Years have passed since I visited Terezin. Given the context, “visited” seems a strange word, as “the Fuhrer’s gift to the Jews” is no hospitable place. In spite of today’s clean and uncrowded buildings, there’s still the feeling of being on the set of a horror movie.
Current images on TV remind me of that concentration camp outside Prague.
“The ghetto of Terezin (Theresienstadt)… was created to cover up the Nazi genocide of the Jews….[T]his “model ghetto” was the site of a Red Cross inspection visit in 1944 and of a propaganda film produced by the Nazis.”
Terezin was a P.R. site, meant to assure the world that the Nazis weren’t really so bad. Of the more than 150,000 Jews sent there, 15,000 were children. Fewer than 150 children survived. Among the Terezin exhibits, for me the most compelling were pictures children drew while imprisoned. Along with poems these pictures have been compiled in the book, “…I never saw another butterfly…”
For now Trump has backed down from his child-separation policy. Yet recent news about children being pulled away from their parents still troubles me. While journalists have not been allowed entry into the facilities, photos released by our government show rather pleasant accommodations: spacious well-lit rooms, beds with blankets. Older boys move about in orderly fashion. Like “summer camps” for immigrants, Laura Ingraham, of Fox News said.
Do you see why I’m reminded of Terezin?
When I was young I lived with a German family in Berlin for one year. My German father had fought for Nazi Germany under Rommel, the Desert Fox. How did people I came to love and respect become engulfed by such an abhorrent ideology, I often wondered. Based on what I’m witnessing in the U.S. today, I see how discrimination against Jews moved from hostile rhetoric to extermination. Hitler didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. Over time his ethos became normalized and widely accepted by Germans.
Trump’s spokespeople have used talking points for defending the incarceration of children. “Parents put their children’s lives in danger” is one. Do those speaking for the president really believe that a father and mother decide to leave relatives, their cultural and linguistic heritage, that they pack a few essential items and walk across a desert in the summer heat, all without regard for their children? Many leave because staying in their homeland means death, either by hunger or violence. They leave for the sake of their sons and daughters.
In the 1940s many Jewish parents found ways to sneak their children out of German-occupied countries. Illegal actions. Sometimes they paid strangers to carry the children to safety. Efforts were fraught with danger. Getting caught meant death for parents, children, and abettors.
Then and now parents have been forced to make excruciating choices.
Since writing the first part of this, I’ve been made aware of
HR4391: Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children.
“No Way to Treat a Child”: https://nwttac.dci-palestine.org
Nancy Werking Poling is author of “Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987),” “Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman,” and “Out of the Pumpkin Shell.”