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The Hidden Synagogue at Terezin

U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad

The remnants of a secret synagogue were recently uncovered in a small ground floor storage room in Terezin, a former ghetto in the Czech Republic where the Germans interred some 150,000 Jewish men, women, and children during the Holocaust.  The small Jewish prayer hall was founded during the Ghetto period and served the spiritual needs of the prisoners who were living in the neighboring houses.

Much about this tiny "shul" (approximately 15'  by 15' ) is still a mystery. What is known is that the room was secretly designed and painted by a Jewish cantor of German descent named Bellinger (?sp). The ornamentation was done in a vibrant red color. Some of the writings were painted in a black pigment. The ceiling was covered with six-pointed stars in the red coloration.  From floor to ceiling, the walls appear to have been once covered with decorative paintings, scriptures and original prayers. The verses that remain express hope, expectations, anguish, and offer a striking counterpoint to the known fate of the congregants. There are no known survivors of the synagogue, and it is presumed that all perished at Auschwitz.

The prisoners of the Ghetto came from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and from Germany and Austria. They worked as craftsmen and had access to the high-quality colors, which were used in decorating the small room. Because of its small area, services held at the "shul" could only be attended by a limited number of prisoners who successfully kept information about its existence secret from the Nazis.

One prayer that remains on the walls of the Synagogue begs God to return from his anger. Another prayer, "If I forget thee O Jerusalem," has faded, leaving only, "If I forget thee..."  On still a third wall is a verse found in synagogues everywhere, "Know before whom you stand." Amazingly, on the other side of that wall stood Germans from the S.S. as the synagogue was located next to the bakery where bread was being made for the Nazi guards. The Germans never discovered the "shul".

This 15' x 15' room is accessible through a single door leading from a courtyard. The original owner of the house, Frantisek Bubak, arranged funeral services in Terezin before being evicted by the Nazi invasion to make room for Jewish prisoners. Currently, private citizens are renting the former storage area to the Terezin Memorial on a monthly basis. It was told to me by Dr. Jan Munk, director of the Terezin Memorial that prior to the Nazi occupation the room was used for small animals and after the war the inhabitants of the home used it for vegetable storage. The room was filled to the ceiling with stacked produce and for years no one mentioned the Hebrew writings of the wall. At the time of my visit, the wooden floor had been taken out to dry and the walls to the height of where the water had risen had been scraped clean and the only thing in the room were fans and dehumidifiers along with moisture measuring devices. This were on specified timers that automatically went on and off in an attempt to dry out the walls and floors of the structure. While I was in the "shul" there was no odor of mold or mildew.

The Terezin Memorial ranks as one of the most important institutions in the Czech Republic whose task is to teach and learn from the lessons of the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of tourists and students from the Czech Republic and foreign countries visit the memorial annually

In August of 2002, the Terezin ghetto and the nearby Small Fortress at Terezin, which was a Gestapo prison during the Holocaust, were severely affected by therains and flooding that ravaged central Europe. The hidden synagogue became flooded with over 4 ½ feet of contaminated water, causing damage to the interior walls and floor.  While other areas of the Memorial are also in need of repair, it is extremely important that the message of the Hidden Synagogue be preserved for generations to come. For here was a place where condemned Jewish prisoners not only uttered ancient

Commission Member and Pinellas County resident Amy S. Epstein and Director of the Terezin Memorial, Dr. Jan Munk

 

Entrance to the "Hidden Synagogue" at Terezin, located in a storage room behind a house

 

One wall of the Hidden Synagogue after the flood

 

A second wall and portion of the ceiling 
of the Hidden Synagogue

 

Detail of Hidden Synagogue Ceiling

 

Detail of one corner of the Hidden Synagogue

prayers and dared to hope, but an "oasis" in the midst of hell where they defied their Nazi captors.  The heroes of Terezin prayed to God that the Jewish people would survive the Holocaust, even though they probably knew that they themselves most likely would not.
  • For more information about this project, contact Commission Member Amy S. Epstein