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Our Journey took us one hour from the center of Prague to Terezin, the concentration work camp and ghetto.

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 Terezin was originally a fortress prison established in the late 18th century as a prison for military and political convicts. In 1941 it was used by the Nazi’s as a prison for Jews. Jews that were brought to Terezin from Prague, some 83,000, with the exception of a handful of survivors, were never seen again.

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They were all deported to extermination camps in the East.

What is most poignant about visiting Terezin is not the cold stone cells, cramped ghetto barracks or crematorium, all chillingly horrifying but the multitude of artists, composers, musicians, writers and actors that left behind the real, untold story of Terezin. You see, the Nazi’s wanted the world to think they had set up a beautiful home for the Jews at Terezin and they knew they had captured some of Prague’s most talented people in the small space of the ghetto to tell that false story. As part of their grand scheme, the Nazi’s used this talent to create drawings and films, poems and songs of propaganda.

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Viewing the films and paintings created under Nazi instruction, one would think that life was wonderful in Terezin. Jewish soccer matches, knitting clubs, art exhibits, plays and operas were occurring at all times. What was really going on here was beyond the brain’s capability to comprehend.

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Bedrich Fritta, Leo Hass, Otto Unger, Karel Fleischmann, Peter Klein….. Do these names ring a bell? Probably not like Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri Matisse do, because these Terezin artists were exterminated along with their families by the Nazi’s long before they reached the age of 25.

 Terezin artists were given materials by the SS to create propaganda pieces but many brave prisoners, once given these materials, used them to depict the real, untold story of life in the ghetto.

Steph and I spent hours sifting through books of drawings, inks, pastels and paintings created by hundreds of courageous Terezin artists, risking their lives each day but knowing that someday their work would be found and would set the record straight about the treatment of the Jews at Terezin.

ImageReading the biographies of hundreds of prisones who had graduated from some of the best art and architectural schools in Europe brought each artist to life.  These weren’t prisoners, they were lives filled with hope, talent, intelligence, families and love. In Terezin they turned into  historians, teachers, and activists for peace.

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The Nazis continued their propaganda work in Terezin making it appear as a beautiful Jewish settlement. Building a spa and fake store fronts so visitors to Terezin would think it was a town filled with shops and cafes. They even distributed worthless “camp” money to be used when visitors came from the outside.

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On June 23th, 1944 as thousands of prisoners were being deported to Auschwitz and other Eastern death camps, Terezin was presented, films and all, to the international delegation as a self-administered Jewish settlement, the inhabitants of which has the opportunity to survive the war without any worries.