The Terezin Initiative is anassociation of former prisoners of Terezin and Lodz ghettos from the Czech lands and their direct descendants. Its objective is to keep, in a worthy way, the memory of those who perished during the Holocaust. Members of the Initiative often take part in discussions with younger generations, who learn about this grim part of history through their memories and stories. Another important mission of the association is to help those who survived and are now at the age when they need help themselves.
One of the prime tasks of the Terezin Memorial Education Department after its formation in the early 1990s was to establish cooperation with the Terezin Initiative. When creating our programme offer for schools, we were fully aware of how the young generation can benefit from meeting people who have experienced a historic event, the commemorating of which is the aim of our seminars. Therefore, discussions with survivors were very soon incorporated in the programmes of residential groups from the Czech Republic as well as from abroad. All of the survivors, who have arrived in Terezin for this purpose so far and still keep coming, literally excel in discussions with the youth. Their stories are often complemented with unique items of personal nature, which have been preserved in their families. What is more, they can answer the participants‘ questions of guilt, hatred and forgiveness from personal experience.
The mutual cooperation gradually developed into other directions as well. In 1996, we implemented a joint project in schools aimed at the use of a new reader about the Holocaust “The Road – Destination Unknown”. Following favourable responses of teachers, the Terezin Initiative sponsored the delivery of the publication to the Memorial; for many years we then provided schools with the reader on the occasion of educational seminars. The supplied literature does not involve only this reader though; it is abundant especially in memoirs issued by the Initiative members. School groups and teachers receive them for their active approach in the Terezin programmes.
In 1997, when the Memorial opened the Meeting Centre in the former Magdeburg Barracks and expected an increased number of educational visits, the Assembly of the Terezin Initiative came up with an offer to reimburse the fare to Terezin seminars for Czech school groups. The conditions for the transport allowance (and the accommodation allowance in the early years) have been modified many times over the years, but what is important, they persist until today. In the annual report of TM from 2000 we can read: “An important aid in arranging programmes for Czech youth has been provided by the Terezin Initiative, both through the participation of its members in discussions with students and pupils, and through financial contributions covering the travel costs, which unfortunately still pose a considerable problem to our schools.”As statistics confirm, the educational programmes in Terezin have become a desired matter of course in schools: in 2013, 107 groups took part in one-day programmes and 36 groups in the overnight programmes, which altogether involves more than 5,000 Czech schoolchildren, not to forget around 50 – 60 foreign groups which attend programmes of the Education Department every year. Even in their programmes, our survivors play an important part – whether they meet them within the walls of the Terezin Memorial or in Prague’s Jewish Museum.
Since 2000 the Terezin Memorial has been organizing (in cooperation with other organizations and under the guarantee of the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports) seminars for Czech teachers entitled “How to teach about the Holocaust.” Regular and one of the highest-rated parts of the programme is a discussion between teachers and survivors.
How students and teachers perceive a meeting with a survivor during their educational stay is well expressed in the following quotes selected out of their impressions:
Grammar School Na Prazacce, Prague: “Recollections of the survivor and his current view on it all was very interesting…“; “I have never heard such a testimony before. Incredibly interesting.“
Business Academy, Cesky Tesin: “Goose bumps accompanied the life story of the eye-witness, but we will not be able to rely on the survivors for ever, will we? “
Secondary Vocational School, Pilsen: “Most certainly I liked the bravery of our eye-witness. It was interesting to hear it all from her. I admire her very much. “
Grammar School Arabska, Prague: „“Very interesting discussion with the survivors. I’m glad that someone still goes on with this work.”
Church Grammar School, Pilsen: “The discussion was interesting; one rarely gets a chance to talk to a witness of historic events.”
Seminary of teachers, 2007: “Unforgettable, thank you very much.” – “I would highly recommend the discussions with survivors to schools.” – “Survivors´ stories – emotionally most powerful experience.”
Another point of our cooperation with the Terezin Initiative involves participation in the financing of rewards in literary and art competitions (for more about the history of the competitions in the TM see Newsletter 1/2013), which have been organized by the Memorial for twenty years already. Since 1997, special “Prizes of Erik Polak” have been also awarded within these contests. They are granted to works which particularly aptly capture the situation surrounding the fate of people in the ghetto and concentration camps. (E. Polak was a survivor of the Terezin ghetto and a founding member of the TI; he was in its leadership until his death in 1996.)Our further experience of cooperation and friendship with the TI members also leave us with good memories. Let us recall, for example, a very successful performance of the Brundibar opera in 2003 to mark the 60th anniversary of presenting the opera in the Terezin ghetto. That time perhaps all of the still living former Terezin opera singers arrived here from around the world. Necessary to add that whenever Brundibar is put on in Terezin, some of the survivors always attend the performance. As a rule, they do not only attend, but they tell their stories, recall, thank…
What to add in conclusion to this balancing? Due to the continuing vitality, responsibility and awareness of the mission of the Holocaust era survivors, our cooperation with the Terezin Initiative has lasted for already two decades. We thank and wish it would continue for a long time yet.