Zpravodaj 4/2014

Small Fortress in the times of WWI

Period postcard from Theresienstadt 1916, barracks in the Small Fortress, FAPT  12004

Period postcard from Theresienstadt 1916, barracks in the Small Fortress, FAPT 12004

Soon after the construction of the Terezín fortress complex in the late 18th century one part of it, the Small Fortress, began to serve as a prison. Perhaps the most famous prisoners from the period before the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic were those placed there during the First World War. They were members of the group Young Bosnia, who, in Bosnian Sarajevo on 28th June 1914, assassinated the heir to the Kingdoms and Lands represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of St. Stephen, Franz Ferdinand d’Este. In 2014, just 100 years have passed since this event, which became a pretext for Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia.

From 5th December 1914 Terezín held Gavrilo Princip himself, a man who fired the fatal shots on the Duke of Modena. Being underage he was not sentenced to death, but to 20 years in heavy prison. Princip’s imprisonment in the Small Fortress was very cruel. He was placed in solitary confinement and had to wear shackles weighing 10 kg. Overnight he was chained to the wall of his cell. He was not allowed to read, write or receive the post. Finally he fell ill with tuberculosis of bones and after a year and a half of his imprisonment in the Small Fortress he was transferred to the military hospital in Terezín. However, he did not live to see the establishment of Czechoslovakia and his possible release as he died here in April 1918. Along with Princip, other participants in the assassination arrived in the Small Fortress on the same day – Nedeljko Čabrinovič and Trifko Grabež. Nor they survived the harsh conditions of the Small Fortress prison: the first died in January 1916 and the second in October of the same year. All three of the above named were secretly buried in the municipal cemetery of Terezín without marking their graves in any way. Apart from them, other mates involved in the attack were placed in the Small Fortress: I. Kranjčevič (until September 1917), D. Stjepanovič (until September 1917) and L. Djukič (he died in the insane asylum in Bohnice in March 1917).

In terms of persons imprisoned in the Small Fortress within 1914 -1918, the deeds of whom significantly influenced the history, we shouldn’t forget more than 500 participants of the Rumburk military rebellion in May 1918, out of whom about 300 remained here until the end of the war.

Conditions of detention in the Small Fortress were very difficult, not only for the aforementioned people, but also for other prisoners. With war worsening the economic situation of the Habsburg Monarchy, the lives of prisoners became more and more difficult as well: food supply was totally inadequate and poor diet resulted in the increase in morbidity and mortality.

In addition to prison, the Small Fortress also served during WWI as an internment camp for Russophile population (whole families) from the area of Galicia, Bukovina and Transcarpathia in the total of about 1,000 people who were placed here from autumn 1914 to spring 1915. Their regime was obviously much looser than that of regular prisoners. They inhabited empty stables, warehouses, barracks and some of the mass prison cells. In winter 1914/1915, a large collection of clothing for them was held in Prague, and they were also materially supported by the population of Terezín and its surroundings.

In the vicinity of the Small Fortress were also POW camps during the World War I, which were housing soldiers of Russian, Serbian, Italian and Romanian armies. Like prison, nor these facilities provided satisfactory boarding and accommodation conditions. As a result, more than 2,000 prisoners died here, almost half of whom were residents of the Russian Empire. They were buried in the cemetery founded in the Bohušovice Basin.

After the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic in October 1918, POW camps were cancelled and disposed of. The Small Fortress, however, continued to serve as a military prison and jail. Based on testimonies, the graves of Princip, Čabrinovič and Grabež were localized at the municipal cemetery. In 1920, their remains were collected, transported to Sarajevo and stored there.


The Personality of Doctor Jan Levit and his connection to Terezin repressive facilities

In connection with the imprisonment of Gavrilo Princip in the Small Fortress and his disease, the personality of Dr. Jan Levit is to be mentioned.

Karel Vik: Dr. Levit’s Surgery, PT 9177, Terezín Memorial, ©Milena Jeřábková, Jiřina Komárková

Karel Vik: Dr. Levit’s Surgery, PT 9177, Terezín Memorial, ©Milena Jeřábková, Jiřina Komárková

Jan Levit was born in 1884 in Hořice at the foothills of the Giant Mountains. He was well familiar with the world of medicine from his childhood as his father and grandfather were esteemed doctors in Hořice. After his graduation from Charles University in Prague in 1908, he began working in a Prague surgical clinic under Prof. Kukula, an eminent teacher of Czech surgeons. In addition, he was deepening his expertise while touring Germany and Austria.

