“THERESIENSTADT – LAST STOP OF CENTRAL EUROPEAN JEWS”
Meetings to Renew the Memory of Central European Jewry - Dr. Margalit Shlain
Tel Aviv, November 24, 2011
On the morning of November 24, 1941, three hundred and forty young men went on their journey from Prague to the fortified town Theresienstadt, a vanguard for tens of thousands of Jews of the Protectorate, to erect there – so they believed – “a Jewish town”, a sort of “night asylum” until the storm blows over. On December 4, 1941, a second group left Prague with 17 young men and 4 young women, headed by Yaakov Edelstein
; they were to be the future Jewish leadership of ghetto Theresienstadt. Edelstein – who before the journey was nominated by the Germans as Jewish elder of ghetto Theresienstadt, believed that the ghetto he was about to establish would save at least part of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia from deportation to the “East”. The Germans, on their part, had other plans. The shock was as big as the hope had been: “When the doors of the barracks were closed behind us for the first time, we understood that the intent was rather a prison than a Jewish town”.
To mark the 70th
anniversary of the establishment of ghetto Theresienstadt, a number of events will take place in Israel, with participation of guests from Israel and abroad, to renew the memory of Central European Jewry – “Theresienstadt – Last Stop of Central European Jews”
– from November 24 to 25, 2011. The meetings and events will be a unique contribution to Israel’s relations of with countries in Central Europe, by stressing the contribution of this Jewry to European culture and to Jewish identity as well.
“Men carries his culture with him”, and therefore, when the last of these Jewish communities were deported to ghetto Theresienstadt, the only ghetto established in Central Europe, they caused a cultural blossoming in midst of destruction, at their last stop before annihilation.
This cultural blossoming brought in its wake that in the collective memory of the Holocaust era in a certain measure even today, there is – paradoxically – the image of ghetto Theresienstadt as having had reasonable living conditions, corresponding to the image the German propaganda machine tried to present. In fact, the ghetto served as concentration and transit camp in the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, operating from November 24, 1941, until liberation on May 8, 1945. The only ghetto that existed until the end of the war, where out of about 159.000 Jews – brought there, mainly from Central Europe – , some 30.000 survived.
The struggle to preserve life, culture and Jewish identity was successful. In the midst of destruction the Jewish prisoners created a society, upholding humane values and dignity, as against the German’s efforts to eradicate the humaneness – to make people into numbers – to naught.
At the meetings the contribution of Jewish culture to the development of Jewish communities in Central Europe in particular and European culture in general will be investigated; as well as the Jewish reaction to the break-up of Jewish communities in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Holland. The growing attachment to the Jewish community and the establishment of alternative frameworks to keep their cultural values: in literature, art, music and theatre, lectures and seminars, educational frameworks, sport, youth movements, and occupational re-training centers were established with one aim: to live the day, to safeguard the self, from nothingness
The meetings will also investigate the question of memory and oblivion
. Six millions of Jewish Holocaust victims – this is an unfathomable number, whose meaning is anonymous and therefore the meetings will also deal with preservation of human identity in the Holocaust. Personalities who contributed to the resistance of Central European Jews in the years 1933 – 1941 will be examined as well as undertakings to memorialize this Jewry.
The encounters will be held mainly on the week of November 24, 2011, there will be multi-disciplinary sessions and will include both, academic sessions with lectures on various historical, sociological and pedagogical subjects and meetings, performances and events focusing on a wide range of cultural endeavors developed in Central Europe and ghetto Theresienstadt.
On November 24, 2011, there will be a special evening designed to mark the Central European culture of the Jews who found themselves – nolens volens – in ghetto Theresienstadt and who, to their last breath, created this culture as an act of resistance in their desperate situation.
All survivors of the ghetto, together with the following generations, will be invited to this event, as an expression of appreciation to their ability to survive the horror and to go on to build a life in Israel, for future generations.
On that week, there will be study meetings, both academic and cultural, in remembrance and commemoration of important personalities of cultural life in the ghetto. At the meetings we will examine their roots, appreciate their power and investigate their influence on the life of ghetto prisoners.