Terezín, now having a reliable water system, fit right in as part of the vast, pan-European machinery of death implemented by the Nazis. Although it was meant primarily as a camp where prisoners could be held until they were sent on to the lethal destinations of Auschwitz or Treblinka (among other camps), a great many prisoners met their end in Terezín itself. One little stunt by then-commandant Anton Burger involved a census of the inmates. All of them, some 40,000, were forced to stand outside in freezing weather while the census was being conducted. It was November 11, 1943. Approximately 300 people died of hypothermia. Some prisoners died of disease; some died of malnutrition. Some were tortured to death by the guards.
In all, approximately 33,000 prisoners of Terezín died in the camp. (Burger, sentenced to death in absentia in 1947, escaped the detention center spent the rest of his life moving from place to place in Austria and Germany. Around 1961, he changed his name to Wilhelm Bauer, a Terezín prisoner whom Burger murdered in 1944. Burger died of natural causes on Christmas Day, 1991, at the age of 80.)
Another important fact about Terezín, as far as the Nazis were concerned, was that it was a “model camp”. In 1944, representatives of the International Red Cross paid a visit to the camp. The Nazis sprang into action, and, with forced labor, made Terezín look like a perfectly acceptable place to live – for tens of thousands of people who had been made to leave their homes and live in a former military prison. Stores were set up, with delicious-looking baked goods in the windows. The place was clean. The healthiest prisoners were brought out and displayed to “prove” that the inmates were fed well. A film was made showing the “ideal” conditions of Terezín, that way stop to the death camps.
Terezín, having so many prisoners, contained a great many artists. This was a help to the Nazis, who enjoyed showing off the rich cultural life to be found within the prison gates. Lectures were given. When musical instruments became available, the musicians of Terezín held concerts. Czechs, Germans, and Austrians collaborated on various cultural and intellectual pursuits. The adult prisoners used their cultural activities as a front to educate the many children who were sent to Terezín, as well. Inmate Friedl Dicker-Brandeis gave drawing classes to children in the camp; more than 4,000 of these drawings were hidden by her in two suitcases. Dicker-Brandeis would die in Auschwitz, but the drawings survived; most are on display in the Jewish Museum of Prague.
Late in 1944, the Nazis liquidated Terezín, sending prisoners to other camps, particularly Auschwitz. Approximately 144,000 prisoners had been incarcerated there. Names of note include:
· Esther Adolphine, the sister of Sigmund Freud. She died in Terezín on September 29, 1942.
· Auguste van Pels, the “Mrs. Van Daan” of Anne Frank’s famous diary.
· Ludwig Pick, a German pathologist. Lubarsch-Pick syndrome, Niemann-Pick disease, and Pick’s cell are all named for him.
· Eugen Burg, a silent and sound film actor.
· Robert Desnos, a French surrealist poet.
· Rudolf Karel, a Czech composer.