For the Red Cross visit, even the SS Scharfuhrer [squad leader] Rudolph Haindl was nice to the children for the benefit of the camera . . . he posed for the camera, smiling, and not insisting that he be greeted by Jews from a distance of three steps, as he had demanded just the day before. The town was improved for the purpose of filming and also for the visit by the Danish Red Cross—a request that had been supported by the Swedish government. Jewish women even had to brush the pavement with their hair brushes to help get things ready. The city square, where once there had been only military parades, was transformed into a garden with a musical stage. The city temporarily took on the appearance of a seaside resort. Stores were filled with relatively nice things (not, of course, actually for sale—such things were forbidden for prisoners). For a few days there was even a bank that looked like a real bank. The apartments of prominent Jews were furnished with new furniture. So that nothing would be spoiled the Nazis sent their own people as spies to mingle with Jews on the street, disguised as Jews, complete with yellow stars. Kitchens were painted. All types of cultural events were permitted: opera, concerts and operettas such as Die Fledermaus were performed . . . Nurses were given white uniforms . . .
The visitors were suitably impressed, and the reports after the visit were positive. Pleased with their success, the Nazis decided to create a “documentary-style” film about Terezín in summer 1944. Kurt Gerron, an inmate who had been a well-known actor and director, was put in charge of the filming of The Führer Gives a City to the Jews, but he was not allowed to edit the film or even view the developed footage. Two weeks after the movie was completed, he and other participants were sent to Auschwitz. Gerron was gassed soon after his arrival.
Despite the facade, Terezín was no paradise. During World War II, more than 140,000 Jews passed through Terezín. About 33,000 died there from malnutrition, disease, and overwork. Many of the rest were shipped to death camps. Fewer than 17,000 survived the war. After the war, some Germans claimed that all they knew about the concentration camps was what they had heard about Terezín.
- Why did the Nazis want to create a “model” ghetto-camp? Why did they want outsiders to see it? What changes did they make to Terezín in preparation for the visit from the International Red Cross?
- Based on what you read about Denmark in the reading Denmark: A Nation Takes Action, why do you think the Danish government was able to persuade the Nazis to let its representatives tour Terezín?
- What impact did Terezín have on those who saw and heard about it?