Arbeit Macht Frei Gate

Sign over interior gate in Small Fortress reads "Arbeit Macht Frei"

An interior gate in the Small Fortress at Theresienstadt, shown in the background of the photograph above, has black letters on a white band over the arch which read "Arbeit Macht Frei." This cynical slogan was also used at Dachau, Sachsenhausen, the main Auschwitz camp and a few other Nazi concentration camps.

Two Jewish members of our tour group, who were from Israel, were quite upset when they saw these cruel words displayed inside the prison, but the guide explained that there were actually some prisoners who were released from the Small Fortress. According to a booklet that I purchased at the Museum, there were 5,600 prisoners released from the Small Fortress, which was a Gestapo prison for political prisoners and captured partisans.

When Theresienstadt was built as a military fortress in 1780, it consisted of two parts: the Main Fortress, where the Jews were later imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II, and the Small Fortress which was originally built as a prison and was used as such from the time it was completed until a few years after World War II, when the last of the German war criminals, who were incarcerated here by the victorious Allies, were executed.

The Small Fortress is on the east side of the Ohre river that divides the two parts of the old military fortress, and the Theresienstadt ghetto is on the west side. The Small Fortress was open to tourists from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily when I visited in October 2000. The Main Fortress is now the town of Terezin, which is, of course, always open to visitors, and even has a hotel where tourists can stay if you don't mind spending the night in the exact location where Hitler's SS soldiers once slept.

Exterior Gate into the Small Fortress

If you've ever researched the subject of Theresienstadt, you have probably seen a picture of the main entrance into the Small Fortress, which is shown in the photograph above. It looks very menacing with its distinctive black and white border around the entrance arch; it is often shown in tourist guidebooks or on Holocaust web pages.

The main gate, shown in the photo above, was designated the Number 1 stop on the tour of the Small Fortress. After entering this gate, our tour group walked a few yards into the prison, then turned left to go through the Administration Court which was Number 2 on the tour. You can see the number on the square archway in the foreground in the photograph at the top of this page. Throughout the tour, I had to lag behind the group in order to take these photographs.

The Small Fortress became a Gestapo prison in June 1940, even before the Main Fortress was turned into a transit camp for the Jews in November 1941. The following quote is from a pamphlet that I obtained on the tour:

People were sent here for taking part in the democratic and communist resistance movement, for aiding parachutists sent from the west and east to help the Czech resistance, for supporting partisans, escaped prisoners-of-war and Jews, or for individual acts against the Nazi regime. They were intellectuals, workers, farmers, clericals, artists and students, men and women. The fate of the Jewish prisoners here was particularly tragic. After arrest by the Gestapo for taking part in the resistance movement or breaking the rules established for Jews in Terezin town, they were sent here, given the hardest work and subjected to the worst terrorism by the guards. It was actually a transit prison as most of the inmates were sent after a certain time before a Nazi court and from there to other prisons and penitentiaries or to concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Austria.

Administration Courtyard

First Courtyard

Escape Route

The Long Tunnel

Execution Spot

Gate of Death

Commandant's House


Fourth Courtyard

Third Courtyard

Main Gate