|Directed by:||Frank Heimans||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||1986||Running Time:||56 mins.|
|More Info:||Wikipedia||Category:||Hist & Rem|
Not all Jews went to concentration camps against their will, scared for their lives. Paradise Camp explains how Nazi lies brought Jews to the newly-established Theresienstadt Ghetto willingly and eagerly, under the impression that it would be a peaceful retreat. Their shock morphed into terror as they realized the extent to which they had been lied to.
“They had nice coats. They brought pictures,” a witness remembers of wealthy Czech Jews entering Theresienstadt at its opening. “They wanted to make their beautiful spa stay very nice, and, when they arrived in big barracks, they couldn’t understand what happened.”
Paradise Camp exposes the lies that Theresienstadt was built on. Elderly Jews were fooled into believing the camp would be their safe haven, World War I veterans thought that their service to Germany was being rewarded, and prominent Jews thought they were being given special treatment for their German nationalism, with beautiful accommodations and protection from the war. But they all found themselves sleeping in overcrowded barracks, eating meager portions of bread, and fearing for their lives. Paradise Camp features interviews with survivors who experienced the hunger, filth, and terror that the Nazi officials worked to mask — and displays old photographs and archival film footage to reconstruct the truth about Theresienstadt.
Originally a fortress town in Terezin, Czechoslovakia, Theresienstadt was built in the 1800s for the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. But the Nazis realized the high stone walls that surrounded the city made it an ideal site in which to imprison Jews from Czechoslovakia and its neighboring Eastern European nations. In 1941, the Germans established it as a Jewish ghetto, and a year later they began to deport Jews from Theresienstadt to extermination camps throughout Eastern Europe, including Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Treblinka.
The extent to which Nazis went to lie to the Jews and to the general public is astonishing. Turning the camp into the equivalent of a film set, the Nazis applied a fresh coat of paint to the buildings, cleaned the streets, and brought in ample props to depict life at a concentration camp as if it were Heaven on Earth. Paradise Camp shows clips from the dumbfounding and fascinating propaganda film that resulted, where little old women knit, a small boy waters a garden with an oversized water barrel, and everyone wears a lazy smile and a healthy layer of fat.
In sharp contradiction to these false images, the documentary also offers the survivors’ heartbreaking memories of what life was really like at Theresienstadt. One woman remembers eating crushed red brick and pretending it was paprika, while crushed bark served as an alternative spice. Anther woman recalls that before a Red Cross inspection, the Nazis built children’s rooms painted in bright colors and lined with small beds. But the Nazis never told the Red Cross inspectors that the tiny beds were inhabited by seventeen-year-olds, because all the younger children had been murdered.
Even more gripping, perhaps, are the survivor accounts that are told without words. Remarkably, some Jews were able to smuggle in paper and pencils and, using these simple resources to their highest advantage, they drew everything they saw. Paradise Camp shows their shocking work. Sketches of victims with sunken eyes, ragged clothes and boney fingers document starvation and need. They succeed where words fall short, in expressing the shadowy terror of Theresienstadt.
Paradise Camp explores how easy it is to manipulate the truth and how easily people will believe lies instead of difficult truths. The Nazis pacified the public with false illusions and controlled the Jews with lies. Through such deception, and the people’s willingness to believe, evil survived — as the very tools of the Nazi propaganda, the Jews themselves, were slaughtered.