Today we went to Terezin, a ghetto/concentration camp from WWII. Before I give you my personal report on the trip- here are a few quick facts on Terezin:
– Originally built as a fortress in the 18th century
– the entire city, built for 7,000 originally, served as a ghetto for the Jews while they were being deported during the war.
– it was not an extermination camp, but served as the intermitent place before the prisoners were deported to Auschwitz or other death camps.
– the camp was self-governed by Jews… under the Gestapo’s orders, the Jews themselves had to pick and choose who would be on the next train- sick.
– Though built for 7,000… Terezin at one point held 58,000 prisoners
– most died after deportion
– The Gestapo used a propoganda film of Terezin to dispell rumors that Jews were being executed at concentration camps. For this film, they “beautified” the streets, installed programs and entertainment, used Jewish actors and producers- then they killed them.
There’s probably more that I’m missing, but that gives you a quick idea of the place we went to. The entire city served as the ghetto, but the prison served as the concentration camp… and we toured both. Here are some of my thoughts that I jotted down as soon as I got back to my dorm. It’s rough, but you get the idea…
Trip To Terezin
As I walked through the stark empty cells on the cold cement floors, I could sense their desolate, fatigued, and hollow faces staring at me. Their eyes pierced me. The conditions I imagined them in couldn’t even come close to the real thing. They had been packed into their bunks like animals- their humanity ripped from them. These prisoners were artists, musicians, writers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, rabbis, producers, moms, dads, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, children, cousins, and friends. There was no difference between me and them. I saw their work- evidence of the vibrant life that once was. The paintings spoke their story and evoked emotion into the still frame. The music played beautifully and was masterfully composed. The writing was real and tangible. Such talent! The prisoners of Terezin left their mark on the world. Though each person was a number of the 6 million, they all left something that was more than what appeared on their tattooed wrist.
I learned something from my trip to Terezin. The stone walls, brick buildings, tunnels, gallows, rusty facilities, muddy ground, and the German inscription of “work shall set you free” on the entrance to the camp caused me to sense the life, death, deception, truth, and hope that existed in this place. Yet it wasn’t the building structure and the vision of the starving bodies huddled around one another that spoke to me… It was the paintings and the music that reached out and grabbed my soul. You see, they lived. They lived passionate lives and desperately poured their talents into as many masterpieces as possible during their last few days. They lived abundantly in circumstances that no human should endure. Teachers devoted their energy to children, doctors and nurses rushed to the aid of their sick neighbor, businessmen contributed financial knowledge to those whose families had not been deported, rabbi offered comfort, and the painters painted, the musicians made music, and the writers wrote. Until they could no more, the prisoners of Terezin lived.
-I write much of this because I am a firm believer that one of the greatest ways to worship God is to live life abundantly and passionately… and do it while loving God and loving people. There can be much learned from the oppressed, the dying, the unfortunate… Blessed (happy, honored) are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted… for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…
I want to live… to dance… to make music… to write… and to worship.