The Last Ghetto: A New History of the Theresienstadt Ghetto
Dr. Anna Hájková, Associate Professor of Modern European Continental History, University of Warwick
How should we write a history of the prisoner society? Anna Hájková’s New History of the Theresienstadt Ghetto.
Terezín, as it was known in Czech, or Theresienstadt, as it was known in German, was operated by the Nazis between November 1941 and May 1945 as a transit ghetto for Central and Western European Jews before their deportation for murder in the East. Today, Theresienstadt is best known for the Nazi propaganda of the International Red Cross visit, cultural life, and children. But these aspects explain little what defined the lives of its 140,000 inmates. The Last Ghetto offers both a modern history of this Central European ghetto and the first in-depth analytical history of a prison society during the Holocaust.
Gender was one of the most important categories of the inmate society in Terezín. The ways people understood belonging, propriety, and kinship was profoundly gendered, and in some ways more conservative than the liberal prewar societies in Central Europe of which the inmates used to be part. Moreover, Theresienstadt produced its own social hierarchies under which even small differences among prisoners decided their fate. During the three and a half years of the camp's existence, prisoners created their own culture and habits, bonded, fell in love, and forged new families. Based on extensive archival research in nine languages and on empathetic reading of victim testimonies, The Last Ghetto casts light on human society works in extremis.