In 1944, a massive con was perpetrated by the Nazis when a delegation from the International Red Crosss visited the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp located in what’s now the Czech Republic.
They were there to investigate reports that Jews were being murdered.
In advance of the visit from the International Red Cross, prisoners planted gardens, painted housing complexes, renovated barracks, and developed and practiced cultural programs for the entertainment of the visiting dignitaries to convince them that the "Seniors' Settlement" was real.
The SS authorities intensified deportations of Jews from the ghetto to alleviate overcrowding, and as part of the preparations in the camp-ghetto, 7,503 people were deported to Auschwitz between May 16 and May 18, 1944.
On June 23, 1944, as planned, two delegates from the International Red Cross and one from the Danish Red Cross visited the ghetto, accompanied by Theresienstadt commandant SS First Lieutenant Karl Rahm and one of his deputies. The facility had been "cleaned up" and rearranged as a model village.
Hints that all was not well included a bruise under the eye of the "mayor" of the "town," a part played by Paul Eppstein, the Elders' Council member representing German Jews. Despite these hints, the International Red Cross inspectors were taken in. This was in part because they expected to see ghetto conditions like those in occupied Poland with people starving in the streets and armed policemen on the perimeter.
The Jewish administration, under duress from the Germans, treated the visiting delegation to the trial of a person "charged" with theft, which "just happened" to be taking place; a soccer game in the camp square complete with cheering crowds; and a performance of the children's opera Brundibár, performed in a community hall built specifically for this occasion.
As a result of preparations for the Red Cross visit, the summer of 1944 was, as one survivor later wrote, "the best time we had in Terezín. Nobody thought of new transports."
In the wake of the inspection, SS officials in the Protectorate produced a film using ghetto residents as a demonstration of the benevolent treatment the Jewish “residents” of Theresienstadt supposedly enjoyed.
In Nazi propaganda, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a "spa town" where elderly German Jews could "retire" in safety. When the film was completed, SS officials deported most of the "cast" to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Despite the effort involved in making the propaganda film, the German authorities ultimately decided not to screen it.
A play about this notorious event, Way To Heaven, is opening this week. Its director, Rosemary McKenna and actor, Daniel Riordan discussed how the Nazis could have got away with this scam.
Rough Magic SEEDS
Way to Heaven
By Juan Mayorga
Translated by David Johnston
Directed by Rosemary McKenna
Project Arts Centre
9 Nights only
5th – 14th December 7pm