It was an overcast day in Terezín. The streets were empty, the sidewalks cracked. Paint peeled off the buildings, grass succumbed to dry dirt and the town gave the impression that it was sinking. Everything was silent, and then a shoeless little boy, alone, rode his bicycle past me and into the open doorway of a bar a block away from me. He dropped the bicycle where he dismounted and walked into the darkness within the building. He was one of the few people I saw outside in that town.
Aleah and I had taken the hour long bus ride to Terezín from Prague to see the concentration camp on the outskirts of the city. The camp itself is almost as big as the city around it, and though the camp is indeed separated from the town itself by a river, it’s history looms over everything around it.
The Terezín Concentration Camp is a bleak fortress that served as a transportation hub for prisoners. Terezín wasn’t necessarily where prisoners came to their deaths, it was where they were sent off to their deaths. Our tour guide told us stories of families being separated within Terezín’s walls, of escape attempts and the swift, fatal repercussions. He told us about the grotesque living conditions to which the prisoners were subjected, the liberties guards would take, the hopes some prisoners kept alive and the hopes that were dashed. My tour group, filled with sober-faced travelers from around the world, was silent, which was the sound most prevalent throughout Terezín. The only things heard were the echoes of our footsteps through the empty courtyards and halls.
At the end of the tour, we were given a list of museums and memorials to visit in the city proper, and Aleah and I made the
mile-long walk over the river to the town. It seemed to us that sometimes, when things so ugly of such magnitude happen in a place, time cannot wash them away. When sadness the likes of which flooded the barracks of Terezín all those years ago drowns so many, it seeps into the foundations of a city—it becomes a part of the grass that grows, the bricks that are laid, the generations that follow.
Aleah and I followed the map given to us by our tour guide from museum to museum, all the while peering through dusty or broken windows and through hanging doors as we went, looking for signs of life. We were affected by a
feeling of deep isolation and desolation, which, we felt, was appropriate, as it made us understand even more acutely how powerful the evil of this town’s heyday was. It is an evil from which it is impossible to recover, and an evil whose wretched claws have never fully relinquished their grasp from the heart of Terezín.
Even when Aleah and I got back to Prague, the rest of our day was spent as though we were walking in shadows. It was a somber day, but an important day, and a day no visit to Prague is complete without.