70 years have passed since the sad events in Autumn 1941. What had preceded them? What did 15th March 1939, the day of occupation by Nazi Germany, mean for solving the Jewish question?
As early as on 21st June 1939, the Reich Protector Konstantin von Neurath issued a comprehensive decree on Jewish property, forbade Jews to keep economic enterprises and property at all. So-called “Treuhänder” became the administrators of Jews’ estates. At the same time, it was also determined who is to be considered a Jew. The Nuremberg Laws, issued in Germany in 1935, got the decisive importance. According to them, a Jew was anyone who came from four to three Jewish grandparents. Another large group consisted of Jewish half-breeds, in cases when families were affiliated with the Aryans. Verification of origin, registrations, and searching for ways to escape from what might come occurred. There were 118,310 people of Jewish origin living in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia on 15th March 1939. Many of them decided for emigration, and between 1939 – 42 about 26,000 people moved out of the country on condition of having a visa, sufficient money and a high tax paid. The most applications were handled by Europe, America and Palestine. Some Jews decided to “plunge”, i.e. to find a hiding place with the help of Aryan friends.
Ghetto without Walls
In July 1939, Jewish affairs went supervised by the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung – the Central Office for Jewish Emigration headed by Adolf Eichmann, later Hans Günther. The Jewish Community in Prague was directly subordinated to this Central Office, and was the only community that kept the right to exist, to follow the central instructions, and to perform any Nazi orders given. Other 14 Jewish communities kept only a limited power until March 1942, when they completely disappeared.
The Jewish Community in Prague was a big office with a large apparatus, which then arranged for: Jews registration, emigration possibilities, management of flats, employment of Jews, health and social services, education, compliance with anti-Jewish actions, collections of property, valuables and souvenirs (they should form a Museum of the extinct race according to the Nazis plan). The property of Jews was transferred to an emigration fund, from which their future extermination should be financed. The top of all activities was the preparation, compilation and organization of transports.
Regulations and restrictions gradually limited people of Jewish origin in all life needs. They were issued not only by the Reich Protector, the Central Office and the protectorate government, but also by the ministries, municipal authorities etc. There were hundreds of various measures. Adults were not allowed to perform their original jobs, children were forbidden to attend schools and get education. Jews were not allowed to sell their property, and bound accounts were set up for them. They were prohibited from public spaces, could not travel or change their residence without a permission. They were given the curfew time, shopping time, reduced supplies of food and other products and services. They were not allowed to keep pets or socialize with people of Aryan descent. Their ID cards were marked with the letter ´J´, and persons over six years of age had to wear a yellow star with the word “Jude” on the upper left side of garment (in validity from September 1941) . Any violation of issued regulations resulted in strict punishments; hundreds of Jews became inmates of Nazi prisons and concentration camps even before their deportation to the Terezin ghetto.
As early as October 1939, A. Eichmann tried to implement a plan of moving Jews out to Eastern Poland. He ordered first deportations of men from the City of Ostrava, and “tentatively” 1,300 people left so for Nisko nad Sanem. Half a year later, the concentration camp was disbanded.
Establishment of Ghetto
After R. Heydrich took up the position of the Reich Protector on 27th September 1941, the preparations to begin transports accelerated. The original plan to move Jews out was reassessed during two October meetings. The first decision taken was to deport “the most difficult” Jews out of the Protectorate, where, according to that time latest census, altogether 88,105 Jews were living. Thus, between 16th October and 3rd November 1941, five thousand people were deported from Prague to Lodz, and on 26th November one thousand more from Brno to Minsk. Another decision, adopted at the meeting, applied to other Jews who should be concentrated at a convenient place in the Protectorate. The fortress town of Terezin became that convenient place. Out of several suggestions, only Terezin met the requirements for a Jewish camp: enough barracks for the accommodation, fortification benefits, a near railway to bring the transports in, and a Nazi military service in the vicinity, the Police Prison in the Small Fortress.
On 24th November 1941 first transport with Jews arrived at Terezin, and many others followed.