Pictures of Jewish children deported from France to German concentration camps were displayed in French train stations for two years. Now, German rail wants to block the exhibition from reaching stations in Germany.
Children of the Holocaust - Adolf Schonek and Paul Sternberg
Transport Number 8: Adolf Schonek, born in Berlin, was just 14 years old when he was deported from his home in French exile on July 20, 1942. Adolf is just one of the "Jewish Children Deported from France," an exhibition of photographs displayed in railway stations throughout France for over two years.
"It was important, because we had a public we had never had before," said Beate Klarsfeld, one of the organizers of the exhibit. "People came into the railway station just to take the train, but then they saw that 60 years ago these children took the train from this station as well -- in cattle cars that brought them straight to the gas chambers."
Of the 11,000 children deported from France, roughly 650 were born in Germany or Austria -- children like Adolf Schonek and Ruth Mentzel. The "Deutsche Reichsbahn" was not only the logistical power behind the deportations. The Jewish communities were forced to pay train fare -- Third Class tickets were four Reichspfennig per kilometer of track. Children 10 years and under were charged half, children under four traveled free. Group rates applied.
A German obligation?
Ruth Mentzel, born in Berlin, arrested in Toulouse, deported with Transport 77
More than 60 years after the deportations, Beate Klarsfeld and her husband Serge Klarsfeld, president of the French organization "Sons and Daughters of the Deported Jews in France," feel Deutsche Bahn should pay tribute to these young Holocaust victims. They want to display 150 photographs of the deported German and Austrian children in German train stations. But Deutsche Bahn has refused their request, citing security issues and a lack of funds.
"We are very aware of the darker side of our company’s history," said Deutsche Bahn spokesman Oliver Schumacher in a press release. "But we think that this sensitive topic should be dealt with within the context of a museum." Deutsche Bahn has offered to display the photographs in the company’s museum in Nuremberg.
But Beate Klarsfeld has dismissed the offer. "The exhibition in Nuremberg would only reach a special public, only people who want to learn about trains," she said. "It would not reach a large public, especially not young people. We want to make the connection between the place where the photos are seen and the transportation of the children through these train stations on their way to Auschwitz."
A responsibility to the victims
Klarsfeld has been fighting for decades to raise awareness for the crimes of the Holocaust in Germany and in France. And she will not take no for an answer. She and the non-profit group "11,000 Children" demonstrated at German train stations, handing out thousands of postcards to train travelers -- addressed to Deutsche Bahn head Hartmut Mehdorn. The Central Council of Jews in Germany has said that with their refusal, Deutsche Bahn is neglecting its responsibility to the victims.
Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee has also made a plea to Deutsche Bahn to review its decision. Until then, Tiefensee has offered the photographs a different transitory home -- in the Ministry for Transport, Building and Housing in Berlin.