The Nazis instrumentalized Theresienstadt throughout its existence to create the impression for the international public that Jews were well treated in the Third Reich. In June 1944, the International Red Cross paid a two-day visit to the camp. To prepare for the visit, the SS ordered a “beautification” of the ghetto. They deported over 17,000 inmates to Auschwitz to make the camp look less crowded. Twenty artists detained in Theresienstadt were ordered to produce official artwork depicting Theresienstadt as a comfortable, civilized community that had been “given” to the Jews by the Führer.
When the Red Cross inspected the camp, they found children playing in the park. A similar scene was later staged for a film made for propaganda purposes. Snapshots of a well-equipped hospital and well-nourished prisoners reinforced the message of a “civilized” incarceration.
Kurt Gerron was a German actor and director famous for his roles in films like The Blue Angel. As a prisoner in Theresienstadt in 1944, he was forced to direct a film entitled Theresienstadt: A Documentary Film from the Jewish Settlement Area (often referred to as The Führer Gives a City to the Jews). The SS officer Hans Günther, head of the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Prague, commissioned the film, although it was never shown publicly. After completing the movie, the Nazis sent Gerron and the majority of the cast to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.
“The cultural and theatrical life was so rich in 1943–44 that a medium-sized city in peacetime would not have had as many performances as our ghetto (…). It seems strange that the SS allowed the Jews (…) music, art, lectures, etc. (…) but the gentlemen knew quite well what they were doing (…). Because they expected a commission (…) they ordered that the operas be performed with impeccable staging, with costumes and wigs; in short, that it should be real theater (…).”
—H. Grabova’s account in: H.G. Adler, Theresienstadt, 1941–1945: The face of a coerced community, Cambridge, 2017.
About the image: Ticket to the Ghetto Coffee House. Theresienstadt Collection, LBI, AR 2275.
The Coffee House only operated during the “beautification.” Otherwise, it usually had no food or drink. Prisoners used tickets like this one just to sit at a table for a set period of time and talk with others. Sometimes visitors could enjoy musical events.