Virtual Collection Terezin

Identifier
ehri terezin research guide
Language of Description
English
Level of Description
Collection
Source
EHRI Partner

Biographical History

The ghetto in Terezín (Theresienstadt in German) was one of the major places of suffering and death of Jews from Bohemia and Moravia, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark and other European countries. Out of approximately 150,000 prisoners, over 30,000 died there between 1941 and 1945 due to starvation, overcrowded and unhygienic accommodation and diseases. Another 90,000 were deported to ghettos and extermination camps in the East, from where only roughly 4,000 returned. Unlike most other ghettos in Nazi-occupied East-Central Europe, Terezín was not liquidated at the end of the war. A fraction of its prisoners survived inside of the ghetto walls and were liberated in May 1945. The ghetto has been used for Nazi propaganda purposes and served as destination for elderly Jewish people from Germany and Austria. In 1944-1945, in an attempt to mislead the world about the genocide of Jews, Terezín was showcased to delegations of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Archival History

The Terezín "Council of Elders", the Jewish "self-administration", produced a large amount of documents, the lack of paper in the ghetto notwithstanding. However, most of these documents have been destroyed at the end of the war on the orders of the SS Commander of the ghetto. Karel Lágus and Josef Polák describe how materials relating to the pre-1945 period were taken away and how this search for 'dangerous' documents extended not only to the offices of the 'self-administration', but also to the lodgings of the prisoners. Especially lists and card files of murdered people and of those who were deported to the ghettos and extermination camps in the East were confiscated, as was the physical evidence of death in Terezín: the ashes of people who perished in Terezín were taken away, partly dispersed in the Ohre/Eger river and partly put into an unmarked pit outside of Terezín. Most of the surviving original documentation was thus either actively used or created after 1st January 1945 (such as for instance a card file of prisoners who mostly survived in the ghetto until its liberation in May 1945), kept illegally by various groups of prisoners, or (re)created after the liberation. Some documents in the central registry or their copies such as the transport lists were hidden and survived its evacuation. A number of prisoners collected and saved various documents: for instance, Karel Herrmann (Herman) who documented cultural life in the ghetto or H. G. Adler, one of the future historians of the ghetto. The most extensive set of documents was gathered by Hechalutz, the Zionist youth movement around Zeev Scheck, and was transported to Prague after liberation by his girlfriend Alisah (meanwhile, Scheck was deported to Auschwitz and eventually liberated in Dachau). Terezín is known for the cultural production of prisoners - however, much of the art work and of prisoners' diaries vanished with their authors following the deportation to extermination camps. Only some manuscripts or pictures were left with friends in Terezín or hidden in the walls or other hideouts. The Terezín resistance managed to save some important art works that testified about the reality of life in the ghetto, including those of a group of painters employed in the Technical Department who used their access to paper and other material before they were discovered and deported to the Small Fortress (a concentration camp-like Gestapo prison) in Terezín. Years after the liberation, documents were found in Terezín, for instance the diary of Egon Redlich. On the other hand, in contrast to some of the other major Polish ghettos, very few authentic photos and film footage from the Terezín ghetto are available. The 1942 and 1944 propaganda films and the photos shot around the filming in 'beautified' Terezín are to be used only with utmost caution. The authentic photo material consists mainly of a series of snapshots taken secretly by a Czech gendarme guarding the ghetto and an extensive series made in Terezín shortly after liberation. Immediately after liberation, a group of Zionist activists led by Scheck started the Dokumentacní akce (or "Documentation Project"), a Czech (and later Slovak) version of the Jewish documentation initiatives which collected documents and testimonies in many European countries. Within the short period between liberation and immigration to Palestine, the group collected testimonies, documents, photos and artwork documenting the persecution of Jews from Bohemia and Moravia. In 1946, after Sheck had moved to Palestine, the collection was divided: the larger part was sent to Palestine and a smaller one was placed with the Jewish Museum in Prague. At the same time, documents were collected in the Jewish Museum in Prague where H. G. Adler worked until 1947, when he finally emigrated to the United Kingdom. The collection of the Dokumentacní