Anna Hájková: Prisoner Society in the Terezín Ghetto, 1941-1945

Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2013 (Abstract)


Diese Arbeit wurde mit dem Herbert-Steiner-Preis 2014 ausgezeichnet.



This dissertation explores the prisoner society in Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto, a transit ghetto in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Nazis deported here over 140,000 Czech, German, Austrian, Dutch, Danish, Slovak, and Hungarian Jews. It was the only ghetto to last until the end of the Second World War. A microhistorical approach reveals the dynamics of the inmate community, shedding light on broader issues of ethnicity, stratification, gender, and the political dimension of the "little people" shortly before they were killed. Rather than relegating Terezín to a footnote in narratives of the Holocaust or the Second World War, my work connects it to Central European, gender, and modern Jewish histories. A history of victims but also a study of an enforced Central European society in extremis, instead of defining them by the view of the perpetrators, this dissertation studies Terezín as an inmate society. This approach is possible because the SS largely kept out of the ghetto.


Terezín represents the largest sustained transnational encounter in the history of Central Europe, albeit an enforced one. Although the Nazis deported all the inmates on the basis of their alleged Jewishness, Terezín did not produce a common sense of Jewishness: the inmates were shaped by the countries they had considered home. Ethnicity defined culturally was a particularly salient means of differentiation. The dynamics connected to ethnic categorization and class formation allow a deeper understanding of cultural and national processes in Central and Western Europe in the twentieth century.


The society in Terezín was simultaneously interconnected and stratified. There were no stark contradictions between the wealthy and the majority of extremely poor prisoners. Rather, this dissertation shows a nexus of ethnicity, linked to culture and habitus, and power and class - we can view the ghetto as a social space. Thanks to a dominant master narrative, the Terezín community was inclusive and coherent, even if various groups had very different access to resources. Therefore, we should view society in ghettos and concentration camps, as a society in its own right, rather than a deviant version of our own with atomizing social ties.


Dr. Anna Hájková, Assistant Professor für Modern Continental European History an der University of Warwick, Großbritannien



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