it a pariah. Murmelstein’s efforts to save Jews are revealed to be inseparable from his work, under Nazi authority, to preserve the sham of Theresienstadt—he thinks of himself as a sort of Scheherazade who rescued Jews, and who rescued himself, by helping the Germans tell a propagandistic story. That astonishingly daring and dangerous moral calculus has a Biblical grandeur, horror, and authority.

The essay by Wolf Murmelstein is quite long, so I am quoting some of the most important text here:

During the Holocaust period, the Ghettos were not Jewish Communities but FORCED COMMUNITIES since the Nazis classified persons as Jewish on racial, not religious, criteria. So in the Ghettos, together with believing Jews, there were those converted to other faiths, and the agnostics, Zionists, Czech, German, and Austrian nationalists, persons having some Jewish ancestors, etc. etc. So persons, who did not share the same Faith and had not always been aware that they would share the same fate, now had to live and work together.

In the “TRIUMVIRATE” set up on the orders of [Adolf] Eichmann, Murmelstein had to work, in the capacity of “Second Deputy Elder,” along side the ”Elder” Eppstein, and the “First Deputy Elder” Edelstein and, by the subdivision of tasks, he had to supervise the “HEALTH AND WELFARE” and “TECHNICAL SERVICES” Departments.

In his tasks, Benjamin Murmelstein had to master the problem of different backgrounds and ideas:

Jacob Edelstein, in 1941, was hoping that Terezin would be a good training camp (HAKSCHARAH) for the Youth in preparation for a future life in Palestine. As a Zionist official, he felt bound to party-loyalty.

Paul Eppstein, a young promising sociologist, in 1933 joined the staff of the REICHSVERTRETUNG (after 1939 REICHSVEREINIGUNG) where he worked in the emigration sector and in 1940 he had to replace Leo Baeck as Chief Executive. Until his Martyrdom, he had difficulty in realizing that in the Reich, which was ruled by a criminal gang – internationally acknowledged as a government, assurances or other statements of a “state official” were only tricky ones.

But I am putting the cart before the horse. Benjamin Murmelstein had been in charge of deporting the Jews from Austria, starting in 1938.  After the war, he became famous as the last Jewish Elder at Theresienstadt.

This quote from Wolf Murmelstein’s essay explains why the Theresienstadt ghetto was set up:

But at a certain moment, the Nazis realized that the tale of “resettlement of Jews for work” could hardly justify deportation of aged or sick persons, war officers holding medals for merit, etc.

Furthermore, as explained by Heinrich Himmler: “Germans all agree on the idea of getting rid of the Jews. But then every German has his own Jews, stating that this is a righteous Jew; send away the others but let him stay here.” What Himmler did not explain was that some Germans could not be ignored at all. Besides, there were among the Jews highly qualified persons well known abroad, who could not simply disappear in the East.

The solution was THERESIENSTADT, a little town in Bohemia surrounded by walls and with many barracks, just on the Reich border, now better known under the Czech name TEREZIN. There Eichmann had the opportunity to set up a Ghetto under his own authority and to show the real meaning of his “great ideas.” Many Germans could then “be at peace with their conscience” having obtained for their “righteous Jew” – a relative, a divorced wife, etc. – a place in the “Model Ghetto.” Qualified Jews, known abroad, could for a while, send postcards.

From October 1941 until September 1942, Benjamin Murmelstein had to watch the deportations. At Yom Kippur 1942, he had a nervous crisis of desperation about things that happened in that year. He was in doubt about being ritually qualified to lead the prayer service for the very few believing Jews still in Vienna.

From the beginning to the end of the deportation waves, almost all Jews had been deported from Vienna. Besides the very few believing Jews – community staff members – there were many persons in mixed marriage and descendants of Jewish parents or grand-parents. In that year Benjamin Murmelstein had to face the Vienna Branch of the CENTRAL OFFICE FOR JEWISH EMIGRATION where the rule was “promises are valid only when served.” Amid harsh orders, he tried to save what was possible.

The number of the few believing Jews for the community staff had been the result of a difficult “bargaining” (requests had to be submitted in a suitable form) with SS Ltd Alois (Anton) Brunner. At end of August 1942, Benjamin Murmelstein, with his family, was about to be sent to Terezin. But Eichmann decided to delay the “re-organization” of Terezin “Jewish Self-Government.”

[…]

The delay of the Murmelstein Family deportation lasted only to the end of Jannuary 1943 because Eichmann wanted to report on JANUARY 30 – the anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power – the deportation of Jewish Leadership of Berlin, Vienna and Prague. So Murmelstein and some other Community Staff member with families had to go to THERESIENSTADT (TEREZIN).

[…]

The first Elder of Terezin, Jacob Edelstein, was suspected for some months of having contacts with the so-called Czech Resistance. Eichmann thought it right to follow a “cautious proceeding.” On January 31, 1943, Paul Eppstein became the new Elder of Terezin; he had just arrived from Berlin. Jacob Edelstein was downgraded to First Deputy Elder and Benjamin Murmelstein was named the Second Deputy Elder. All the three of them had been busy managing, in their communities, the emigration of fellow Jews to safe havens, and had failed to find safe havens for themselves and their families; now they shared the responsibility for the “Model” Ghetto.

Theresienstadt became famous as a “model ghetto” because of the two Red Cross visits.  You can read about how the ghetto was cleaned up, in order to fool the Red Cross about the real conditions in the camp here.

May 24, 2013

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. 

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