Our guide, Jiri, picked us up at our hotel. After a few minutes of introductions and small talk we climbed into his minivan and headed to Terezín. The drive there from Prague was about 45 minutes, and I used the time to explain to Jiri that my mother and her family were prisoners in Theresienstadt during the war, what I was hoping to find, and that I was working on a book.
The first thing I noticed was the heavy fog along the highway. Jiri told me that this area is known for fog. That’s why mom always describes Theresienstadt as gray. I can add that as a detail in the book somewhere.
As we approached Terezín, Jiri made a slight detour and brought us to the train station of Bohušovice nad Ohří. This is a small, innocuous looking building. When the camp first started, the Jews who were sold new homes, promised a spa for the elderly, and a beautiful place to settle, were forced to disembark here, and then walk the three kilometers to Theresienstadt. Later, when they were being shipped to their deaths at Auschwitz, they also had to walk along these streets. Eventually, the Nazis made them build the last three kilometers of track into the camp.
The drive from Bohušovice nad Ohří to Terezín was pleasant with tidy looking homes along the road. I wondered what the local residents did and thought when they saw the tired Jews being herded along their street. Jiri said that they closed their shades and hid. They were afraid of the Germans. They didn’t want to stick their necks out and get shot. They didn’t want to know too much.
Would I have done the same? I hope that I would have done something more — left some food on the street or put a sweater by the curb. Maybe I would have called out the window with words of encouragement to let those poor souls know they had a witness. I don’t know. How can anyone say what they would have done in a situation that they didn’t live through?
And what am I doing now? Am I helping refugees? There are many people in the world being mistreated by governments and immoral regimes. I don’t want to be one of the people hiding in my tidy home behind closed shades.