Today we went to Terezín. I had the idea that is was along the lines of Auschwitz, vacated but preserved for the sake of education and history. This was not exactly was we were introduced to. What we saw was a town that had been touched by both the Nazi and Communist regimes and still stood and functioned as though the pain and suffering of thousands had never even happened. There were restaurants and shops and lots of privately owned properties occupied by everyday Czech citizens. This came as a shock to myself and most of my fellow GO classmates as the idea of living in an area and even sending the mentally ill to a still- functioning Sanitarium, was deeply disturbing.
With growing negative sentiments towards the town and the trip, we marched on to the small barracks where much of the tireless work and merciless imprisonment and torture happened to the Jewish people, POWs, and political prisoners during world war 2 and the cold war. This was a highly emotional part of the tour in which we saw not only the cold isolation cells and living quarters, but the “spa” where the Red Cross was tricked into believing that Terezín was as luxurious for the Jews as it was said in the German propaganda. All I could think about were “what if” questions. What if the Red Cross had just looked a little harder, turned a knob and seen there was no plumbing, looked in ANY of the living quarters, would things have turned out differently for all the innocent souls who died here and in transit to all the death camps during WW2?
We ended the tour by looking into Magdeburg Barracks, which now serves as a museum of all the art and music of the Jewish “VIPs” that were “so fortunate” to have lived in Terezín instead of other places. I was thankful for this part of the trip, but once again saddened to see such beautiful artwork and know the terrible fate that befell the artists behind them.
Today was, simply put, hard. It was full of emotional scenes and hard to hear facts. However, for me, my disgust at what seemed like blatant disregard for the past changed to an understanding of why it seems to be ignored. The Czech Republic has not only suffered under Nazi rule but also Communist rule. Both are anti-semitic in different ways and both have forced the people to push aside religion to get jobs done and survive. Communism and the socialist society that came before the present day in the Czech Republic forced the people to build over the horrors of WW2 and move on without looking back. They have built the memorials and erected their museums, paying respects to the dead, but life goes on. That does not mean they are heartless, or that they don’t recognize what occurred on the streets they now lead their children down to church, or in their low income apartments. It means that they are living despite the ghost of deep struggle and that is, in its own way, brave and admirable. I am deeply humbled by my experiences in Terezín today and I can now look towards the future with an even deeper respect for the past.