Terezin Camp – National Suffering Memorial
Terezin is synonymous with the control and attempted destruction of the Bohemian Community. Basically a transit camp that takes on the appearance of a ghetto, it is only a 40 minute drive from central Prague (D8 motorway exit 35 and follow the signs). Organised tours do this place as a half-day 5 hour trip but there’s also a public transport option if you want a more leisurely look around (check the bottom of this page for details).
What Was the Terezin Complex?
In German it’s called Theresienstadt. Built by King Joseph II in what becomes called the “Sudetenland” which was an area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire largely populated by ethnic Germans. Named after his mother Queen Maria Theresa it was designed as a river defence complex and army barracks comprising two fortresses. To the east, the Small Fortress and to the west the Main Fortress which was a walled town. Its primary role was to defend against attack from Saxony. In total the complex area was a little under four square kilometres and could accommodate just over 5000 soldiers in peacetime.
When Does Terezin Become a Death Camp?
First let’s agree on what “death camp” means. Terezin was never supposed to be a “final destination”. It was a transit camp for the collection and processing of “undesirable people” including Ethnic groups, handicapped, homosexuals, political opponents and Czech Jews with a view to sending them to places like Treblinka, Lodz and Auschwitz etc. It was a true ghetto. With it’s own governing council and police force the community tried to maintain it’s own order to the point of having everybody ready for transport without knowing the “final solution” awaited them. Figures show that around 33,000 people died here largely due to the appalling conditions given that it had to host ten times the people it had been designed for. It was from 1940 that the Nazis began to convert Terezin to a mass holding area and the first people arrived here in late 1941. By the end of the war more than 150,000 had been through Terezin with more than half of them going on to Auschwitz. At the time of liberation there were 17,247 survivors at Terezin. Hundreds of the people sent to Terezin are memorialised with Stumble Stones. Also be sure to read the inspirational story of the Terezin Ghetto Editors.
Terezin was liberated on May 2nd 1945 when the camp was given over to the Red Cross. The Russian Army formally took control on May 9th 1945. The following day May 10th the Small Fortress became a holding area with captured troops for prosecution and ethic Germans. These ethnic Germans were then expelled from the country back into Germany.
In 1947 the site was named as a “National Suffering Memorial” but the camp was still being used as an army barracks until 1966.
Here are three tours to Terezin that I recommend. For the half-day and whole-day tours then you might want to take a packed lunch or accept that you’ll only get a short time for a lunch break so it’ll have to be something quick. The private tour option allows for a more leisurely tour. All great guides. Remember that if you book any tour to Terezin be sure to check the transport detail. None of the tours below use public transport but you’ll find others do.
Half-Day Small Group or Private Terezin Tour
Of all the Half-day options the Precious Legacy Terezin Tour is probably my favourite. It specialises in tours of Jewish sites and can arrange kosher meals (packed lunch) as part of the tour if required. The knowledge level should be top grade. Note that this tour runs as a small group (max 12 at time of writing) or it can be taken privately.
Check the Precious Legacy Terezin 5 Hour Small Group or Private Tour
The Regular Half-Day Tour
If you are doing this as a half-day and you want hotel pick-up then I recommend this one. You are in Terezin for approximately 3.5 hours with an hour drive each side via private transport. During that 3.5 hours you get a guided tour of the Terezin complex and the Ghetto Museum.
Check the Half-Day 5.5 Hour Tour of Terezin
The Whole Day Tour
This is going to work out somewhere between 7 and 8 hours for the day so that’s @5 or 6 hours at Terezin but at least it’s a non-stop private bus. I recommend it only for people who want to take the extra time to explore. Note that there is no hotel pick-up and no food included so I strongly advise taking a packed lunch. Personally I think 5-6 hours at Terezin is too much as part of an organised tour. Consider the Half-day instead and if you want more time to explore then you should be looking at a private option.
Check the Whole-Day Terezin Tour
There’s a very good interactive map on the Vedem Terezin website. People often get confused when they read about people being sent from the Dresden Barracks or the Hamburg Barracks. These were just buildings within the Terezin complex.
Getting There and Back
It’s a popular half-day organised tour but if you do want to get there on your own then a bus leaves from the Holesovice Bus Station every 30 minutes (usually stand 7, pay the driver). It’ll take just under an hour and at the time of writing cost CZK90. You can get off the bus either at the small fortress or a few minutes later at the main square close to the large fortress. Note that after 5pm buses coming back are hourly and last bus back is around 8pm. If you are searching timetables then it’s “Terezin, okres Litomerice”. Driving is pretty simple as you leave Prague on the D8 Motorway, get off at exit 35 and you are there in less than 3 minutes. Drivers heading for Dresden or Bohemian Switzerland have this as an optional stop.