akce and of the JMP was apparently used by the first historiographers of Terezín, Zdenek Lederer, Karel Lagus and Josef Polák. H. G. Adler also drew on this material while working on his influential monograph. As a result, the most important Terezín archives are located in dedicated memorial institutions. Following the Israeli War of Independence, the Documentation Project archive had been stored at the university campus at Mount Scopus, where it was not easily accessible. Only after the 1967 war was the collection moved to Yad Vashem and made available to researchers. Sheck also brought the Hechalutz Terezín collection to Palestine and donated it to the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, while he still continued to extend it. In 1976, most of the collection was transferred to Yad Vashem, whereas a smaller part was kept in the Central Archives and some materials, especially photos, were moved to Beit Theresienstadt in the Givat Haim kibbutz in Israel. Founded by Terezín survivors (including Zeev and Alisa Sheck) in 1960s, Beit Theresienstadt is a museum, an archive and an educational institution. The Terezín collection in Yad Vashem was later also extended by a collection of transport lists and albums devoted to the activity of various departments of the 'Council of Elders' which was saved by Hermann Weisz and acquired after his death in 1979. A third subcollection contains mostly personal information and documents provided by the former inmates and their families. The Terezín collection in the Jewish Museum in Prague based on the Documentation Project as well as other materials and over time extended by further acquisitions, was organised later into a form that roughly corresponded to the structure of the Jewish "self-administration" in Terezín. Therefore, the Terezín collection attempts to partially reconstruct the largely destroyed and fragmented original Terezín documentation. The collection continued to grow since the fall of Communism, especially in conjunction with other projects of the JMP. Some interesting documents were received as part of the oral history project of the museum and following an appeal to the public to bring documents and photos providing information about their deported and murdered neighbours. The personal story and the documentation trail of the Dokumentacní akce leads also to the history of Beit Theresienstadt. Its archive houses especially documents donated by the members of the organisation, including important artwork and children newspapers. Very soon after the foundation of the Terezín Memorial in 1947 (originally as Memorial to the Suffering of the Nation), its archive and later 'Documentation Department' was created which collected documents from former inmates and those found in Terezín, as well as testimonies of former prisoners. Therefore, any serious researcher of the ghetto has to conduct research at least in these four major Terezín archives: Beit Terezín, Terezín Memorial, Yad Vashem and the Jewish Museum Prague. Further significant Terezín collections and documents can be found in other archives around the world, for instance in the National Archives in Prague (many of the Terezín related documents were digitised by the Terezín Initiative Institute and are partly accessible online at www.holocaust.cz), the Center for Jewish History in New York (especially in YIVO and Leo Baeck Institute archives), the Wiener Library in London, NIOD in Amsterdam, the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen or the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich.

Scope and Content

The aim of the EHRI Terezín Research Guide is to create a comprehensive, innovative and easy to use guide through the dispersed and fragmented Terezín (Theresienstadt) archival material and to empower further research on the history of the ghetto. The Terezín Research Guide illustrates the primary raison d'être of EHRI - to connect collections spread in many archives and in more countries. EHRI research guides demonstrate what a collaborative archival project can achieve and how archivists can redefine their tasks beyond providing physical access and creating finding aids restricted to the local collections. The guide does not aim to make the existing archives irrelevant by placing all information online, but to help researchers identify relevant sources and to connect and compare them to documents in other collections. The guide will function as a gateway to the Terezín archival resources and - as an increasing amount of digitised material appears online - it will point to the respective public online catalogues.

Existence and Location of Originals

  • Beit Terezin

  • Terezin Memorial

  • Yad Vashem

  • Jewish Museum Prague

This description is derived directly from structured data provided to EHRI by a partner institution. This collection holding institution considers this description as an accurate reflection of the archival holdings to which it refers at the moment of data transfer.
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