Jan 2007 Journal

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Brilliant but Terrifying (Book Review)

by Alfred Gottwaldt and Diana Schulle
Marix Verlag, 2005, 508 pp., €15

This is a totally factual account of all trains used by the Germans to transport Jews and others to the East. Each train was given a prefix, e.g. DA, and a number, the date it left and from where, the time of departure and arrival at this or that camp, how many men, women and children were on it, where they originated, and whether they perished at their destination or survived. One marvels at the astonishing amount of time-consuming research by the authors and at the meticulously kept archives of the Deutsche Reichsbahn which enabled the research to take place.

There is no comment on the illegality and immorality of the Holocaust - there is frankly no space for it. Many trains are singled out as the vehicle for well-known individuals, for instance Rabbi Leo Baeck, Anita Lasker, Ottla Kafka-David, a sister of Franz Kafka, and the composer Hans Kraša. Examples are given of exceptional brutality, such as when a male workforce returned from work outside a camp to find their womenfolk and children had been taken away and shot, or when a fully loaded train which had an operational stop near a town was kept in sidings for two days because the supervising police or SS men wanted the weekend off.

Trains were usually old-type 3rd class, 2nd class for the supervisors, and always overcrowded. The first cattle trucks were used in January 1942. Deportations were suspended over Christmas when trains were needed to take soldiers home from the front for a couple of weeks. Sometimes when only a few Jews were transported, a single coach was attached to a scheduled train and shunted from one to another. Because the main-line station at Theresienstadt lay some distance from the camp, a special spur was built to connect one with the other.

The route taken by the trains is meticulously described, including empty trains returning after discharging their passengers. Destinations were, among many others, Minsk, Riga, Kovno, Dachau and Auschwitz. One tragedy among many is that in some areas Jews were detrained after having suffered physical and emotional deprivation on the long journey and shot on the spot, as in the Rumbula forest outside Riga where, fortunately, a large memorial now stands.

Many photocopies are reproduced of 'Richtlinien' (orders). An appendix lists all trains in order of time: 24 pages with some 25 trains per page giving approximately 600 trains, usually operating daily from 15 October 1941 to an arrival date at Theresienstadt of 15 April 1945.

This brilliant but terrifying book is not for the fainthearted. When a train from Berlin is mentioned, as is frequently the case, the reader can visualise his relatives being on it en route to Auschwitz.

Dr Gottwaldt is Director of the Railway Section of the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin; Dr Schulle, a Historian with the Centrum Judaicum, is currently supervising the project of a Memorial Book for the German Government of all German-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Rudi Leavor

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