You have to see the city of Prague. It’s spectacular; there is nothing like it amongst the leading cities of the world. We have heard such a review from people who have visited this historical European city, and on Tuesday morning we finally saw it for ourselves.
The surroundings look neatly measured. The buildings are aligned alongside one another in perfect symmetrical formation, not one protrudes even an inch beyond the one standing next to it. The stores and shops in what is still known as the Jewish Quarter are the top of the international line in fashion, from Prada to Chanel and so on from there.
Here’s the other important thing about Prague — its ground is soaked with Jewish blood. And perhaps that is precisely why we are here this week, and why it is so vitally important to be here and witness the history for yourself.
The Czech Republic has its own complicated history, having separated from Slovenia in 1993, creating two countries. But for now our presence here revolves around Terezín, or Theresienstadt, the former concentration camp that sits on thousands of carefully constructed acres right outside the center of the city.
The Nazis managed and ran over 40,000 concentration, labor, and death camps. Terezín, here in Prague, was what we commonly refer to as a “show” camp, where Nazi leadership was able to take representatives of the Red Cross, for example, and demonstrate to them how well and humanely the Jews were being treated despite rumors (true rumors, it would turn out) to the contrary.
Terezín was a Nazi facade, a former Czech military fortress with expansive, well-built castle-like structures as far as the eye can see. Here Jews who were imprisoned by the Nazis were able to work at their craft and profession as a way of convincing them and the world at large that while the Nazis were seeking to establish a new world order, it was being done humanely
and with consideration for the people involved.
As a result, those brought to witness the way Terezín functioned saw classical music being performed, artists allowed to paint, dancers to dance, and actors to act. What the world was tragically unaware of is that most of these artists and performers put on display for the Red Cross were thereafter systematically murdered.
The Nazi “philosophy” — if you can assign their wanton butchery and devastation that type of characterization — was that Jews were a danger to the society Hitler envisioned for the world, and needed to be dealt with.
While Nazis were cavalierly murdering Jews going back to when Hitler came into power in 1933, the killing machine that they devised did not reach its apex until 1942.
In Terezín, we are told by our guide, history professor Peter Hodal, it was determined at the outset that the capacity for inmates at any one time was 7,000. In fact, the Nazis held 60,000 Jews here through the years the camp functioned. While there was chamber music as well as stage productions taking place here, there was also torture and murder being carried out simultaneously.
Because this was a show camp, the living quarters for the inmates were somewhat better than those you can see at Auschwitz-Birkenau or Majdanek in Poland. Still, that may be a generous overestimation. They were rather seedy and difficult to behold even all these years later.
Terezín had its very own killing mechanism and crematoria; tens of thousands were starved to death, murdered, and then incinerated. The ovens here, still very much on display, were much less efficient than those in Auschwitz, we are told. While here it took almost 30 minutes to cremate someone, at Auschwitz hundreds could be dealt with during that same time period.
There are handsome and impressive memorials here making certain that that which took place here will always be remembered. The Nazis justified the genocide they were perpetrating by claiming they were dealing with an element of society that was a danger to them. It is astounding, but that same corrupted rationale is being used by some world leaders today.
When Assad in Syria is confronted with the fact that he has murdered over half a million people in his country, he responds that all he is doing is fighting terror and sometimes there is collateral damage contained inside those efforts that seek to bring peace or rectify society in some manner.
Even last week, when Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked by Fox News reporter Chris Wallace why so many who oppose him politically wind up dead, Putin said the same thing happens in the U.S. Putin looked straight at Wallace and said, “Was Kennedy assassinated in Russia or the U.S.?”
On Monday, when Israel shot down a Syrian jet fighter over the Golan, the Syrians announced the jet was fighting terror near the border and had no nefarious objectives in Israel.
All probably not true and very much a chapter out of the Nazi World War II playbook.
Around the same time the Nazis were systematically killing millions of Jews, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the war. President Roosevelt ordered more than 100,000 Japanese U.S. citizens interred in camps, as they were considered a security risk.
At the time, the Red Cross asked to be allowed into those internment camps but was refused access by the U.S. It was the Nazis who highlighted this by noting that they let the Red Cross into Terezín while the U.S. would not comply with a similar request.
There is much more to say and write. From here, we are traveling to Israel to spend a week with Joe and Karen Frager, Mike Huckabee, and Anthony Scaramucci and his wife, Deidre. We are being joined by several other couples for a visit that once again testifies to the strength and vitality of Israel and Am Yisrael.
The Nazis and others who sought to harm Jews, today notwithstanding, are history. The bottom line is Am Yisrael Chai, the nation of Israel lives.