This Day in Jewish History / Filming in Theresienstadt

A Nazi-produced documentary of life in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, which concluded filming on this day in 1944, sought to deceive members of the International Red Cross by presenting a false picture of how Jews were treated there.

David Green
David B. Green
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David Green
David B. Green

On this day in 1944, filming came to an end of a Nazi-made documentary of life in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, located northwest of Prague, after 11 days of production. Terezin, as the camp was called in Czech, served as the primary ghetto for Jews from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as a transit camp for Jews from Western European countries under German occupation. Because conditions at Terezin were better than at other camps, and because it boasted a highly skilled inmate population whose members had a certain amount of autonomy in running their daily lives, the camp was chosen by the Nazis as the location for a visit by officials from the International Red Cross and Danish Red Cross in June 1944.

By stalling the visit for more than half a year, the Germans were able to invest significant efforts in beautifying the camp, which was situated in an 18th-century Czech garrison town.  The delay also ensured that the sickest of the camp’s prisoners were deported to Auschwitz by the time the foreign inspectors arrived. In honor of the visit, the SS commander of the camp, Hans Guenther, decided to produce a film about the “model” town and enlisted the German-Jewish filmmaker Kurt Gerron to write and direct it.   Other inmates appeared in the movie, which would come to be known as “The Fuehrer Gives the Jews a City,” and carried out all the technical roles in its production.

The premier screenings of the final 90-minute film, officially titled “Terezin: A Documentary Film of the Jewish Resettlement,” took place the following April, but the impending end to the war prevented further distribution of the film, of which today only some 20 minutes of fragments remain. They include footage of several musical productions in the ghetto, one of which is the original children’s opera “Brundibar,” a soccer game, “residents” working their gardens, and a well-equipped hospital. The day after filming ended, most of those involved in the film, including the actors and Gerron himself, were deported to Auschwitz.  

A gate at Theresienstadt with the familiar slogan 'Work Brings Freedom.'Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The day after filming of a Nazi documentary ended at Theresienstadt, most of those involved in the film were deported to Auschwitz (above).