At first glance I may seem an unlikely person to spread the word about Terezin. I converted to Judaism in college after many years of study, and as far as I know, I have no Jewish ancestry. In college and graduate school I studied literature and psychology, not Jewish studies, and my research on Terezin has been entirely self-conducted.
I also have a strong creative drive and for years have been writing fiction and poetry and creating visual art. The fact that so many creative geniuses were imprisoned in Terezin, the fact that the children and young people bravely continued to create art, poems, and even a literary magazine called Vedem resonated strongly with me from the start. I don’t exactly remember how I first learned of Terezin. It may have been the reference to the butterfly poem in the documentary Paper Clips, about a school in Tennessee that built an incredible Holocaust memorial. I began to research Terezin and learned that many creative works were produced there, including poems and artwork, a children’s opera, symphonies and plays.
Much of the children’s poetry and artwork was hidden away in suitcases by a talented artist and extraordinary educator named Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. The suitcases were eventually discovered and the poems were published in anthologies and the artwork put on display in exhibits worldwide. Very little is known about the identity of the young people who produced these poems, generally nothing more than a name, a birthdate and hometown, and the time and place of death. Less than 200 of the 15,000 children survived the war, most of them were deported to Auschwitz and murdered on arrival.
After reading a number of books on the topic, I found myself wanting to visit Terezin to get a sense of the ghetto for myself. I bought a travel guide on the Czech Republic, though it would be several years before I had the opportunity to visit. When I finally did visit, I was inspired to write a young adult novel which was set in part at Terezin. Initially, I believed this novel would provide a way for me to spread the word about Terezin. After realizing how incredibly difficult it is to get a book published, I knew I had to find another way to share this story with others, and eventually this blog was born.
I’ll begin by giving you a tour of the landscape and buildings that make up Terezin, which I experienced for myself in January, 2011. Next I will share the story of my visit.