Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
Today started off as simple as any other, we got our breakfast and loaded onto the bus for a 1.5 hour ride to Terezin. I honestly don’t know what I expected to see, I knew from class that Terezin was kind of a freak show and used as a “show camp”. I hadn’t seen pictures so I didn’t know exactly what I was going to see. Once we arrived among the buttresses and moat, the nature of the camp became even more confusing. The beautiful fortress campus was unlike any other forced labor camp we had seen. There was a city within the fort, cobblestone roads lined the interior, and furnished beds were on display in the central fortress building. The most beautiful part about the fortress, while briefly setting aside the atrocities that took place there, was the artwork on display created by the inmates. Beautiful artwork representing the life of an artist imprisoned because they were identified to be enemies of the state. Mind boggling.
After lunch in Terezin, we toured the fortress even more and walked through the various tunnels and cell blocks which existed pre WWII. We then made our way back to Prague, to take a look at the castle on top of the hill. Words can’t describe how beautiful and grand the place was. I’m sure families will share photos, but I felt like I was a part of a different fantasy world in the Middle Ages. It was an out-of-time experience. After touring the markets, we made our way down to the center of Prague, and met up at an underground jazz club.
The performers were phenomenal and their music was unlike anything I had ever heard of before. I bought a CD just to listen to it again. It was a mixture of modern jazz, blues, Czech and Middle Eastern music. They were recording a documentary for the group, so whenever that comes out all of BLS Eastern Europe will most likely be featured in it. We are all enjoying ourselves a lot. The food here is delicious and we just celebrated somebody’s birthday. I would definitely come here again if I could when I’m older.
Before today, I thought I had learned and understood everything I had to know about the Nazis. Today’s experience at Terezin proved me completely wrong.
After visiting both Auschwitz and Majdanek, I thought I knew a thing or two about concentration camps. But Terezin was different. The set up itself was so contradictory. We walked past a building which served as a “lending library” one where the Nazis would give out books to the people being deported to their inevitable death at Auschwitz-Birkenau. All of the trains returned back with no people, but filled with books.
One of our first stops at Terezin was a building that hosted CLASSES for people residing in the camp such as art music and theatre! It was so incredibly difficult to wrap my head around: how could the Nazis, knowing that they were going to deport and gas all of these people, still treat these people as almost human?
I was so used to their dehumanization of individuals which is why Terezin just shocked me so much. Terezin was known as one of the most prominent camps for artists, writers, and musicians, and this was clearly reflected through the works displayed in the museum. I found it interesting how Terezin musicians used their faith in their music even while in the camp or in Viktor Ullman's case, his allegorical opera the Emperor of Atlantis, to express anti-Nazi sentiments. The Nazis continued to let performances and plays of this type continue, completely oblivious to the blatant symbolism in nearly all of these works depicting an unfavorable view of them.
One exhibit in Terezin also focused on an iconic piece of propaganda filmography taken of Terezin. Filled with smiling faces, food, and even a soccer game, this film made it seem like it really wasn’t too horrible of a place to live. Yet, right after this film was made a huge deportation to Auschwitz occurred, resulting in the death of many of people who appeared smiling in that film.
We later went to a fortress that was used during World War II by the Nazis as a prison inside of Terezin. Here, I saw some of the most perverse, shocking, things I have seen this entire trip. First, were the sinks. Under pressure from the Danish government, the International Red Cross visited Terezin to investigate its living conditions. What they found in this section of the prison, were clean, sanitary facilities including well made sinks. However, this was all a facade: none of the sinks were even connected to water. The Red Cross, after seeing these facades put in place by the Nazis, ended up giving Terezin a favorable review, not warranting any further investigation!
The next insane thing I saw was the Terezin swimming pool, its back nearly touching the other side of the wall in which so many prisoners were executed. You may be thinking: why a swimming pool at a concentration camp? It was for the SS officers and their families to relax in, only feet away from the site where people were being murdered every day.
Overall, today was an incredible, life changing day and I felt extremely confused yet also intrigued about the contradictory nature of Terezin.