Yesterday, our group journeyed to Terezin for another look at the “Final solution of the Jewish Question”. Terezin acted as a sort of transitional labor camp for Jews during WWII. Here, Jews lived and built a community amongst the evacuated buildings of this former military town before the war began. It did not function as an extermination camp, but as an extremely dense ghetto and labor camp. Because of this, it blossomed into the center of Jewish culture and produced several art pieces, theatre productions, music compositions, and even literature during the war. However, the Nazi’s managed to instill their horrific genocide regardless. Beginning in 1942, at least every month, sometimes multiple times a month, community leaders were forced to pick a 1000 of their own people to be shipped off to other labor camps such as Auswitch where almost none of the selected survived. Fortunately for our survivor who accompanied us on our trip, Doris managed to not be a chosen victim to be moved and ordered, and she has no idea why.
Once more, awe struck while listening and watching this petite lady, delighted by our interest, boldly share her experiences. She managed some how to avoid execution and find one of the more relaxing and easier jobs in the Gestapo. She was in charge of the sheep. In the museum, a black and white photograph of Doris is posted on a panel displaying her amongst her sheep wearing a very nice coat. She explained they were able to take with them 50 kilos of things per person (about a hundred pounds) and nothing was taken from them for a very long while.
After touring the town, we moved on to the Prison that housed political prisoners before the war began. When the Nazi’s invaded and ran out of room for the Jews, they began to over populate the prison forcing over 50 Jewish people into a 10ft by 10ft cell with little fresh air, barely any lighting, and a small pail for excrement only to be changed once a week. These factors caused many diseases within Terezin, which caused about 35,000 Jewish people to die in the Ghetto. Overall, the most interesting aspect of the tour was seeing the theatrical designs for their small theatre. I find it extremely inspiring that through a hell-like situation, humans can somehow still create beauty. I suppose it is a coping mechanism in a way. Theatre can create an entirely different world for a small moment. It’s an outlet and a distraction, just like other arts. But, theatre diverts attention and can take you for a small moment in life to another place, a better one.
Doris told us while standing in a recreation of the women’s barracks that she feels closer to us in this moment because she cannot see Terezin through her eyes now. She is too old. She still sees Terezin through her 16, 17, 18, and 19-year-old youth, because then she had hope and so it makes her closer to us because we are about her age when she lived through Terezin. In a strange way, I felt the same looking at all of the costume and scenic designs. I felt the attempt at some normality, an attempt for a mental escape.