Conditions for prisoners held inside Theresienstadt were very poor. Of the 140,000 prisoners who were imprisoned there during its existence, 33,000 perished at the ghetto due to deprivation, starvation, and disease.
The ghetto was overcrowded, with between 40,000-50,000 people crammed into the living quarters. Initially, the first Jews to arrive at Theresienstadt were housed in the converted barracks, sleeping in triple decker wooden bunk beds, with several people sharing each bunk. However, overcrowding soon meant that some were also forced to sleep in the attics, cellars, and hallways.
Food was scarce. It was handed out three times a day and typically consisted of bread, soup made with lentils or potatoes, one slice of salami or meat (although this was rare), and coffee. When coupled with the lack of sanitation, the poor quality and lack of food often resulted in starvation and poor health. Food packages (which were a lifeline) could be received in the post from those outside of Theresienstadt, but as the war continued, and many of the prisoners’ family and friends disappeared, these often dwindled.
There was also a hospital within Theresienstadt. Although the lack of medicine meant that chances of recovery from illness still remained low, care was significantly better than care in other ghettos and camps in Nazi occupied Europe.
Running water in the ghetto existed, but was often temporarily faulty or broken. As a result of this, the overcrowded living barracks and the small amount of facilities, hygiene and sanitation were extremely poor.
Many of the prisoners in Theresienstadt were elderly or too sick to be able to work. Those who did work had jobs either working in the ghetto itself or carrying out hard labour outside of the ghetto. Whilst hard labour was often more demanding, it also provided an opportunity to leave the camp, and potentially to smuggle extra food to supplement their diets.