International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987

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Terezín

Location: Czech Republic

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Terezín is a military fortress built in the 18th century by the Enlightenment ruler Josef II and originally named Theresienstadt (German) after his mother Maria Theresa. (Terezín is its Czech name.) It is located in the Czech Republic, a short drive from Prague.

Terezín was intended as part of a system of royal defense fortresses which was never completed, and by the 19th century it had fallen into disuse and was largely abandoned. It was repurposed as a prison early in the 20th century and would later gain international notoriety after Hitler's 1939 invasion of Czechoslovakia led inevitably to mass imprisonment of Jews and others suspected of resisting the Nazi regime. In 1940 Terezín was assigned to the Gestapo who, naturally, faced a shortage of prison space for the many thousands of innocent people, including women and children, being arrested or detained daily at that time. Though not intended as an extermination camp, Terezín came to be used a holding ground for the overflow of prisoners awaiting transport to Auschwitz and other death camps. It is perhaps best thought of as a militarily enforced ghetto in whose appalling conditions of disease and malnutrition some 33,000 people died. More than 17,000 of Terezín's prisoners survived the war, but it is known that much higher numbers perished at Auschwitz or elsewhere.

In a rather poignant historical irony, many Nazi SS were later imprisoned here towards the end of, and after, World War II, and were subjected to various kinds of deprivation and, not surprisingly, revenge.

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