In 1941, the Nazis developed a plan to establish a ghetto in the northwestern Czech town of Theresienstadt, which was originally built as a garrison in 1780 by Emperor Joseph II. The major purposes of the plan were (1) to concentrate in Theresienstadt most of the Jews from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as certain categories of Jews from Germany and western Europe such as prominent persons and persons of special merit; (2) to transfer the Jews gradually to the extermination camps; and (3) to establish a "model" settlement to show to concerned officials of international organizations such as the Red Cross. The first deportees reached Theresienstadt from Prague in November, 1941. At its peak, over 53,000 persons were crowded into an area of 125,000 square yards. Due to the unbearable overcrowding, absence of sanitation and malnutrition, disease spread so quickly that the death rate was over 50% in 1942. Between November 24, 1941, and April 20, 1945, 140,937 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt of whom 33,529 died in the Ghetto and 88,196 were transferred to death camps. There were 17,427 persons in the Ghetto when it was liberated.

    The first head of the ghetto council was Jakob Edelstein, who was head of the Zionist organization in Prague. Ultimately, there were eight major administrative departments in the ghetto: Internal Affairs; Economics; Technical; Finance; Health and Welfare; Labor; Youth Welfare; and Recreation. As more and more prominent Jews from Germany arrived at the ghetto, the Nazis decided to replace Edelstein with a German Jew, Paul Eppstein.  Edelstein was executed at Auschwitz on June 20, 1944.

Ghetto or Concentration Camp

    Although Theresienstadt was called a ghetto, it more resembled a concentration camp. Among the factors identifying it with a concentration camp are the following:

        1. Ghettos were part of a larger community, whereas concentration camps are self contained units, such as Theresienstadt.

        2. All the Polish ghettos had an existing Jewish community, whereas concentration camps are created anew, such as Theresienstadt.

        3. In ghettos families could live together, whereas in concentration camps they could not. Most families were not permitted to live togther in Theresienstadt.

        4. Most importantly, the Nazis seemed to have treated Theresienstadt as a concentration camp. Theresienstadt was under the control of the RSHA which had jurisdiction over concentration camps.

    Even though it may be likened to a concentration camp, it certainly had a special status. It was the only camp designed solely for Jews and was certainly less brutal than most others. Also, it had a high degree of self administration.  At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, Heydrich made it clear that Theresienstadt would house those Jews whose disappearance might cause inquiries or adverse comments, such as World I veterans, elderly persons and friends of prominent Aryans. However, the principal purpose of Theresienstadt was, as stated by Heydrich, the difficulties of evacuating Jews from the Protectorate which could be overcome by establishing a "temporary concentration camp" at Theresienstadt.


    In addition to the main ghetto camp, a prison for political prisoners was run by the Gestapo in an old fort which had been built by Maria Theresa in 1780.  The Czech name for the prison was "Mala Pernost", and the German name was "Kleine Festung".  It is believed that the only survivors of the prison were the prisoners liberated by the Russians.  Below are thumbnails of the front and back of three postcards from prisoners at Kleine Festung.  The first is dated January 12, 1940, and contains a cachet indicating that food will not be accepted; the second is dated December 31, 1940, and contains a cachet indicating that food will not be accepted; and the third is dated September 15, 1943.   Please click on the thumbnail to see the full image, and then click your back key or "Prison" in the left frame to return.

Kleine_PC_1_1.jpg (69992 bytes)  Kleine_PC_1_2.jpg (70248 bytes)  Kleine_PC_2_1.jpg (72189 bytes)  Kleine_PC_2_2.jpg (75563 bytes)  Kleine_PC_3_1.jpg (80080 bytes) Kleine_PC_3_2.jpg (76601 bytes)

Philatelic Materials




Ghetto Documents


Frantisek Benes and Patricia Tosnerova, Mail Service in the Ghetto Terezin 1941-45 (1996)

Sam Simon, Handbook of the Mail in the Concentration Camps 1933-1945 and Related Material, (1973).  Referred to as Simon

Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition, Keter Publishing

Feig, Hitlers Death Camps (1979) 

Berkely, Hitlerís Gift, The Story of Theresienstadt, (1993)

Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, P. 1460-63



Copyright © 2002 Edward Victor