Day Twenty Two – Terezín, Czech Republic
Walking through Terezín, everywhere Doris Schimmerlingová goes, she has a smile and a wave to give.
Born in Brno April 7th, 1926, Doris is one of the thousands of Jews that lived in Terezín, a concentration camp in the northern Czech Republic during World War II. Doris entered the camp the winter of 1942 when she was about 16 years-old and stayed there until the end of the war, where she served as a shepherd for the sheep and livestock just outside of town.
Doris spends her days giving tours of Terezín to tour groups, because she knows how important it is to get this history correct and make sure stories are heard. When asked how she came to the decision to go back through this place, Doris explains that her first time overhearing a tour guide talking about the camp, she didn’t recognize any of it. “I must’ve been in a different Terezín,”Schimmerlingová recalls.
Terezín served as a transit camp for most Jews before heading east to even worse concentration camps, but it was a powerful tool for the Nazis. Early in the war, the Red Cross was allowed to go through the camp to see the conditions and the Nazis set it up to seem as though they had bequeathed a wonderful, thriving town to the thousands of Jewish peoples they had uprooted and forced into overpopulation in a city they weren’t allowed to leave. Right.
This camp served as a weapon of propaganda for the Third Reich. No gas chambers are to be found here although plans to implement one were being drawn up before the war ended, but with the overpopulation and inhumane conditions everyone was forced to live in during the years Terezín was active, thousands died here. Walking through the small town, it doesn’t matter how picturesque it may be, the taint of the atrocities committed here will never be forgotten or made up for.
Walking by a pair of German tourists, Doris struck up a conversation about biking with the two women, telling them about how she used to bike to the fields.
Doris was separated from her entire family over the years in Terezín. Her mother died in the camp, her brother was sent to Auschwitz (and survived), and her father was sent in one of the last transports to a concentration camp where he died.
The strength this woman has to have lived through everything she has is nearly incomprehensible. Not only did she spend her formative years in this camp, she lived through the communist regime the Czech Republic fell under right after the war, and has stayed standing through it all.
It would take thousands of words to do her story any kind of justice and explain every horror she has persevered through, but Doris has been through horrors no one should ever have to, and has a sunny disposition and want to impart knowledge and on everyone she encounters despite everything, which is truly humbling, admirable and heartrending.
History is studied so we as a human race can learn from the past, but history is also written by the winners: objective and often glossed over with a saccharine coating. Having the opportunity to listen to a first person account of such a dark history, raw and unfiltered is truly incomparable, and one of the most important experiences with a valuable lesson.