Terezín and Úštěk - On the trail of the Shoah in the Czech lands

Today few can imagine the degree of suffering experienced by the Jews the Nazi occupiers forced behind the walls of the Terezín fortress, into a ghetto that for tens of thousands became a transfer station to the death camps. The despair, cruelty and inhuman conditions in which people who were guilty of nothing more than their Jewish origin were forced to exist. However, something helped the inhabitants of the Terezín ghetto to hang on to their will to live. That thing was culture and art.
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There are many stories of the endless suffering that occurred behind the walls of the Small Fortress and the ghetto. Nevertheless, among those stories something alive with deep humanity and hope does occasionally shine through. What we are referring to is the art that was created in the best-known concentration camp on Czech territory. For understandable reasons, information about cultural goings-on at Terezín are not complete. All that has been preserved are fragments of the literature and art created, a few sheets of music, hand-written flyers, tickets, a little of the survivors’ memories…



Many of the involuntary residents of Terezín were artists whose work gave others the strength to live. They did their utmost to preserve human dignity. Plays were performed, concerts held, pictures and poems were created, samizdat magazines were published – all in immensely difficult conditions and under the constant threat of deportation to the east. The drawings of children from the children’s block are certainly the most affecting instance of such art. At first the Nazis banned all artistic expression. They later tolerated it as the free spirit of the inhabitants was so strong that it was no longer possible to curb such creativity. Alongside hundreds of enthusiastic amateurs, professionals also produced art at Terezín. Figures such as Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, Ilsa Weber, František Zelenka, Kurt Gerron, Leo Strauss, Norbert Frýd and Karel Poláček fought against the loss of hope and dignity – and for life.

Day 1

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The tour of the Terezín ghetto begins at the Small Fortress, where prisoners were interned by the Gestapo during WWII. You then head down Principova alej and Pražská St., which lead you to the gate to the Main Fortress and later to the Ghetto Museum, which houses the sombre but immensely informative exhibition “Terezín in the So-Called Final Solution of the Jewish Question, 1941–1945”. Inside the fortress you can view a recently discovered unique prayer room, while the same building also features renovated attics with a type of accommodation known as kumbálek. You then continue south until you reach the Magdeburg Barracks, where you will find an exhibition on the culture and art of Terezín. Next stop is the fortress rampart, which features an original ceremonial hall, Jewish and Christian, a morgue and a columbarium that house exhibitions focused on burial customs in the ghetto. A few hundred metres further lies the Jewish Cemetery, the grounds of which also contain a crematorium containing an exhibition on mortality and burial in the ghetto. You will now have some time to gather your thoughts after the harsh experience of Terezín as the tour continues on to the nearby medieval town of Úštěk, home to several unique Jewish architectural landmarks. Follow the street Na Kocandě in an easterly direction toward Úštěk, which is around 20 km away. Just past its České předměstí district you come to the synagogue and rabbi’s residence, historical landmarks saved from demolition thanks to recent renovations. On the slope opposite the synagogue lies a unique Jewish cemetery, which can be reached via a pleasant path past what are known as the Bird Houses to the valley and up the hillside.

Common Tips


 

Transportation

Terezín is 66 km from the centre of Prague. You can get there by car in approximately an hour. It takes almost four hours to get there by train or bus. You can combine a trip to Terezín with a visit to the nearby Úštěk (25km) and perhaps České vinařství Chrámce (30 km from Terezín).

Day 1

km
2
hrs
6
sights
9

The Small Fortress at Terezín

Like the entire fortified town, the Small Fortress in Terezín was built at the end of the 18th century. Terezín originated as a defence against the Prussian forces during the Prussian-Austrian War. Following their occupation of Czechoslovakia the Nazis soon noticed the suitability of the Small Fortress and indeed the whole of Terezín for their inhuman plans.

