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Yesterday, our group visited the small town of Terezín, about forty five minutes just north of Prague. The town developed first as a citadel in the late 18th century when the Habsburg Monarchy erected two fortresses along the Ohře River--the Small Fortress and the Large Fortress. Neither fortress really underwent direct siege, and the only attack occurred during the Austro-Prussian War.

During WWI, the fortress was used as a political prison camp. Then during WWII, Germans occupying the Czech Republic decided to the make use of the area yet again. The Nazi Gestapo adapted Terezín to serve as a Jewish Ghetto and concentration camp. The Nazi controlled camp stood from November 24, 1941 and May 9, 1945, and over the course of three years, 140,000 Jews were transferred to Theresienstadt--of which nearly 90,000 were deported to further camps. Roughly 33,000 died in Theresienstadt itself.

Doris Groszdenovicova, a survivor of Terezín, showed tremendous courage to return with our group to the small town and lead us down the same streets that she walked while a nineteen year old woman living in the ghetto. It was quite incredible to learn about her first hand experience living in the ghetto throughout the Holocaust, and then living throughout the Communist Era. Especially since she spoke English quite well, there was no translation or real language barrier, and so her emotions and memories connected with Terezín were clearly felt.

Our tour of Terezín concluded with a trip to the fortress, where we ventured into the living quarters that housed political prisoners. Up to 100 prisoners would be housed in a long, rectangular room that had housed 30 bunk beds. Next door, in a room half the size and with little natural light and no beds, upwards of sixty Jews would be crammed together. Our tour guide (Doris did not want to enter the fortress), shared gruesome details that made the experience all too real like how restroom pails, 1 for 60 men, would only be emptied once a week.

The trip to Terezín, while informative and valuable, proved to be very somber. Forced propaganda, a tale of how the Nazis fooled the Red Cross, and the living conditions of both the ghetto and the prison remind one of the tragedies that occurred in this place. I think it also takes visiting these locations to fully grasp the events of the past, to allow them to fully affect you and numb you, thereby preserving the experience and knowledge in your memory.

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