48km (30 miles) NW of Prague
Noticing that northwest Bohemia was susceptible to Prussian attacks, Joseph II, the son of Austrian Empress Maria Teresa, decided to build Terezín to ward off further offensives. Two fortresses were built, but the Prussian army bypassed the area during the last Austro-Prussian conflict and in 1866 attacked Prague anyway. That spelled the end of Terezín's fortress charter, which was repealed in 1888. More than 50 years later, the fortifications were just what occupying Nazi forces needed.
When people around the world talk of Nazi atrocities during World War II, the name Terezín (Theresienstadt in German) rarely comes up. At the so-called Paradise Ghetto, there were no gas chambers, no mass machine-gun executions, and no medical testing rooms. Terezín wasn't used to exterminate the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and political prisoners it held. Rather, the occupying Nazi forces used it as a transit camp. About 140,000 people passed though Terezín's gates; more than half ended up at the death camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Instead, Terezín will live in infamy for the cruel trick that SS chief Heinrich Himmler played on the world within its walls. On June 23, 1944, three foreign observers -- two from the Red Cross -- came to Terezín to find out if the rumors of Nazi atrocities were true. They left with the impression that all was well, duped by a well-planned "beautification" of the camp. The Germans carefully choreographed every detail of the visit. The observers saw children studying at staged schools that didn't exist, and store shelves, which had been specially set up, stocked with goods. So that the observers wouldn't think the camp was overcrowded, the Nazis transported some 7,500 of the camp's sick and elderly prisoners to Auschwitz. Children even ran up to an SS commandant just as the observers passed; the commandant handed the children cans of sardines to shouts of "What? Sardines again?" The trick worked so well that the Nazis made a film of the camp, A Town Presented to the Jews from the Führer, while it was still "self-governing."
Russian forces liberated Terezín on May 10, 1945, several days after Berlin had fallen to the Allies. Today, the camp stands as a memorial to the dead and a monument to human depravity.
Getting There -- If you're driving, Terezín lies just off the D-8 motorway that leads north out of Prague in the direction of Dresden and Berlin. Watch for the turnoff signs. It's a 45-minute drive.
Several buses leave daily from the small bus station above the Nádrazí Holesovice metro stop (line C, red). The ride takes about an hour and costs 75Kc.
Visitor Information -- The Museum of the Ghetto and the Small Fortress both have shops that stock reading material in several languages. Before heading out, you can read up on the area at the well-organized website www.pamatnik-terezin.cz.
Organized Tours -- Martin Tour, Stepánská 61, Prague 1 (tel. 224-212-473; www.martintour.cz), offers a 5-hour bus trip to Terezín for 1,100Kc per person. The bus leaves five times a week at 9:30am from Staromestské námestí. Visit the website for more information and to book tickets.
The other travel agencies in Prague arrange their own guided tours to Terezín as well.
Wittmann Tours, Novotného lávka 5 Prague 1 (tel. 222-252-472; www.wittmann-tours.com), specializes in Jewish legacy trips and offers a guided bus tour to the Terezín concentration camp that costs 1,250Kc for adults, 1,100Kc for students, free for children under 10. The bus leaves from Prague daily at 10am from May to October. March 15 through April, and November through December, the tour is available on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday only. Make an advance reservation online or by calling the office.
If you decide to go on your own and would like to have an English-speaking guide in the Jewish Memorial sites (it is included in the admission), you have to contact the company in writing before your departure. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seeing the Camp
Terezín is a little hard to grasp at first. There are two main areas: the Large Fortress is essentially the town itself, the rectilinear streets laid out according to the best 18th-century military technology. Here was where the majority of ghetto residents lived during the Nazi occupation. You can walk around the still-drab streets and pay a visit the Museum of the Ghetto, which is headquartered in what was once the ghetto's school. The exhibits here chronicle the rise of Nazism and daily life in the camp. Admission to the museum is 160Kc for adults and 130Kc for children. It's open daily: November to March from 9am to 5:30pm and April to October from 9am to 6pm.
A 10-minute walk from the Large Fortress over the Ohre River brings you to the second main site, the Small Fortress, a smaller, more heavily fortified area that the Nazis used as a prison and torture zone for political prisoners. As you enter the main gate, the sign above, ARBEIT MACHT FREI (Work Sets One Free), sets a gloomy tone. You are free to walk through the prison barracks, execution grounds, workshops, and isolation cells. In front of the fortress's main entrance is the National Cemetery (Národní hrbitov), where the bodies exhumed from the mass graves were buried.
A combined ticket to enter both the Ghetto Museum and Small Fortress costs 200Kc for adults and 150Kc for children. The Small Fortress is open daily November to March 8am to 4:30pm and April to October 8am to 6pm. For more information or reservations for guided tours, call tel. 416-782-225 (fax 416-782-300; www.pamatnik-terezin.cz).
More Flood Damage -- The town of Terezín and its memorial were badly struck by floods in August 2002. After a tremendous effort, the memorial has been reopened and is accessible to the public again.
Where to Dine
It's understandable that there are few places to eat in Terezín. Indeed, you may not want to stay here much longer than you have to. However, inside the Large Fortress and the Museum is a decent inexpensive buffet with standard Czech fare.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.