The Art of Darkness

bamboo divider

The Art of Darkness
by Charlotte Opfermann
ISBN 097183640X
192 pages
University Trace Press

The book is mandatory reading for the Holocaust teaching program in New Jersey.

In 1943 Charlotte Opfermann was deported to the Nazi Paradise Ghetto Theresienstadt. Against all odds, she survived this experience, including the liberation by the Soviet Ukrainian First Infantry in May 1945.

She is concerned that historians misinterpret this camp as a place where Culture, the Arts and Literature flourished ..... this is precisely what its creator Adolf Eichmann had intended when in 1940 he first assigned the 200 years old penal colony to house political prisoners and, in 1941, some portions of the large fortress to detain Jews destined for the killing camps.

In June 1941, after all the Czech residents had been expelled and relocated, certain designated portions of this village achieved fame [if not fortune] and entered the history books together with the nearby 18th century penal colony known as The Concentration Camp (since 1940) and Ghetto (since 1941) Theresienstadt. Thousands now visit here annually. It is a mandatory study trip for Czech schoolchildren. Mrs. Opfermann was interned here for two years.

One of the most famous Nazi perpetrators, Obersturmbannfuehrer Adolf Eichmann (assisted by Jacov Eckstein from the Prague Jewish Congregation office) selected this village in June 1941 to be the holding compound where Czech Jews and, later, Jews from many other parts of Europe (Austria, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Slovakia, Hungary) would be detained and funneled East to the extermination camps -- if they did not die earlier.

Some were hanged, many committed suicide, many died. Most prisoners (ca. 150,000) were redeported to the extermination camps in the East. Most of them were killed. Some of the local dead were buried in a tiny cemetery outside the ramparts, many rest in mass graves. Initially, the ashes of approximately 36,000 of the campís cremated dead (in carefully marked little boxes and paper sacks) were stored in musty vaults in the ramparts. The daily death toll (from hunger and disease) reached 12.5 percent of the camp's inmates in September 1942, one-hundred-and-fifty dead per day was the norm.

In spring 1945 the ashes found a watery grave in the nearby Eger river which separates the garrison from the penal colony. At that time a special work detail of prisoners (including children) had to form a human chain and pass the small containers from hand to hand to the river bank. The last members of this work crew dumped the ashes into the river. Some workers suddenly held the remains of friends and relatives in their hands. At that moment some fainted.

Only about 120 out of 15,000 children who were transported to Theresienstadt lived to see the end of World War II.

In addition to his role as master technocrat/executioner of the Final Solution program Obersturmbannfuehrer Adolf Eichmann fancied himself to be a propaganda movie maker with a historic mission, loosely affiliated with Herr Reichspropagandaminister Dr. Josef Goebbels' Ministry of Education and Propaganda (and misinformation).

In this context he permitted the prisoners to engage in well controlled cultural activities and began filming a so-called Report-Documentary "Bericht aus der Juedischen Siedlung Theresienstadt" in 1942. Two complete reels of this film were confiscated by the Soviet soldiers in May 1945 and taken East, behind the fighting lines.

Ironically, this function has become Obersturmbannfuehrer Adolf Eichmann's legacy: while most of his hoax movie has mercifully disappeared into some unknown Russian archive, the tale of the supposedly rich cultural life in this place of death and suffering as the Musterghetto (presentation ghetto) has persisted.

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