The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/theresienstadt/theresien.10

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Holocaust Almanac: Theresienstadt & The Danish Red Cross
Summary: Himmler sets the stage for a visit by the Danish Red Cross,
         creating what amounted to a movie set in order to make the
         camp appear benign.
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Keywords: theresienstadt

Archive/File: holocaust/czechoslovakia/theresienstadt theresien.10
Last-Modified: 1994/09/28

   "In May 1944, following repeated appeals from the Danish Red Cross,
   which above all wanted to see how its compatriots were being
   treated, Himmler finally agreed to permit a commission of the
   International Red Cross to visit Theresienstadt and a Jewish labor
   camp. The visit to the ghetto was set for June 23.

   Three days before the commission's visit, all the Danish Jews were
   transferred to small rooms with two or three beds, pretty
   bed-spreads, a table, chairs, a pot with a real plant, and on the
   door a nameplate with the tenants' names. In the presence of the
   camp commandant and Eichmann's emissary, Mo"hs, Epstein, the Elder
   of the Jews, spoke to the Danes and warned them not to tell the
   truth. Those Danes for whom better rooms could not be found were
   locked up in the offices of the Magdeburg barracks for the duration
   of the visit, so that the commission would not bump into them.

   In the interest of the grand display, Eichmann permitted the
   rescue committee in Budapest to officially transfer $10,000 to the
   Protectorate Jews. The ghetto leadership received new stationery
   headed by an idyllic scene of Theresienstadt, and the leaders of
   the Zionist movement - Kahn, Munk, Zucker, Epstein, O"sterreicher -
   wrote letters to Joel Brand in Budapest thanking him for the many
   shipments of packages from Lisbon and Istanbul: 'Our food supply is
   totally adequate and there is no need whatsoever for you to worry
   about it, but we are glad of the packages as a sign of your

   The letter stated further that 'Theresienstadt is in all respects a
   Jewish city; all the work is done by Jews, from street cleaning to
   the most advanced medical treatment, from all technical work to
   cooking in the communal kitchens, from manning the fire brigade and
   police force to staffing the legal system and postal service, from
   running a bank with its own currency to organizaing cultural
   programs, lectures, plays, concerts, a library with 50,000 volumes,
   children's houses, old-age residences. The good general state of
   health is in no small part due to Theresienstadt's excellent
   climate, but also to the doctors' tireless efforts and the regular
   supply of medicine. We sometimes think of friends and the
   possibility of immigration. As we see from your letter, you too
   hope to achieve this solution, and not on a small scale.'

   Franta Friedmann, the Elder of the Jews in Prague, where only
   half-Jews and a handful of Jews of mixed marriages remained, sent a
   letter that same week in the same saccharine-sweet tone. He too
   told of the rich and proud Jewish life in the ghetto, despite the
   fact that he had never been permitted to visit Theresienstadt. The
   similarity in content and date showed that both letters had been
   written on instructions from above.

   The Germans spared no Jewish money, effort, or manpower to improve
   Theresienstadt's image. A modern children's home was built of wood
   and glass, with new beds, adjoining showers, and a playground with
   a swimming pool. A villa, til now occupied by one of the German
   citizens, became the (temporary) infirmary for sick children.
   Painted signs were hung in the streets. The residences along the
   route mapped out for the commission were literally white-washed to
   cover up all telltale signs of grime visible at a superficial
   glance. The bank director's office was furnished in keeping with
   his position. The former cinema, which had served as living
   quarters for masses of old people, reverted to its former purpose
   as an auditorium. The former Sokol building, which had housed the
   chronically ill and those with communicable diseases, was masked as
   a social center, with a performance hall and synagogue, and cafe
   tables with gay umbrellas were set out on its veranda.

   The program for the visit was worked out to the tiniest detail,
   with mounting tension. Epstein prepared written answers to any
   questions the visitors might ask and submitted them to headquarters
   for approval. Sidewalks were scrubbed with soap and water, the food
   staff was issued white gloves, the disabled were ordered not to
   leave their quarters, rehearsals were held for athletic shows and
   plays to be put on for the visitors. Rahm, a skilled organizer who
   was better than his predecessor at putting on a friendly face,
   checked every point along the route with Mo"hs; the show must pass
   without incident. On a fine summer day, the distinguished entourage
   appeared: Dr. Franz Hvass, representative of the Danish Foreign
   Office; Dr. Yuel Henningsen, representing the Danish health
   commissioner on behalf of the Danish Red Cross; Dr. M. Rossel,
   commissioner of the International Red Cross; the commissioner of
   the German Red Cross; the heads of the Gestapo in the Protectorate,
   the head of the department for Jewish affairs, representatives of
   the German Foreign Office, the Czech propaganda minister Moravec,
   all in civilian clothing. Epstein received them dressed in a black
   suit and top hat, as befit the head of a Jewish city during a roayl
   visit. A car was put at his disposal, a carpet had been laid in his
   office, and there he gave the visitors an introductory talk on the
   ghetto, complete with figures, few of which matched the facts.

   The visit lasted from the morning till seven in the evening, with a
   break for a long and festive lunch. The guests saw a group of
   suntanned agricultural workers pass by, as if by chance, hoes on
   their shoulders, laughing and singing. At food distribution they
   heard the domitory children ask, as primed: 'Uncle Rahm, are we
   getting sardines again?' They saw a performance of the children's
   opera Brundibar. They did not see the mass residences, the quarters
   of the old or mentally ill, the transport files, the thousands of
   cartons containing ashes, the Czech police on guard. Like obedient
   children they walked along the route laid out for them, and their
   general impression was exceedingly positive, as revealed in ther
   reports, written on their return to their respective countries.
   Most impressed was Dr. Rossel, the representative of the
   International Red Cross in Geneva, who in a confidential report
   wondered whith surprise why the Germans had postponed the visit for
   so long: they had nothing to hide after all. Theresienstadt was in
   all respects an admirable Jewish city, unifying the various
   elements of the Jewish population, who had come from different
   countries and diverse economic levels. There was no shortage of
   furniture, carpets, curtains. The living quarters were comfortable,
   though somewhat crowded: one flat was shared by two or three
   families. The nutrition appeared adequate and ghetto residents even
   received items that had long since disappeared from the market
   outside. The dining rooms were spacious (they had been set up for
   the day with waitresses in white aprons).


   From the German viewpoint, according to Neuhaus, the visit had
   passed satisfactorily in all respects. Since the representatives of
   the Danish Red Cross were satisfied that all the Danes had remained
   in Theresienstadt, and their chief worry after all had been for the
   Danish Jews, they did not insist on a visit to an additional labor
   camp and there was no longer any need to keep the stage set with
   the family camp at Birkenau. It no longer served any purpose."
   (Bondy, 437-41)

   (The Birkenau family camp, no longer needed, was liquidated in July.
   After using their set stage for a propaganda film, the Nazis sent
   many of Theresienstadt's residents to Birkenau, where they were
   liquidated. Others were sent to Germany as slave labor - seven
   hundred and fifty survived to see the end of the war, out of over
   3,000 that were sent to German camps.)
                             Work Cited

   Bondy, Ruth.  Elder of the Jews.  New York: Grove Press, 1989.
   (Translated from "Edelshtain neged had-zeman".  Zmora, Bitan,
   Modan, publishers, 1981

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