A Thousand Words: Terezín Artists

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A picture is worth a thousand words. I’ve always been familiar with this saying, but I never realized the true complexity of a picture until I visited Terezin. Terezin is a town that was turned into a concentration and transit camp that housed thousands of Jewish prisoners. Within Terezin we visited a museum that held artwork from artists living within the concentration camp. When I entered the museum, I learned that the Nazi’s had a drawing room in which imprisoned artists would create propaganda. Unfortunately, the Nazi’s forced the artists to draw the concentration camp in a positive light. The SS wanted outsiders to believe that Terezin was a nice spa-like working camp. While gritting their teeth, the artists had to lie and pretend the horrible place where they lived was a lot better off than reality. First picture below is an example of the forced propaganda artwork.

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“Gardening” by L. Haas

SONY DSCDepiction of ghetto surroundings
“Yard in Hohenelbe Barracks” by L. Haas

While the SS believed that the artists were always busy drawing beautiful pictures of Terezin, the imprisoned artists were creating secret masterpieces. In the draft room, the artists would draw the actual depiction of their concentration camp and ghetto surroundings. Photographed above is one of the art pieces that shows Terezin as it truly was, a dark place filled with sickness and death. Often the artists would try to smuggle out these real art pieces to show the public what terrible conditions they actually lived in. However, the artists were caught and accused of spreading “propaganda of horror”. They were sent to a Gestapo prison and did not survive. Since hundreds of their art pieces are displayed within the museum, their artwork luckily lives on and still sends a powerful message. The pictures that the daring artists risked their lives for are worth a thousand words by showing all the wrong that was behind the concentration camp gates.

155,000 people passed through the Terezin concentration camp. However, 35,000 died within the camp and over 80,000 died after being sent to extermination camps. Our class was lucky enough to meet with a survivor of Terezin, photographed below. We also went on a tour of Terezin. As one can imagine, this was the saddest place that I have ever visited.

SONY DSCDoris Groszdenovicova
A Terezin concentration camp survivor

SONY DSCA memorial to those who lost their lives
within the concentration camp

SONY DSCThe Terezin cemetery 

Noticed: Deeply Trapped

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Yesterday was a whirlwind of not only traveling, but also emotions reacting to the past. We started off the day at the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a very important Orthodox church in WWII history. To explain the significance, I have to first give a little background information.

During the Nazi occupation, Reinhard Heydrich was appointed to be the Protector of Prague. Heydrich was known as one of the darkest Nazi’s and some titled him the successor of Hitler. Heydrich was the mastermind behind the “final solution”, which was a plan to exterminate all Jews. Today this is known as the Holocaust. At the time that Heydrich was the Protector, Czechoslovakia wasn’t considered on the “political map”. In the eyes of other countries, Czechoslovakia did not show resistance to Germany. In order to prove that the country wanted to oppose German rule, Great Britain helped Czech exiles formalize a plan to assassinate Heydrich. Two Czech paratroopers were trained by British secret service in order to carry out the plan to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich.

The paratroopers were successful in the assassination attempt and hid in the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. They went through the trap door photographed above in order to hide in a crypt beneath the church. When the Nazi’s found out where Heydrich’s assassins were hiding, they shot at a small window of the crypt and then preceded to flood their hideout. The paratroopers did not survive, but the assassination of Heydrich, in the long run, helped the Czech Republic become an independent country.

Devastation in the Czech Republic shortly followed the event of Heydrich’s death. To make up for Heydrich’s death and to prove his power, Hitler ordered that Lidice, a village near Prague, be bombed and leveled. However, the command was based on false intelligence stating that the two assassins were from this village. Our class was very lucky to visit not only the hideout church, but also the area where Lidice once prospered.

The Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius was beautiful on the inside. However, once we lifted the rugs, it was hard not to notice the trapped door where the paratroopers first entered the crypt. Seeing that trap door made me imagine how they must have felt as they stepped into their hideout. The paratroopers must have felt both mentally and physically trapped by the fear of not knowing a way to be free from the Nazi’s.

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Once deep underground, I noticed how the crypt was eerie, damp, and depressing. The crypt now is a memorial for the paratroopers who lost their lives against the Nazi’s and I was glad we got to experience such a significant part of history.