Last Signs of Life from the Theresienstadt Ghetto

Inscriptions left by Jewish prisoners documented for the first time in 70 years…

Between 1941 and 1945, countless prisoners engraved their messages into the sandstone walls of the Terezin fortress, the site of the former Theresienstadt Ghetto – and many did so just before going off to their deaths. By inscribing their names, initials, dates and pictures, they memorialized their own fates and acted as witnesses as well. But the inscriptions are in danger of disappearing. The project is the first international project to document these remaining traces.

In a dark tunnel of the fortress gate, Poterne III, several square meters of the sandstone wall are embossed with traces: names, prisoner numbers as well as objects with deep symbolic meaning, such as a Chanukah menorah, stars of David or portraits of a ghetto police member. Hard to miss are the oft-repeated dates 1942, 1943, 1944, a time when Theresienstadt, overcrowded with Jewish prisoners, was cordoned off from the rest of the world. A Jewish selfadministration, controlled by the SS, was responsible for organizing ghetto life, including its own security force, the ghetto police.

Members of the ghetto police were recruited from among the male prisoners. The job of those that were stationed at the Poterne III gate was to hinder escape attempts and curb smuggling. Among them were the authors of the carvings and inscriptions seen at Poterne III. Many of them were deported to Auschwitz.

In the decades following WWII, these traces went forgotten when Terezin was turned into a military garrison. Poterne III was again made accessible to the public in 2005. Urban planner and author, Ms. Uta Fischer became the first person to identify authors and meanings behind the inscriptions while working on her project, „Theresienstadt 1941-1945 – Materielle Zeugnisse und Spuren“ (Theresienstadt 1941-1945 – Evidence and Traces).

These extraordinary witnesses of the Holocaust are now online, together with interactive maps, at: