Terezin: A Former Nazi Concentration Camp

"Arbeit macht frei" means "work makes you free" in German, a common phrase posted in concentration camps.

“Arbeit macht frei” means “work makes you free” in German, a common phrase posted in concentration camps.

A story I only learned about through films, museums and textbooks became more of a reality today. Earlier I visited Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp referred to as the Theresienstadt Ghetto northwest of Prague. Although it was not an extermination camp, many died at Terezin because of disease and sicknesses. Our tour guide, Petr, showed us a small room where 60-75 people would live in darkness together. They only had a bucket as a toilet that would be changed out once a week. In fact, even after liberation, many Jews had to stay in the concentration camp because they were so sick. More than 97,000 Jews who went through Terezin died; 15,000 were children.

Petr shared that the Red Cross once visited Terezin to check that it was operating well and treating local Jews fairly. Nazi soldiers staged the entire village to appear in good and healthy condition. After completely reconstructing the concentration camp, the Red Cross concluded that the Jews were being treated right. Terezin was in the process of inputting gas chambers when Jews were liberated from Nazi camps in May of 1945.

I also had the privilege of meeting, Doris, a survivor of the Terezin Ghetto. She lived there from age 15 to 19. She said that she believes she was treated better than some of the other children because she had blue eyes. After being freed she reconnected with her brother who had been sent to Auschwitz, the largest concentration and extermination camp during Nazi Germany. She had previously believed was dead and said she could not describe the shock and excitement she felt when she discovered he had survived. Doris’ story, her bright smile, and her positive and bubbly outlook on life will stay with me forever. If she can live each day with laughter and compassion despite the hatred she endured, so can everyone.

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