Terezín, the movie of lies - Memory makes us free

Terezín, the movie of lies

Since 1942 in Europe, but not only , people had been wondering about rumours concerning the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps; in 1943 the Danish government was pressing hard to find out the fate of the 466 Danish Jews deported to Terezín, a ghetto city used as a transit camp before deportation to extermination centres.

To avoid further suspicion, the Germans decided to accept the inspection visit of the Red Cross, taking advantage of it to put together another of their lies, this time in film format.

In fact, in December 1943, the Reich Central Security Office decided to make a film, “The Führer gives a city to the Jews”, in which they showed that German, Danish and Austrian Jews, older people, disabled and men of culture, were living in peace and security.

To organize the deception and make everything plausible even during the inspection, the SS ordered the prisoners to “embellish” the ghetto and “put it in order”: gardens were created, houses were painted, even fake signs of schools and theatres were placed on buildings.

The Jews themselves worked on the propaganda film as screenwriters, actors, set designers, editors and composers. The film director  was Kurt Gerron, who in 1930 had taken on the role of Kiepert the illusionist in the famous film “The Blue Angel” with Marlene Dietrich.

The film lasted about an hour, but only a few minutes of film reached us, and it showed prisoners going to concerts, playing football, working serenely in the gardens of their homes and relaxing both inside and outside of  their buildings.

They housed that outside, in the sun.


Disegno realizzato durante le riprese della partita di calcio nel 1944, dalla dodicenne Helga Weissova
Drawing made during the shooting of the football match in 1944, by 12-year-old Helga Weissova

The film was completed, and the staging was successful, so much so that the representative of the Red Cross, Maurice Rossel reported that he found a welcoming place and that he visited a “normal provincial town”, adding: “We can say that we felt immense amazement at the fact that we found a city that lives almost a normal life in the ghetto”.

Unfortunately all those who took part in the making of the film were immediately sent to Auschwitz to leave no witnesses as soon as the filming was finished, and it is really difficult to look at the few frames of the film without being moved, thinking of the terrible end that all those smiling people faced.


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