I’ve waited for the events’ outcome to do this post; eventually, a few matters have got resolved, but please read on:

The concept was a good one: put together an exhibition on the deportation of NS-victims – mostly Jews, largely Jewish children at that – to the death camps via railway and, instead of stuffing the exhibition into a museum and exposing it only to a limited audience, put it on the tracks and let it roll around the republic for any person interested to see without having to take trips to far-off museums. But just as many concepts that are good in theory are not so easily put into practice, the Holocaust remembrance train faced several huge obstacles.

Firstly, Deutsche Bahn (the German railway company) charged the organizers of the Holocaust remembrance train its regular tariffs for use of its tracks and stations, totalling up the bill to at least 80,000€. Since the organizers of the exhibition all are volunteers of some kind, they have been struggling to cover the expenses. That aside, Deutsche Bahn’s insistence on charging full price has raised quite a few eyebrows. As for any corporation, sponsoring the project through reducing or taking over the expenses could have earned Deutsche Bahn public merits as well as a tax-deductible donation. Cum grano salis commenters noted that Deutsche Bahn’s predecessor during NS-Germany, Deutsche Reichsbahn, had already made good profits on charging the Reich for the deportation to the death camps – cynically enough at the “groups on a trip”-rate. Deutsche Bahn commented it could not forego charging external carriers regular tariffs without breaking existing laws. In all fairness, Deutsche Bahn already sponsored a similar exhibition this January. But then again, as Ruben Herzberg, head of the Hamburg Jewish congregation rightly points out, “To remember the outrageous breach of civilization through the Shoah, that happened right amongst us – in the public eye at German railway stations as well – is a perpetual task. Whoever expects absolution through referring to efforts made, has not understood anything.” [translation by ed.; source: hagalil]

Secondly, it took immense public pressure (from politicians from all major parties, the general public, religious bodies and NGOs) for the Holocaust remembrance train to eventually be permitted to stop at Hamburg central Station, Berlin central station, Grunewald station in Berlin (from where the deportations of Berlin Jews took place) etc. Deutsche Bahn argued security concerns as well as concerns over the exhibition train interfering with regular train schedules as reasons for their reluctance to let the train stop in those stations, neither of which were all too convincing considering the given infrastructure. Honi soit…, but one cannot help but wonder what the actual motivations behind putting the proverbial spoke in the wheel of the Holocaust remembrance train were.

Final destination of the train is Auschwitz-Birkenau (8 May 2008).

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  • Those of us unable to attend the exhibition can check out Steve Reich’s great piece on the transports, Different Trains (1988) (complete with a work for Pat Metheny on the same album).