Jan Levit’s liking for Yugoslavians, especially for Serbs, brought him to Balkan at the time of impending war between Serbia and Turkey in 1912; he spent almost two years as a war surgeon in Belgrade and Nis. After his return to Prague, he passed on the acquired knowledge of new methods of treating war wounds to their colleagues, and he also made use of it during the following years of his service in the military hospital at Kolín, and from 1916 also in the garrison hospital in Terezin.

Within his two-year stay in Terezin during the First World War, Dr. Jan Levit met the already mentioned Sarajevo assassin Gavrilo Princip, who became a patient of the Terezin garrison hospital in April 1916 due to his severe disease. Jan Levit operated on him several times and judging from the doctor’s post-war memories, a friendship arose between these two men, perhaps supported also by Levit’s knowledge of the patient’s mother tongue. Until Princip’s death in 1918 the doctor showed a human approach to his patient running so the risk of losing his own status and security. Although he was reported to higher authorities several times, no action was ever taken against him.

Karel Vik: From the Military Hospital IV, PT 9174 avs, Terezín Memorial, ©Milena Jeřábková, Jiřina Komárková

Karel Vik: From the Military Hospital IV, PT 9174 avs, Terezín Memorial, ©Milena Jeřábková, Jiřina Komárková

In the autumn of 1918 Levit was assigned to Pardubice reserve hospital, the following year he moved to Prague, where he worked as a surgeon in several hospitals. In 1924 he was awarded a degree of senior lecturer in surgery at the Medical Faculty of Charles University, in 1928 he was appointed a distinguished professor and in 1931 he became the head of the surgical department of the city hospital Na Bulovce.

At that time he was already recognized not only as a surgeon, but also as a participant of professional medical congresses and author of numerous scientific publications. His work dealt primarily with military and war surgery, modern problems of general and special surgery, and pioneering are his contributions to Czech plastic surgery as well. He also received many awards.

In 1939, shortly after the establishment of the Protectorate, the much respected doctor had to leave his workplace Na Bulovce. The reason was Levit’s Jewish origin, although he was a faithful, not to say bigoted Catholic. Escalating anti-Jewish measures introduced by the Nazis in Bohemia and Moravia fully affected even single and childless Levit, who was put on transport AAc to the Terezín ghetto on 20th June 1942.

Jan Levit bore his second stay in Terezin with difficulties – he suffered from a lack of privacy, physical ailments including diabetes; he could not adapt to conditions in the camp. The languishing doctor in time acquired the status of a prominent prisoner, making so his life a little easier. He was even appointed a medical consultant of the hospital, yet he already worked in the surgical department only exceptionally. After almost two and a half years spent in the ghetto, professor Jan Levit was deported to Auschwitz on 12th October 1944, and there his trail ends.


Rebellion in Rumburk and the Small Fortress Terezín

František Noha, FAPT 2976

František Noha, FAPT 2976

In the last year of the World War I, the background of the Austro-Hungarian Empire witnessed increasingly frequent manifestations of resistance and opposition to the continuing conflict. Not only wishes to terminate this too long lasting military conflict, but also starvation, non-payment to soldiers, mistreatment and denials of soldiers’ leaves instigated riots of the 3rd Century of the 7th Rifle Regiment in Rumburk.

In the spring of 1918, František Noha became the leader of Rumburk rebels consisting mainly of Czech returnees from the former Russian captivity. With the intention to provoke a revolution, even in connection with civilians and other military units across the whole Bohemia, the rebels headed towards the town of Česká Lípa. After partial successes there, they came across a predominance of military and gendarmerie divisions loyal to the Austro-Hungarian army. Approx. 1,000 – 1,200 participants of the rebellion were defeated and largely captured.

Martial court in Rumburk sentenced main leaders of the rebellion František Noha, Stanislav Vodička and Václav Kovář to death. They were executed in the early hours of 29th May 1918 on the grounds behind the Rumburk cemetery. Another lawsuit, this time in Nový Bor, originally sentenced to death 21 defendants. However, the verdict over 14 of them was later reviewed and modified to a long heavy prison in the range of 5-10 years in the Small Fortress in Terezín.

