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 Ez-St_ 56 left Prague (Praha) to Theresienstadt on February 20, 1943. It consisted of 5 Jews. This transport was listed as Ez-St, which were the German initials for special transport of individuals (Einzelreisende Sondertansport). These transports usually consisted of the relatives of members of the Jewish council in Theresienstadt, Jews arrested by the Gestapo, or Jews who had been brought to Prague from other cities in the Protectorate.
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.
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.