Day 5 Jayme & BoMay 20, 2011
Day 5- Terezin Concentration Camp
Today we were picked up by our travel guide Edgar and we headed north out of town to Terezin about an hour away. Terezin is an old military town surrounded by a fortress and was also used as a military base in the 17th century. It was later turned into a prison for gays, political leaders, women who spoke up to much or were considered witches, as well as people that went against the Nazi regime. Then, in 1941, it was transformed into a ghetto and labor camp that 5,000 Jews called home and over 150,000 went through or died there. When we first arrived in the town, we went to a museum that had displays of Jewish people's suitcases as well as names of the Jewish children that were killed in the camp. The museum also had a cinema that gave us more history of the town and camp. Once we got some background information, we went to the memorial honoring all of the Jewish people that died while in the camp, and then we went into the fortress that held these people as prisoners. On our tour, we were able to see all of the barracks, showers, prison cells, and medical rooms where they were kept imprisoned. The guide gave us a different perspective when she told us that over 60 people would stand for up to three weeks or until they died in a room that uncomfortably held the 53 being given a tour. The camp was physically smaller than we expected, yet thousands were stuffed like sardines in there in awful conditions; disease, small rations of low quality food, and one bathroom for every barrack that held 600 people. Their clothes and bodies were full of infection, diseases, and parasites, yet they received little to no medical attention and only had steam to wash their clothes, which did not kill the bacteria or lice or anything. They took us through a tunnel that was over 500 meters, and at the end we came to the shooting range where they executed so many people, and 53 on the last day before liberation. The sky was overcast, the air heavy, and the walls cold and damp. It was such a depressing place and you could just feel it in the air. There was such a huge amount of information and stories given that it was hard to accept them all, especially in the place where it happened. The usual loud group of us American kids were somehow silenced and left wondering how something like this could happen, and how one person swayed an entire nation to wipe out almost an entire population.
- Jayme - It is so difficult to wrap my head around my emotions today, let alone try to explain them. I have been so impressed by the beauty of the countryside in the Czech Republic and even of the time this architecture in this fortress has withstood wars - especially this one. I just kept looking up and out and seeing the clouds and some vegetation. At some points, you can even see out to the beautiful hills, trees, and scenery. There was just so much beauty outside and ugliness inside. I could not imagine seeing out and having so much hope, and trying to survive in such conditions. I could literally picture how bad it was, yet I know that what I was seeing did not compare to what actually took place. I honestly do not know how to describe the feelings I had, but they were awful and sickening. I could not even go out and visit Prague on our last afternoon available. Being there at the camp with all of the background information, history, and personal stories I have heard and read about with Schindler’s List, reading I Have Lived a Thousand Years and from history classes, I literally felt all of the pain and suffering for them, but after the fact I myself felt gluttonous, greedy, and disgusting. Even though I did not take part in the genocide, I feel so bad and remorseful. I guess to put it in three words I feel terribly sad and angry.
- Bo - I was really excited for this day because I have always loved history, and learning about WWII and the holocaust. While going through the camp today, I had many different emotions going through me. I was sad and confused, but at the end of the tour I was angry. I was sad because we walked through the camp where many innocent people were killed. It was an eye-opening experience that I will never forget. I can't even begin to imagine what those people had to go through by living in the camp. Being in the rooms that they lived in, and the rooms where they showered, I felt horrible being in there for five minutes let alone 5 years. By the end of the tour, I was mad and confused because how could people just let something like that happen to all of those innocent people. I feel that at some point the SS officers had to realize what they were doing was wrong. I just can't process in my mind how people can do something that terrible to other people. Overall, today was a great experience and it will be one that I will never forget. I now have a whole different outlook on the holocaust since I actually got to experience what the Jewish people went through.
So finally, when we left Terezin, the bus was quiet because many of us were trying to comprehend what we just went through. The experience was one that had a big impact on all of us. We sat down at the hotel and broke the silence with a debriefing over the day. We all came to a consensus with a shared question of how could one man have such a huge impact on an entire country, and seemingly nobody tried to stop it. No one said it was wrong. How?
When tying it into leadership, it basically comes down to Adolf Hitler being a charismatic leader. And whether or not he was morally correct, he was effective. Of course, there are a lot of other factors that go into it, but the genocide still happened, and he was effective.