The fate of the remaining majority of detained participants of the rebellion was sealed by their subsequent deportation to the Small Fortress. Out of the total of approx. 560 imprisoned soldiers, five of them were immediately sentenced to penal servitude in the range of 6-9 years, another 150 newcomers were sent from Theresienstadt to frontline and others to prison Bory in Pilsen. The remaining ca. 300 soldiers should stand before the Divisional Court, whose trial was set for 28th October 1918!

Living conditions of the imprisoned in the Small Fortress were literally inhuman, as testified by memories of a direct participant of the rebellion František Baťa: “Also the fortress was terrible. We got to a cell – about 30 or 20 people into one. The worst was the beginning. In the morning a few drops of black coffee, a tiny little piece of bread, dried vegetables, in the evening soups. Hunger, no one knows how terribly hungry we were… We also had lice there… We killed them, there was no disinfection. We chose a commandant, he carefully observed that everyone was picking lice and no one was slacking. We were wearing what they arrested us in – torn knees, big holes. We received nothing extra. Our straw mattresses were chipped, they looked like rags already. As a cushion I had a piece of bag and my blanket was dirty and torn. In October it was already cold.”

The establishment of the independent Czechoslovak state caused that the main trial did not take place; instead, on 30th October 1918, Czech officers brought the participants of Rumburk rebellion out of the Small Fortress to nearby Bohušovice nad Ohří. Then they returned back to Terezin, seized the arsenal and for three days and nights were on a continuous guard duty before being relieved by other units. Most of the former rebels returned back to their homes in early November.

A sort of sequel to Rumburk rebellion was a telegram from the Austrian Ministry of Defence which was delivered to the Divisional Court in Theresienstadt the last day of October. It demanded the release of rebel soldiers from custody and proposals for granting them a pardon. The formal pardon was eventually granted by the regulation of the National Committee of 5th November 1918.



Exhibition “Truth and Lies. Filming in the Terezín Ghetto 1942-1945“

Since September 2014 the Terezín Memorial has expanded its expositions with a permanent exhibition Truth and Lies. Filming in the Terezín ghetto 1942 – 1945 dedicated to the Nazi films created in the Terezin ghetto within 1942 – 1945. The exhibition has moved to Terezin from the Robert Guttmann Gallery of the Jewish Museum in Prague.

The exhibition brings a closer look at three of the Terezín Nazi film projects from the years 1942 – 1945, which should serve for documentation and propaganda. Recorded are also the life stories of filmmakers – both Jewish prisoners who were given a command to filmmaking, and the Nazis who controlled and supervised the shooting.

It was created under the guidance of Ms. Eva Strusková, a historian of the National Film Archive, and Ms. Jana Šplíchalová, a historian of Prague Jewish Museum, with professional cooperation of Mr. Tomáš Fedorovič, a Terezín Memorial historian. Publication of information was proceeded by many-year research of both Holocaust historians and film historians from the Czech Republic and abroad. The exhibited documents and photos come from numerous inland and foreign institutions, fragments of films shown at the exhibition are borrowed from the National Film Archive in Prague and the Israeli Yad Vashem Memorial.

The exhibition has been open to public in a redesigned exhibition area in the courtyard of the former Magdeburg barracks in Terezin.



Exhibition “Truth and Lies“, Magdeburg barracks, photo: Radim Nytl, Terezín Memorial

From the exposition “Truth and Lies“, photo: Radim Nytl, Terezín Memorial

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S příchodem nacistů se mé dětské mysli otevřely podivné obzory. Uvědomil jsem si, že nelze spontánně ctít starosty, radní, duchovní, soudce, učitele, různé přednosty, ale že si naši úctu musí zasloužit. Vždyť někteří z těch, které jsem míval v oblibě, zvedali pravici k poctě vůdce a později pilně vstupovali do komunistické strany. Začal jsem brzy lidi třídit. — Tom Luke, Kolektiv autorů: Pokoj 127, Domov mládeže Q708, Terezín, Gymnázium Plzeň a o.s. HUMR, 2007, s. 89.