"A Place of Memories and Horror" Top 5 Page for this destination Terezin by kit_mc

Terezin Travel Guide: 53 reviews and 213 photos

A Goulish Tourist Attraction

In his book 'Austerlitz', the German writer W.G. Sebald followed the true story of Jacques Austerlitz, a child of the 'kindertransport' from the occupied territories of WWII. Austerlitz was brought up in Wales under an adopted name and only discovered later in life his true roots - that he was a Czech Jew who had been sent to Britain as a child on one of the trains transporting Jewish children to safety. Austerlitz traced his past back to Prague, only to discover that his father had disappeared in France midway through the war and that his mother had eventually been transported to Terezin, a fortress town used by the Nazis as a model camp to try and convince the Red Cross that the 'Final Solution' was an overblown rumour.

The truth was that this fortress town, built in 1780 to keep the Prussians out, was a horrific ghetto, keeping Jewish and political prisoners in. A holding centre for thousands of people before their subsequent transportation to camps such as Auschwitz and almost certain death. Austerlitz' mother was most likely on one of these transports.

A site unable to escape its past

Today Terezin, about an hour by bus from Prague, is a rather run down village, visited by tourists almost solely because of its WWII history. There are two sections of the Museum of the Jewish Ghetto. The main building has a film in different languages showing the pictures filmed for the Red Cross. Happy, smiling people are shown on the screen, while a voiceover lists the numbers of transports. 'Transport number AD. Auschwitz. 1000 people, 3 survived'. The lists go on and on.

The reality of Terezin was a place of overcrowding and regular death through disease, abuse and starvation. You can't help but wander back out into the main square and start to envision the way this place must have looked to its inhabitants during its years as a Jewish Ghetto.

Living with the dead

I went to Terezin mainly because I'd read 'Austerlitz', a book that is full of descriptions of landscape and architecture and their effect on us. I wanted to be able to relate that little bit more to Austerlitz's search for his mother's fate. I was in Terezin on a very bleak winter's day, something that surely added to the sense of foreboding the place instilled in me. I didn't stray far from the main square, and wasn't really inclined to visit the other sights such as the crematorium. Partly this was because it was freezing weather, partly because we got there late, but also I just didn't feel the need to see such a place first hand.

If you wish though, there are other things to see, such as the smaller fortress, used for the less 'docile' prisoners. A sentence in this part of the ghetto meant an end to your life. You see the smaller fort from the bus and it looks fairly grim. You can also see a wall which was used as an execution site. I gave that a miss too. A walk through this town is enough to remind us not to forget.

Sitting in a cafe before catching the bus back to Prague, I couldn't help but wonder what the locals must think of these foreigners coming to visit such an awful place. And for the locals, this is home. How do you deal with living in a village that has such a dreadful past?

Terezin is easily done as a day trip from Prague. It is unlikely that you would want to stay the night here anyway, although I'm sure that in the summer it must be generally a bit prettier.

A good text on memory, landscape and monuments, with references to memory and the Holocaust, is: 'The Art of Forgetting', Susanne Kuchler and Adrian Forty (eds) 1999

  • Last visit to Terezin: Dec 2004
  • Intro Updated Feb 3, 2008
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kit_mc

“And it hurts with every heartbeat...”

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