Today we woke up at 6:30 and were off to the races as we left for Terezin (Theresienstadt as it is also called) at 745. The bus ride there was pretty quiet as people went back to sleep for those last precious moments of rest. Ms Freeman read us a beautiful article about Chris Hoeh, the dad of one of the guys on the trip, that was in the Boston Globe today; it definitely made everyone a little emotional.
When we finally reached the town of Terezin we were struck by how much it looked like a normal town. It was weird because there were houses, people living there and walking around, and parks for the public, and yet this was almost what it looked like during the Holocaust. It was not desolate and sad like Auschwitz or Majdanek, it was full of pink and yellow houses and buildings. It was the strangest experience and certainly hard to wrap our heads around.
In the town survivors of Terezin had remade a room to show the experience of living in the town -it was over crowded with limited heating but it made us feel connected to the people who passed through the town, almost 150,000.
The exhibition moved on to the art of those in the camp. I liked this part a lot because it allowed the art to get the recognition it deserves, instead of being hidden away like it used to be in the walls of Terezin.
From Terezin we hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Prague to see the castle that looms over the city. This castle had so many things going for it. Big rooms, a window from which people were defenestrated, a lovely view, the list goes on. Inside the luxurious castle was an even more luxurious church, decorated with bright stained glass and beautiful pictures.
After a few hours of going through these expansive lands we all crowded onto the underground and went back to the old town square and set free to meander through the town as we pleased, looking for food and lots of shopping. It was super fun, to say the least.
Today started bright and early with a trip to Terezin, a 45 minute bus ride from Prague. Terezin, originally a fortress built by the Habsburgs, was used by the Nazis in the Second World War as a ghetto/camp/detention center and prison for Jews and other prisoners and was one of the most confusing sights I think we've attended on this trip. The camp was used as propaganda for the Nazis so in it people wrote music, painted and sketched, and put on plays among other things to give the appearance of a lively community as opposed to an overcrowded ghetto. Definitely not what I think of when the Nazis are mentioned so seeing some of this work was pretty strange.
Walking through the museum dedicated to daily life and the art created though, I was amazed by the poignancy and beauty of the art. There was "official" work, sketches of workers and practical things like building plans, but artists had also drawn what they saw all around them, personal portraits of loved ones, people sick and dying, and the transports of people from across many different countries that arrived to live and die in the camp. These ranged from light pencil sketches to oil paintings, but all felt deeply personal, getting a peek into the world of Terezin through these people's eyes.
We visited several other sites after the museum and then ate lunch at a little restaurant in town. I got a Czech specialty, a fried block of cheese with potatoes and a ranch-like sauce. It was very delicious although also very rich and kinda made my stomach hurt, but worth it!!
After visiting the Small Fortress, we got back on the bus ( I took a lovely nap) and came back to Prague to visit Praha Hrad( it's a castle), the most beautiful place I have ever seen, hands down. Everything was bright and decorated in every way possible. In the church on the grounds, the windows were stories high filled with bright colors and intricate detailing. You could stare at one for hours!
We didn't have hours though and in true EE fashion rushed on to more sites within the grounds including the window of the famous defenestration of Prague(!!!!)and balconies with amazing views of the city. Everyone took some good pictures and finally we finished the night with some free time to eat and shop around the lovely center of town.
Today was our second (and last!!) day in Prague, which has been my favorite city on the trip so far. It looks like it came straight out of aa child's picture book, bursting with different colors and shapes and people.
We left the hotel this morning and drove to Terezin, about an hour away. I was very anxious to visit here because I did a lot of research on for my targeted populations project (I was in the group that studied the Nazis' treatment of artists, writers, and musicians). Because of this, I already knew that Terezin was a very weird place. I've seen it called a concentration camp, a ghetto, even a "village turned prison", but none of these terms give a complete picture about the reality of Terezin.
On the outside, Terezin looks like a normal town. I was really surprised to see exactly how normal it seemed as we drove through. That's been a common theme of this trip for me at least- in many of the places we've gone, horrible things happened, but people who live there now just go on with their everyday lives as if they don't live just one wall away from a place where thousands of people were murdered less than 90 years ago.
After walking around the old buildings of the site, we went to a museum that had examples of work that was created by prisoners of the camp. Seeing all of that artwork and the poems and plays written at Terezin made the research I did on it seem so much more real.
Another thing that infuriates me about Terezin is the fact that members of the International Red Cross visited the camp in 1943 for the explicit purpose of inspecting the conditions of the concentration camps. Terezin was a "model" camp, and its deceitful facade was enough to convince the Red Cross that the conditions were fine, despite obvious red flags. For example, in the camp's prison there was a room with sinks and mirrors so that the prisoners could shave after showering, a practice unheard of in prisons. If the Red Cross delegates had just turned the faucets, however, they would have seen that the plumbing of the room had never actually been connected and the whole room was just for show. The whole camp had aspects like this, the Red Cross and the rest of the world didn't seem to care enough to call the Nazis on their bluffs and thousand of people had to pay the price of their indifference.
Tonight is our last night in Prague, and tomorrow is our last full day in Eastern Europe. This trip has been a whirlwind of emotions, and I can't believe it's almost over. I'm so grateful that I got the opportunity to go on this trip and get to know so many of my classmates better over such a short amount of time.
We started the day early for our long ride to Terezín. I didn't know what to expect because it was not a concentration camp in the sense that auschwitz was, but it was more than a ghetto. I knew going in that it was weird but I didn't know the full extent until we walked around the town and saw the exhibits about the different types of art that was created during the war. I didn't really know how to feel about it because it definitely wasn't a good place to be sent (especially after I learned that for most people it was just a place to stop for a few months before they were transferred to a death camp) but it was also better than all of the other concentration camps.
We heard the story of one survivor who was at Terezín as a teenager and how her life was completely turned upside down. Yes, it would've been worse if she were at Auschwitz but all she wanted was to be a normal 16 year old girl and "have a boyfriend" but that was taken from her. Instead she spent her teenage years picking up dead corpses lying around the street.
In the museum there was an art exhibit which showed a lot of the sadness of the camp through the colors and everyday scenes of the camp. Many of the drawings/paintings looked as if the artist and the subjects had given up all hope and happiness. There were a lot of pictures of midnight funerals and burials which made me really sad because it was at night either because Jewish burial practices weren't allowed or because there were just so many dead bodies that they had to berries at all hours of the night, both of which are depressing because it shows the complete change in the lives of the Terezín prisoners.
For the second half of the day, we went to the Prague castle (including the Cathedral and the garden with a bunch of peacocks) which is BEAUTIFUL!! It's up really night on a hill which can be seen from almost anywhere in Prague and also have the most amazing views. This city is just beautiful everywhere you go and I never want to leave. I've had so much fun here and learned a lot of Czech history (thanks Mr. Crane)!