The Theresienstadt Family Camp: Auschwitz-Birkenau

September 19, 2016

Follow the rail tracks inside Auschwitz-Birkenau but don’t go far. Those tracks lead an agonizingly long distance to one of the crematoria, but just to the right of the entrance is a large wasteland, sealed off from others by its own barbed wire fencing. Some chimneys stand in rows, surrounded by foundations of the prison huts that once made up this encampment. This was the Theresienstadt Family Camp. Its inmates came from the Czech camp of Theresienstadt, also known as Terezin, where they put on showcase productions of a children’s opera for visiting dignitaries and the Red Cross. (Find the stories in my novel J SS Bach.)theresienstadt-shrine

Elsewhere in Auschwitz, inmates were separated into gender, heads shaved and clothes replaced by striped uniform. In the family camp this was not so. Inmates were ready for show if Red Cross inspectors arrived. They were still destined for the gas chambers. Auschwitz was not a place of salvation.

Access is not allowed to the ruined family camp, but you can squeeze through the fence and no one is there to shoot you. Someone rendered this shrine within a brick oven. It’s a ragged affair. Most of those who might mourn most grievously were also killed. Survivors do their best, light a few candles, and then vanish.

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