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Terezín Concentration Camp Memorial in the Czech Republic

Terezín, Czech Republic

This Nazi concentration camp, which took cruel advantage of Terezín’s 18th-century walls to imprison Jews, was dolled up to impress Red Cross inspectors. Today the memorial displays artifacts — including children’s art — of the many victims who perished here.

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Another site near Prague is Terezín, a town built in the 1780s with state-of-the-art walls designed to keep out German enemies. In 1941, the Nazis evicted its 7,000 inhabitants and packed in 60,000 Jews, creating the Terezín Concentration Camp. The town’s historic walls, originally meant to keep Germans out, were now used by Germans to keep the Jews in. But this was a concentration camp with a devious twist.

This was the Nazis’ “model Jewish town” — in reality a concentration camp dolled up for propaganda purposes. Here in what they called a “self-governing Jewish resettlement area,” Jewish culture seemed to thrive, as “citizens” put on plays and concerts, published a magazine, and raised their families in ways that impressed Red Cross inspectors.

The Germans wanted the Jews to accept this new reality — harsh, but at least life would go on. Children made dolls of their friends “in transport” — as if relocating was just the start of the next stage of their lives. They drew carefree memories of life before incarceration, and they made scrapbooks about life in the camp. The museum comes with a recreated barracks furnished with actual belongings of Terezín inmates.

Sinks were installed, looking good for human-rights-abuse inspectors from the outside world… but never actually plumbed with water. Group showers became a routine part of life here. The fatal last shower many Terezin residents would later take at Auschwitz looked no different… except there were no windows.

Tolerable as this sham Jewish town seemed, virtually all of Terezín’s Jews ultimately ended up dying either here or at the extermination camps farther east. As you explore the camp, ponder the message of all such memorials: Forgive, but never forget.