The mystery that surround the identity of Theresienstadt is probably
why it received little attention in its own right. It was called the strangest concentration camp of all and a hybrid of concentration
camp and ghetto If Auschwitz was hell then Theresienstadt was the anti-room.
Life here was constantly haunted by the transport east, to the unknown,
which meant death. No-one knew who would be next or when or why. It is situated about 40 miles north of Prague, near where the river Eger flows into the Elbe. Originally a garrison town in 1780. Between
November 1941 to 1945, it housed over 141,000 inmates. Of these around 33,500 died in the camp and 88,000 were transported
to death camps in Central Europe until 1942, when they went entirely to Auschwitz.
At first. It was supposed to be a collection camp or transit ghetto for
the Jews. A work squad of 342 men, known as Aufbaukimmando were dispatched to the town in November 1941 and given orders to
prepare it to receive the Jews. Dr Siegried Seidl and SS Colonal was the camps first commandant. Someone described him as
He was typical of these Germans who could not bear the memory of Germanys defeat in 1914-18. His callous cruelty and blind
submission to orders from his superiors made him exemplary. He saw the Jews as new material to be sent to the gas chambers.
He ordered the first executions in the ghettos. He amassed riches by taking commissions as supplies. He was always immaculately
dressed, kept dogs and spoke in staccato sentences. His eyes were shifty, he cast sharp glances from aside. His face narrow,
he was tall with fair hair. He never smiled.
The tone he set was sustained, with a few grotesque additions. After
he was succeeded by Anton Burger and karl Rahm. Women came to the camp, in two transports, containing 200 between Nov and
Dec 41. They were put into cold, damp barracks with no heating on 6th Dec, they were moved to
barracks and forbidden any contact with the men. Twenty to forty shared a room, the only comfort was the children under 12,
who could stay with their mothers. Later children were taken away totally.
From very early, they found out they had to work, a brutal drudgery since
they had to virtually rebuild the whole town, which was only meant to accommodate 7000 and which was now receiving thousands
each week. Soon it became clear that Theresienstadt was not a destination but a genuine floodgate between two levels of the
same river. Transports began to leave in January 42, and did not stop till autumn 44.
A lot of power was given to the elders on the day to day things but the
real power was in the hands of the commandant who was like a puppet to Berlin.
A three commandants epitomizes the image of nazi brutality. Burger and Rahm were hanged after the war for war crimes.
The background told the people of Theresienstadt were rosy. With a few
exceptions we are talking about the comfortable old peoples home that some had even brought vases, souvenirs and many things
unsuitable for a camp. They even brought cigarettes and wine, anything to make things more comfortable. When they arrived
at the station, exhausted, they were yelled at by the SS guards and by Jews, their faces then showed confusion, despair and
fear. They were then supposed to set off on a long trek to the camp without food or water. They were loaded onto trucks like
cattle or behind a tractor. They could not even sit down. A young SS guard threw 27 people off a trailer when he was driving
round a curve, 10 were killed on the spot, other died later or were crippled.
By 1942, 58,000 people were in the camp and the daily death rate was
131. It was made to look like a model ghetto, of a civilian, peace time town. Shops were opened, coffee houses, post offices,
banks etc but behind this fašade, nothing had changed. The average work day was 10 hours and the normal days rations was substitute
coffee, a slice of bread and this lentil or
One arrival from Bialystock on 24th August 1943 was of 1260
starving bare-footed children. They were aged between 3 and 15 and after a 6 week stay during which they were nursed back
to health, they left again on the 5th October with 53 nurses, their destination was Auschwitz and there was no
further record of them.
To show what Theresienstadt was like to the outside world, when a group
of red cross workers visited, the place looked lovely. Rahm had done his job beautifully. The streets were spotless, houses
clean and on cue, Jewish girls sang, white-gloved bakers unloaded bread from their fake stores, fresh vegetables and fruit
were at another shop for the only time. A band played and a football match was going on, all for show.