Originally, Terezín was constructed as a fortress to defend Bohemian lands. Paradoxically, it became a prison for people defending their country and for people of Jewish origin. What I found interesting are two different faces of Terezín, because life in Small and Big Fortresses were considerably different and served different purposes. Let’s explore more about this incredible place.
Terezín Through the History
Terezín or Theresienstadt is primarily known as the concentration camp and Jewish ghetto during the WW2. Initially, this town was built in 1780 by Austrian Emperor Joseph II (son of Maria Theresa, that’s why Theresienstadt) as a fortress against Prussians invading the Bohemian lands. The town is surrounded by red-brick fortification in the shape of a star. It looks beautiful from a bird’s perspective, but the reality…
The town is divided between two parts, Small and Big Fortress. This division played an important role in history. Small Fortress was constructed as prison and Big Fortress as a town for soldiers.
During the WW1, the Small Fortress became a political prison camp for those who opposed the Austrian-Hungarian Empire (including the Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Franz Ferdinand, that triggered an outbreak of WW1).
The worst period of history is coming with the WW2. In 1940, the Prague Gestapo Police set up a prison in the Small Fortress. Most of the prisoners were arrested here for resistance against the Nazi regime. Among the prisoners were also supporters of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi “Protector” of Bohemian and Moravian lands, who was killed during the famous Operation Anthropoid.
The Small Fortress is an unbelievable mixture of houses of Nazi officers and various prisons of all sizes and conditions. What I found especially interesting are long corridors right in the fortification leading outside of the Fortress, to freedom…
Thanks to the “convenient” structure of Big Fortress, initially constructed for the life of the soldiers, Gestapo decided to turn it into the Jewish Ghetto. Between 1941 and 1945, more than 150,000 Jews went sent there, mostly from Czechoslovakia, but also from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Most of them passed Terezín on their way to the extermination camps. Only 4,000 people survived by 1945. Today, people still live in houses where the Jewish population suffered and died.
Close behind the Big Fortress, you can find a crematorium and cemetery where human bodies were burned. Today, you can find here the memorial that is dignified for the commemoration of the events that happened there.
How to Get to Terezín
You can find Terezín North of Prague, in a beautiful area of the Central Bohemian Uplands, less than a one-hour drive by car. You can consider several offers of private tours that will take you straight to Terezín for a one-day trip. Another option is more adventurous, take a train to Litoměřice (the closest city) and then bus to Terezín.