Alex Constantine - January 23, 2008
Berlin - The railway cattle-trucks that carried Jews and other victims of the Nazis to concentration camps were a key part of the machinery of the Holocaust, an exhibition opened Wednesday in Berlin shows. Combining items already shown at the German Railways' Museum with documents collected by Beate Klarsfeld, a Franco-German journalist, the touring exhibition began near the rail firm's offices on Berlin's Potsdamer Platz.
It is only a short distance from here to the site of a sprawling wartime rail yard where Berlin Jews were taken to begin the terrifying journey into the unknown.
"This was going on in full public view between 1940 and 1945," said Susanne Kill, chief historian at the Deutsche Bahn company. "In Berlin, the Jews were marched through the streets."
Nazi-era Germans were accustomed to looking the other way, and anyone taking a photo was likely to be imprisoned themselves. The few photos in evidence were mainly taken by officials such as Nazi guards.
The Deutsche Reichsbahn company, predecessor to today's Deutsche Bahn, hauled 3 million Jews and gypsies to the camps, mostly in indescribably cruel conditions using wagons built for livestock.
The Berlin event is not linked to the Train of Memory foundation, an independent group touring Germany with a steam locomotive and two carriages of Holocaust mementoes which will end the journey at Auschwitz on May 8.
A rivalry between the two events has led to squabbles about donations.
While the exhibition does not reveal anything previously unknown, it took years to persuade Bahn to sponsor it. Klarsfeld stubbornly pushed her plan to show how children were taken from France to the death camps.
The content was agreed between Kill, Klarsfeld and her husband Serge, and the Jewish studies institute Centrum Judaicum. The Klarsfelds provided photos and biographies of the children which they have collected.
After the first stop, in an underground part of the Potsdamer Platz mass-transit station, the exhibition fully funded by Deutsche Bahn will move to at least eight other German cities.