August 12, 2007
Some of the primary reasons Tennessee’s basketball team came to Europe was to work on elements of their game on the court and to build team chemistry. Perhaps the most powerful lesson the of trip came Sunday afternoon when the Vols toured the Terezin Concentration Camp located about an hour outside of Prague, Czech Republic.
“A basketball game was played last night, a basketball game will be played tomorrow,” an emotional head coach Bruce Pearl said following the visit. “I’ll try to teach them to do a better job with their transition defense and to communicate better. But this visit to the Terezin Concentration Camp was probably the most important lesson of our trip. Who knows what lasting effects this will have on my players. It’s my hope that when they’re faced with a difficult decision of what’s right or wrong, even if it’s an unpopular choice, that they will make the best decision. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that history has a way of repeating itself, and in this case we can’t let that happen again.”
A fortress built in the 18th century to defend the city of Terezin, the edifice never had the opportunity to serve the purpose for which it was constructed. In fact, the moat surrounding the fort was filled with water only one time and that was to just to test it soon after construction. For much of its existence the fort was used as a prison. The Prague Gestapo Police Prison took it over in 1940 and brought in the first inmates on June 14, 1940. Before the war was over, more than 32,000 prisoners passed through the fort. Terzin did not serve as one of the Nazi’s death camps, rather it was a stop-over for prisoners on their way to other concentration camps. However, due to the difficult living conditions (especially for the Jewish prisoners), sickness and torture by the guards, about 2,600 prisoners died in Terezin.
“It was definitely very emotional,” freshman forward Steven Pearl said. “Immediately when you walk up, you see a lot graves, the flowers, the cross and the Jewish Star. It caught my attention right away. That was a very emotional scene.”
The team visited small cells no larger than 5-foot by 10-foot where as many as 12 prisoners were kept. They also saw rooms where 600 prisoners were forced to sleep virtually on top of each other. The tour guide showed them a shower room that each prisoner got to use only four times a year and when they did get to bathe, they shared a single shower head with four others. A firing range that was also used for executions and a gallows was also a part of the tour. At the end of the visit, the team went through a museum that showed lists of prisoners and had photos of what they had to endure.
“It was definitely eye-opening,” Steven Pearl said. “It was a good experience for all of us to go through, for a lot of the guys to see that side of Coach (Bruce Pearl) and me. It is part of our culture. I think it is a bonding experience and at the same time a growing experience. We really don’t have it all that tough, we have it pretty good actually. It showed what the Jewish people had to go through back then. It is ridiculous how bad they had it.”
The Vols enjoyed a light dinner at Klasterni Senk monastery Sunday evening in Prague. They will participate in a scavenger hunt in downtown Prague Monday afternoon before heading to Bratislava, Slovakia, early Tuesday morning.