I took this photo in 2001 though I’m pretty confident the scene has changed little. I wouldn’t be surprised if that Trabant (center) is still parked there and that maybe it had been there for years before I took this photo.
This Czech village is very unique and it took me a while to wrap my brain around it at the time. Terezin is actually not technically a village but a “main fortress” (Hlavna pevnost) and it sprang up in 1790 as a garrison. It was built by the Hapsburgs to ward off an approaching Prussian army. The town is still elevated and confined by star-shaped ramparts common to the time. As threats ebbed and flowed so did the village’s importance. What truly kept it relevant though was the firmly established and spine tingling adjacent prison. It was valuable to every ruling faction including the Nazis. SS head Reinhard Heydrich relocated the 3,500 Czechs that called Terezin home and turned the village into a ghetto and way-station for those headed to extermination camps in the east.
As you can see from this photo not much has happened here since the second world war. Terezin’s story is much more complex and fascinating than my 2 second analysis here. In a travel article written for the Prague Post I stated that the Terezin of today “reflects its under discovered status and seems to be frozen in time. The village is no more than a glorified ghost town with echoes of clicking boots and fleeting souls. It is this sense of loneliness that chills the spines of its visitors. Though efforts are being made to renovate and inhabit its vacant buildings (barracks), progress is slow and the past is fresh in the minds of the Czech people.”
When living in Prague I made multiple return visits. Probably because I struggled to fully understand the place. When the past is so undisturbed as it is here what remains really can communicate to you. And in this garrison and ghetto the stats don’t lie. “Though Terezin never witnessed systematic exterminations, tens of thousands died on this small plot of land. Of the astonishing 144,000 Jews transported to Terezin, roughly 35,000 perished here and 88,000 were sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Unexpectedly, for a lesser-known concentration camp, the magnitude of these numbers nearly matches the terror inflicted in the infamous Dachau.”