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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.

Visiting Prague with my daughter is a dream. The narrow cobblestoned streets, ancient castles, gardens, cappuccinos and …let’s not forget the hot wine!  Colorful photos in front of John Lennon’s peace wall and decorative  beautiful doors abound.

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In the Jewish Quarter The spanish synagogue in Moorish style is magnificently ornate. Arabesque designs fashioned after Spain’s, Alhambra fill the interior and

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colorful light pours in through the stained the 19th century stained glass.

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But one cannot come here and only enjoy the beauty this city has to offer. We are too close to the places where so much horror occurred. Enter deep into the Jewish quarter and history is steeped in the darkness and memory of the hundreds of thousands Jews murdered by the nazis.  It was difficult to focus on the tiny letters of the 80,000 names of the Bohemian and Moravian Jewish holocaust victims  hand written on the walls of the Pinka Syngogue .


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Even more haunting was the exhibit of children’s drawings from the ghetto of Terezin concentration camp recovered from the suitcase of a deportee. The vast majority of these tiny artists were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz shortly after the pictures were drawn.

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The drawings are filled with hopes and dreams of freedom. Teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis helped the children to forget their fears by giving them the creative outlet of drawing.

“Drawing opened the way for the children of Terezin to memories to the world from which they were torn. It enabled them to see and describe a sadness and the appalling reality but above all it carried them away to a world of fantasy and pure imagination where good triumphs over evil, where free will and abundance reign, where there is paradise on earth…. The children constantly expressed in their drawings the hope of the happy return home, often drawing roads and crossroads with sign posts pointing to Prague. Only a small fraction of the small children who passed through Terezin saw this hope fulfilled.”

Quoted from the wall of The Pinkas Synagogue memorial, Prague

April is genocide awareness month and an opportunity to remember those who perished. We cannot forget the victims of countless genocides in history.  We cannot forget that the Rwandan Genocide happened 20 years ago this month and we cannot forget those that suffer human rights abuses of death, slavery and torture, today in many places in the world.

I write this week in memory and in honor of the victims of genocide and the brave survivors, some of whom I have had the honor to know in my life and for the artists who offer space for healing expression for themselves and others.