Built as a baroque fortress in 1780 by the Emperor Joseph II (you know him from the movie Amadeus), to help protect the Austrian Empire from Prussian invaders, the entire town of Terezin (Theresienstadt in German) was transformed into a concentration camp in 1940 for the express purpose of imprisoning Jews.
Terezin was not a "death camp". It was primarily a massive holding pen that functioned as a way station to the gas chambers further east. To counter rumors of mass gassings and to fool the world into thinking that their concentration camps weren´t so bad after all, the Germans also used Terezin as a "show" camp. The Red Cross was only allowed to visit Terezin twice. Both times the international officials were treated to specially-rehearsed theater and gymnastic performances, shown a children´s playground and fed lies about general living conditions.
The numbers speak for themselves: Out of 140 000 people who passed through Terezin, 84 000 were subsequently murdered in death camps. Thirty-four thousand people died in Terezin itself, primarily from starvation and disease. The atmosphere around Terezin remains decidedly ghostly. Of the original inhabitants, who were expelled to make room for the prisoners, few have returned.
Terezin therefore remains awkwardly empty. You can walk around the town and see the crematorium and cemetery. The disused railway tracks were built by the inmates, then used to ship them out to Auschwitz.
The main sight is The Small Fortress, a forbidding prison with high, red-brick walls, giant confinement cells made for hundreds of internees and tiny, windowless cells for solitary confinement. There you can see also the cell of Gavrilo Princip, the man who killed archduke Franz Ferdinand d´Este in Sarajevo 1914. An arch to the left on of the main entrance is still emblazoned with the Nazi´s infamous slogan Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes Free)
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