During the fall-winter months of 1942-1943 Nazi Germany suffered its first major military defeats in several theaters of the war: The defeat at El Alamein, followed by the landing of Allied forces in North- Africa (Operation Torch) and the encircling of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad signaled a possible shift in the course of the war. However, despite these setbacks the Nazis proceeded with the extermination policies. On February 7, 1943, several days after the German surrender at Stalingrad, Hitler addressed a group of Gauleiters (district party leaders) assembled at Rastenburg. He repeated his threat that Jewry must be eliminated from Europe.
Transport Da left Prague (Praha) on May 8, 1943 and arrived in Theresienstadt on the same day. It consisted of 9 Jews.
Following the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany in March 1939, and the declaration of a Slovak republic on March 14, Hitler announced on March 15 the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Between 1939 and 1941 the Nazi authorities in the Protectorate carried out various anti-Jewish measures, which included the harassment of Jews and of Jewish institutions and the confiscation of property.
On October 10, 1941, the newly appointed Reichsprotektor, Reinhard Heydrich, summoned several SS officers, among them Adolf Eichmann, to a meeting in Prague (Praha). Heydrich, who was also chief of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt - RSHA), revealed a plan to deport 5,000 Jews from the Protectorate to Eastern Europe and in addition to expel the remaining Jews of the Protectorate to an assembly camp in Bohemia. Theresienstadt, a garrison town built in the 18th century, located about 60 kilometers north of Prague, was chosen to serve as the place for concentrating the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia.
Beginning November 24, 1941, a transport departed from Prague to Theresienstadt once a week. The “Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung“ (Central Office for Jewish Emigration), headed by Hans Guenther, issued deportation lists in accordance with a name file it had. Each list contained 1,200 - 1,300 names. The local Jewish community was assigned the task of choosing 1,000 people who would be deported to Theresienstadt. An announcement was distributed (usually at night) that stated the exact date and hour at which the deportees were to report to the assembly site.
The deportees were first assembled at the Trade Fair Grounds (Messepalais) located in Holesovice, a suburb of Prague. They were allotted “living space”, a tiny piece of bare ground in a group of dirty shacks, lacking sanitary facilities. Czech policemen guarded the perimeter, while SS men were stationed inside.
During their stay at this site, the deportees were required to fill in numerous forms, which included a declaration of personal assets, and to hand over ration cards, house keys, valuables and cash. During this registration process many of the deportees were subjected to exhaustive and, often brutal methods of questioning.
After three days, armed SS guards, German policemen and Czech gendarmes escorted the deportees to the Holesovice train station. Most transports from Prague usually departed before dawn or late at night. Following a three-hour journey the trains arrived at the station in Bohusovice. SS guards, Czech gendarmes, and a group of ghetto inmates awaited the deportees. Afterwards, they were forced to march three kilometers to Theresienstadt, while carrying their baggage. Deportees who were unfit to walk were driven by trucks or tractors to the ghetto. On their arrival in Theresienstadt they were brought to the absorption area known in the ghetto as the Schleuse. The deportees remained there for two to three days, during which the SS men and the Czech policemen confiscated many of their belongings. Afterwards, they were housed in the army barracks under harsh conditions.
The Nazis sought to portray Theresienstadt as an “exemplary Jewish settlement”, camouflaging their true objective of annihilating the Jewish people. Essentially, Theresienstadt served as a transit camp for the Jews. Starting in January 1942, transports from Theresienstadt were sent to Riga and, as the year wore on, transports of Jewish deportees were sent to extermination camps and murder sites, including Auschwitz, Treblinka and Maly Trostenets.