Terezín—a former garrison town originally built by Emperor Joseph II, as an ingenious system of military fortresses for the protection of the kingdom against Prussia, at the end of the 18th century—was completely changed and turned into a Jewish Ghetto (and used as a transit camp for Jews whose final destination was Auschwitz concentration camp by the Nazis) during the World War II. By the end of war some 150.000 Jews had passed through Terezín and further 35,000 died of disease and starvation. At the same time Germans used Terezín for their misrepresented propaganda purposes, persuading Red Cross visitors that this was a flourishing cultural and commercial centre. Now Terezin remembers its dark history of WWII where thousands of Jews died.
Orientation to Terezin
When visiting, you should buy the 200 CZK ticket, which will allow you access to all of the different areas of the camp, including the Hidden Synagogue, Museum of the Ghetto and Magdeburg Barracks. Most of the areas are open every day from 9am until 6pm (April to October) or 9am until 5:30pm (November to March). You should remember though that the Crematorium and the Columbarium are closed on Saturday, and that the Crematorium opens at 10am and closes at 4pm (November to March). Also, the Small Fortress opens at 8am and closes at 4:30pm (November to March).
If you wish to receive a guided tour of the camp, they will be offered in English but only if there are enough people there to merit holding one. To avoid disappointment, you can call ahead to reserve a space.
Tip: If you are thinking about visiting Terezín on a guided excursion from Prague it’s recommended to opt for a private excursion with flexible hours (check current offers with Prague Airport Transfers). Most regular shared excursions tend to be a bit rushed, allowing only two hours of free time. A minimum of three hours are recommended there.
The Ghetto Museum
Every visit should begin with the Ghetto Museum, established in 1991, and founded in Komenského in the centre of town. It includes a memorial to the 1000’s of kids who died there. The pictures drawn by them are touchingly exhibited. A video compares parts of Nazi propaganda clips that distorted the information about Terezín with modern pictures showing the realities of that camp. Tourists can purchase a ticket giving them access to every site, and obtain helpful maps which will display their location to you.
Admission: adult 170 CZK or child 140 CZK; combined with Lesser Fortress, adult 210 or child 160 CZK.
The Small Fortress (Malá pevnost)
This sits on the fringe of town on the opposite side of River Ohře. While there always had been a jail here, starting in 1940, it turned into a jail run by the S.S.. When you approach it, you notice the big Jewish and Christian cemeteries, that have many gravestones that are unmarked. Inside the meandering fortress, you can go to the claustrophobic cells and solitary confinement blocks.
Admission: adult 170 CZK or child 140 CZK; combined with Ghetto Museum, adult 210 or child 160 CZK.
The crematorium, situated around ½ a mile (one kilometre) southwards of the large museum, was utilized to get rid of the bodies of 2500 people who were executed, or who died, inside the fortress and a minimum of 30000 more that died inside the ghetto. To the side of the crematorium, on a mass grave area, is a cemetery for Jews. Once the burial site had filled up, the dead had to be burned at this spot.
The Barracks Of Magdeburg
Among these areas are the Barracks of Magdeburg, a short distance southwards on Tyršova, in the dwelling where the autonomous ghetto council based its’ offices. Exhibitions document the culture of camp life, and describe the artists, writers and musicians who carried on working constructively.
Other exhibitions feature the reconstructing of a female dormitory and the graphic pictures of existence in the packed ghetto. Lots of artists who paid to make these were executed in the Small Fortress for being perpetrators of a ‘propaganda of horror’ with their drawings that were too realistic.
Eating at Terezín
The Memorial Cafe and Restaurant serving Czech dishes is the only option. Meals range from 130 to 300 CZK. A better option is to head to Litoměřice, just 3km to the north. The town square has a choice of good eateries.
Address: náměstí Československé armády 179; www.terezin.cz. Open 8am-5pm Mon-Thu, 8am-1.30pm Fri, 9am-3pm Sun, closed Sat.
Getting there from Prague
Terezin is approximately 40 miles to the northwest of Prague, and the best way to get there is to use either a bus or book a tour with pickup from your hotel. Buses going to Terezin leave every hour from Holešovice train station in Prague. If you are arriving by Metro here, head towards the front of the train and then go upstairs, before then turning right and making your way to the end of the corridor. You will then see the buses directly in front of you, with the bus to Terezin leaving from Platform 7 (you should buy your ticket from the driver and head in the direction of Litoměřice).
When using the bus, the journey should take around 50 minutes, when you will arrive at the bus stop near to the Museum of the Ghetto. Occasionally the bus will stop earlier, outside the Small Fortress instead, but my self-guided tour works better if you disembark at the stop in the centre of town (you will know this stop as it is the one directly after the bus passes a field filled with crosses to the right, before then making its way over the river).
Tip: Book online excursion to the Terezín here.