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Home >> Beit Theresienstadt >> The Founding of Beit Theresienstadt
 
The founding of Beit Theresienstadt

The dim sensation felt by the about 150 members present at our May 1955 first gathering, ripened - after twenty five years since the liberation, with more economic stability and ability to confront the pain of the past - to a decision : survivors of ghetto Terezin in Israel, together with members of Zionist youth movements among them, have to establish an Association, that not only will organize meetings for the living, but an Educational-Cultural Institution should be founded to honor the memory of those that did not survive, especially the members of Hechalutz headed by Jacob Edelstein, the first Elder of the Jews in ghetto Terezin.
Beyond the perpetuation, there was another reason - even if same was not discussed in the first meetings of the preparatory committee - the communist regime in Czechoslovakia ignored the murder of the Jews as Jews. The Small Fortress in Terezin - during the rule of the nazis was in use as a prison for political prisoners, among them also Jews - became a National Czech Commemoration Place for the victims of fascism. On the memorial plate in the Central Park in Terezin the town, there is not even a trace of the word Jews.
The Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, where after the war all the names of Czech and Moravian victims were hand-painted over its walls, was closed down to visitors during the communist regime. In the beginning due to technical reasons - the humidity spread out from the low foundations of the building to the walls and then because of renovation works - the place remained closed until after the 1989 revolution.
Many of the sittings of the Preparatory Committee (the members actually nominated themselves as there was nobody that could nominate them) - were dedicated to a discussion about principle questions: Is it possible that all other former ghetto prisoners join the Association which is about to be founded in future, or the members of Hechalutz only ? And maybe also all the people whose dearest ones were in transit via Terezin and then perished in the Holocaust? Gradually, during the years the frames were expanded and today all people interested in, supporting the work done and the aims to be reached - may join and be a member of the Association. With the legal registration of the Theresienstadt (Terezin) Martyrs Remembrance Association in 1966 it was clearly stated: More than anything else there is a need of a site (so far the sittings of the Committee took place in cafe- houses or offices of those members who were then in senior positions in all kind of institutions) - a place for gatherings, a site for commemoration and other activities, a central place for safeguarding the documentation and other material needed for research.
In those days, in various cities, there already existed sites for commemoration of victims from various communities according to the Diaspora and Holocaust map - most of them in desolated places during daytime, and during other days of the year too. Members of the Theresienstadt (Terezin) Martyrs Remembrance Association wanted a vivid place, in the middle of a settlement as an integral part of it - the natural choice was Kibbutz Givat Hayim - Ihud, and this in view the following reasons: in spite of the fact that there were fewer and fewer survivors of ghetto Terezin among the members in the Kibbutz (because many of them tried their luck in the cities) but among the kibbutz founders were many born in Germany and Austria, Zionist youth movements graduates, that part of their families had been deported to Terezin and then perished in the Holocaust. These members had a positive approach to the foundation and erection of a house on their Kibbutz premises, or to be more exact, on the premises of Keren Kayemet leased to the Kibbutz.
This and more: Givat Hayim is located in the middle of the country - anyway, the Association's members were dispersed all over the country - from Sde Nehemia in the Upper Galilee till Beer-Sheva in the south. Then, only very few of them were car owners, and a place in the center of the country will ease the access to all. And mainly: the Kibbutz by itself was viewed as a more suitable place to the spirit of the days in the past era. Actually, almost all of the Czechoslovak youth movements graduates meant to join one of the kibbutzim upon their alyia to Israel, but the reality was stronger than the ideals. Moreover, Jacob Edelstein their leader in time of the occupation, intended too to join the Givat Hayim Kibbutz (then so far not divided) after making the aliya to Israel. Therefore it was decided from the beginning, that part of the building which will be erected in future in Givat Hayim - Ihud, will be also used by the Kibbutz for their own cultural activities. As a result - the Kibbutz allocated a central site for the building, in the heart of its local institutions.
Following the negotiations with the kibbutz, and after Zeev Shek - one of the Association's founders started his service as Israel's Ambassador in Austria and obtained from the Jewish Community an obligation for a significant donation, and after fund rising among our members (about one tenth of one month salary), and after the architect Albin Glaser - also one of ghetto Terezin survivors - presented his proposals of the future structure's shape, three years after establishment of the Association - only then in a festive ceremony, the cornerstone for the building has been laid.

In the foundation scroll has been put down:

We, the survivors of ghetto Terezin, relatives and friends of all inhabitants of the ghetto that did not came back from the holocaust, that died in Terezin or perished on their way to death camps, today, 29. September 1969, the foundation cornerstone is being laid down for a library and archive to commemorate their memory of them.
In accordance with the spirit and approach of all our friends in "Hechalutz" and the Zionist Movement, that were not fortunate to live with us in the State of Israel, we did not want to erect a statue or a sculpture to commemorate them, an object that will symbolize indeed the past suffering, but will not serve as a bridge to the future. We asked to build a house that the life will continue to flow, that the young people will read and learn there, a place people will come to, sit down and make conversation within it's walls.
We wish to collect as much documentary material regarding the life in ghetto Terezin as possible, within our reach, including the names of all 140.000 Czechoslovak, German, Austrian, Denmark and Holland Jews, that passed through the gates of the ghetto during the four years of its existence - winter of 1941 until spring 1945 - hoping that the visitors who will come to honor their memory, will feel here some of the ghetto's mood, that they will be more understanding what it is like to maintain something like cultural life under a constant shadow of death, to safeguard the elements of justice and inner honesty, the relationship between friends and mutual help. Our sincere wish is that researchers will come, and will succeed to transmit to future generations a loyal image of ghetto Terezin with all the special features it had, that they will be able to give the proper articulation to the deeds and efforts of Jacob Edelstein and friends that surrounded him, that if they erred or were mistaken - only due to over-trust in human beings they erred, because they were not capable to grasp the full measure of the satanic nature of the German "supreme" beings.
The decision we have taken, to build the Beit Terezin in kibbutz
  G i v a t   C h a i m   I c h u d  was not incidental, but because many of the kibbutz members are the ghetto survivors: We wanted to build the site for commemoration of the dead in the heart of a bustle noisy place, in the midst of flowers and trees, among children and farmers, in order to express our faith that was also their faith.
K  I     N  E  T  Z  A  C  H     I  S  R  A  E  L     L  O     Y  I  S  H  A  K  E  R 

 
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