From the history of the Terezín Memorial
In 1947, on May 6, the Government of the Czechoslovak Republic passed a ruling on the establishment of a Memorial of National Suffering in the premises of the Small Fortress. Since that area had then been administered by the Ministry of National Defense it had to be transferred to the Ministry of Interior under whose authority the Memorial was assigned. The actual transfer commenced in early September 1947. The relevant record mentions that the National Cemetery, the Jewish Cemetery and the Crematorium had been attached to the complext as well.
In the years 1945 – 1948 the Small Fortress also served as a detention camp initially holding prisoners of war and later also German population intended for expulsion from Czechoslovakia.
The reconstruction of the former barracks in the Small Fortress (today the Small Fortress Museum) got under way at the beginning of 1948. The intention was to keep the whole premises in their original state. Exhibitions were planned to be installed in the main museum building and also in the mass cells in the Fourth Courtyard.
The Museum of Oppression had its ceremonial opening on June 11, 1949. Its permanent exhibition was designed by the Military History Museum. No other specialized activities were ongoing in the Memorial at that time. As a matter of interest, farming constituted one of the Memorial´s lines of business. According to extant documents its personnel then included four members of the national police (SNB – National Security Corps) and one member of the Czechoslovak Army who served as commander. Its seven civilian employees consisted of three prison wardens who also acted as guides, three janitors, a maintenance man and a tractor driver. There were also 25 convicted persons assigned to work in the Museum from the prison of the Regional Court in Litoměřice.
75 years elapsed since the establishment of the Terezín Memorial on May 6, 2022. This occasion was marked by a festive gathering attended by the Memorial´s current and former employees and distinguished guests. The event was opened by speeches delivered by Terezín Memorial Director Jan Roubínek and Pavel Hynčica from the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. The participants were then introduced to two major exhibitions prepared for this particular occasion. These are called The Terezín Memorial in the Changes of Time 1989 – 2022 and New Accessions to the Collections of the Terezín Memorial from the Years 2017 – 2021, respectively. At the end of the festive rally, Zdeněk Pešek, headmaster of the Secondary School of Business and Services (SŠOS) in Teplice, presented the Humanitas project that has been running at the school for 10 years now. Performance of the Czech violin virtuoso Jaroslav Svěcený was an additional highlight of the event.
And what have the two exhibitions to offer to visitors?
Presenting a wealth of photos and documents, the exhibition The Terezín Memorial in the Changes of Time 1989 – 2022 traces the institution´s developments over that period. The content of the exhibition is divided into four decades, each section presenting, for instance, the reconstruction and gradual opening to the public of different objects of the Terezín Memorial, just as various events, visits, conferences and other events held over those 33 years. Displayed photos often provide unique insights into premises that are out of bounds to ordinary visitors.
The photographs and documents also vividly portray the changes and constant development and improvement of the individual Departments of the Terezín Memorial, whether in terms of historical research, collection-building, documentation and education, highlighting various successful projects of the departments. Also on display is a selection of posters designed throughout the period for art and documentary exhibitions that inseparably belong to the institution and brighten up its life.
The other exhibition, New Accessions to the Collections of the Terezín Memorial from the Years 2017 – 2021, shows to visitors the most interesting paintings, 3D objects and other documents from the collections of the Terezín Memorial acquired in the period in question. Its collection-building agenda is focused on obtaining objects (including works of art) documenting the life in the Nazi prisons, penitentiaries, concentration camps and other repressive facilities. Among its priorities are acquisitions of material, written and visual sources coming from the Police Prison in Terezín´s Small Fortress, the Jewish Ghetto Terezín and the Litoměřice concentration camp. The collection comes complete with other exhibits bearing witness to the inmates´ resistance actions and Nazi persecution, just as artworks created after 1945 and reflecting the war events and the Holocaust.
The most numerous items among the new accessions are works of art created in the Terezín Ghetto, numbering over 90 items (these are, for example, works by Bedřich Fritta, Leo Haas, Malvína Schalková and many others). Worth mentioning and viewing among the 3D objects, written documents and photographs is, e.g., the extensive estate of the executed architect and painter Jan Podracký from Duchcov, personal objects of the opera singer Karel Berman or written documents of the leading representative of the Czech-Jewish movement Eduard Lederer.
Other showcases also display personal objects of Ghetto inmates, such as, for instance, an enameled tin cup, a powder box, a tin cap from toothpaste and other objects found during search of an attic in the former Dresden Barracks in Terezín. Also on display are, for instance, finds discovered in the complex of the underground factories near Litoměřice, from the section Richard I, the Elsabe plant etc.
The Terezín Memorial now obtains objects owned by the former inmates, who had passed through the Nazi repressive facilities, usually from their children or grandchildren. Such donated or purchased objects are gradually conserved or restored and then displayed at exhibitions and permanent expositions. The Terezín Memorial also loans its collection items to exhibitions staged by other institutions, while providing their reproductions for publishing, exhibition and educational purposes.
Both exhibitions may be viewed in the exhibition premises in the Fourth Courtyard of the former Police Prison in the Small Fortress in Terezín until October 25, 2022.