Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Albright and Terezin

While on vacation in Europe a few years ago, I had a very odd experience. It wasn't your typical odd European experience involving a backpack and a bong, it was more of a history geek experience. While in the Czech Republic, we had the opportunity to visit a concentration camp. My vacationing generally doesn't involve something so depressing, yet I knew I probably wouldn't ever have this opportunity again.  So we visited Terezin in the Czech countryside.

It was one of the more solemn experiences I have had.  The courtyard where they were marched and the bunks (more like shelves) where they slept helped bring the terror of the experience more to life for me.  I felt like I was on holy ground. I am usually a shutter bug on vacation, but this is the only picture I have of Terezin. It just didn't seem right to take pictures while I was touring the grounds. This picture is of the cemetery near the camp.

It was built as a fort in the 18th century and was later used as a prison in the early 20th century. Its most famous prisoner was Gavrilo Princip, the assassin that killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand which helped kick off World War I. During World War II it was used as a transit camp in the form of a ghetto for European Jews on their way to Auschwitz or Treblinka. It was used as a tool of propaganda to prove against the existence of extermination camps.  The representatives of the Red Cross toured the camp during the war looking for proof of the extermination camps and wouldn't find any proof to the rumors of gas chambers. They'd shipped most of the occupants off to the death camps to make the place look more humane before the Red Cross came for their visits.  While there we watched a short propaganda film that the Nazis made of the Jewish kids playing soccer in the courtyard. It was very eerie.

When Madeleine Albright's name was thrown into the ring to be the US Secretary of State (under Clinton from 1997 to 2001), her background was researched more than it ever had before.  It was then that she discovered not only did her family have Jewish origins, but many members of her extended family died in the camps.  Her grandparents lived in Terezin and if her parents hadn't emigrated from Prague to England in 1939 (when she was two years old), her life would have came to a similar end.    


Olga said...

I did not know that about Madeleine Albright. Such a sad chapter--and sadly not all that unique--in the tales of genocide.

ManOfWow said...

She's been making the rounds in different radio shows and podcasts talking about her new book, Prague Winter. I haven't read it but I have heard her talk about it enough to know what it is about. Seem like it would be a very interesting read.