Address

Principova alej 304
411 55 Terezín
GPS: 50.514480, 14.165818

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 175 Kč

Children fee: 145 Kč

Senior fee: 145 Kč

Student fee: 145 Kč

Ghetto Museum at Terezín

In the centre of the town of Terezín stands a building that formerly housed an elementary school. Today it serves as a museum with an exhibition whose title speaks volumes: Terezín in the So-Called Final Solution to the Jewish Question, 1941 – 1945. The exhibition may be emotionally exhausting. However, visitors invariably get a huge amount out of it. Anybody who has any doubt about the real crimes of the Nazi regime ought to go.  
 

Address

Principova alej 304
411 55 Terezín
GPS: 50.5145100, 14.1657592

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 175 Kč

Children fee: 145 Kč

Senior fee: 145 Kč

Student fee: 145 Kč

Prayer room from the Terezín ghetto period and replica of attic

The prayer room was discovered relatively recently, at the start of the 1990s. Compared with similar spaces used as prayer rooms in the former ghetto it is unique thanks to its decoration, expertly executed mosaics and Hebrew texts.
 

Address

Principova alej 304
411 55 Terezín
GPS: 50.510546, 14.147484

Opening Hours

The Magdeburg Barracks in Terezín

When the Nazis converted the Terezín military fortress into a prison and Jewish ghetto, they decided to impose a system of self-governance, as they did with other concentration camps and ghettos. It could, therefore, look from the outside like an estate inhabited by contented Jewish families.
 

Address

Principova alej 304
411 55 Terezín
GPS: 50.5088158, 14.1524572

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 175 Kč

Children fee: 145 Kč

Senior fee: 145 Kč

Student fee: 145 Kč

Ceremonial rooms, mortuary and columbarium at Terezín

Death was omnipresent and could strike at practically any time. The lack of basic foods, disease, inadequate hygiene, long shifts of backbreaking work and the terror of the occupiers all claimed victims. The ceremonial rooms, mortuary and columbarium (in reality nothing but a store for urns) were in constant use.
 

Address

Principova alej 304
411 55 Terezín
GPS: 50.506155, 14.149099

Opening Hours

The Jewish Cemetery at the crematorium Terezín

Before a crematorium was built at Terezín, the ghetto’s victims were buried in individual or mass graves at the Bohušovice basin, several hundred metres south of the square. Though it was used for that purpose for less than a year, up to 9,000 ghetto residents were buried in that period.
 

Address

Principova alej 304
411 55 Terezín
GPS: 50.502121, 14.151467

Opening Hours

The Synagogue at Úštěk

Near Terezín in north Bohemia stands the small town of Úštěk, one of the smallest conservation areas in the Czech Republic. It includes the remains of a small Jewish street with a synagogue in a completely unique position on a steep slope near the square.  The synagogue, which stands on a rock ledge, dates from the end of the 18th century.
 

Address

České předměstí 95
411 45 Úštěk
GPS: 50.584018, 14.338603

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 30 Kč

Children fee: 15 Kč

Senior fee: 15 Kč

Student fee: 15 Kč

The Rabbi’s Residence in Úštěk

In close proximity to the synagogue on the rocky ledge, a Rabbi’s residence with a slightly trapezoid ground plan was built in the 19th century, though its original foundations date all the way back to the Middle Ages. It was rebuilt several times subsequently and recently underwent complicated and costly renovations.
 

Address

1. máje 96
411 45 Úštěk
GPS: 50.5840522, 14.3384119

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 30 Kč

Senior fee: 15 Kč

Student fee: 15 Kč

The forest Jewish cemetery in Úštěk

On the opposite side of the valley from the synagogue lies an interesting historical landmark – a forest Jewish cemetery. It contains around 300 tombstones, the oldest of which is likely to date from the end of 15th century. The cemetery also has an interesting present, thanks to the strong will of people devoted to saving such landmarks.
 

Address

Katastrální úřad Lhota u Úštěku
ulice Střelecká
Úštěk
GPS: 50.579785, 14.331324

České vinařství Chrámce

Grapes have been cultivated in the picturesque landscape of the Central Bohemian Uplands for more than 1,000 years. Conditions there are favourable, with a mountain barrier surrounding a basin whose southern slopes might have been created specifically to grow vines.

Address

Chrámce 32
434 01 Most
GPS: 50.467588, 13.772361