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Off the Hook

DW staff (nda)January 17, 2008

The German Transport Ministry has attempted to save Deutsche Bahn from being publicly shamed by awarding a grant to a Holocaust exhibition foundation charged by the railway concern for the use of its tracks.

The train tracks leading to the Auschwitz death camp after its liberation
Deutsche Bahn is billing the group for using tracks which will once more lead to AuschwitzImage: AP

The foundation that organizes a touring Holocaust exhibition involving a vintage steam locomotive and two carriages containing pictures of child victims has been awarded a government grant to pay for fees charged by German railway concern Deutsche Bahn for the use of its tracks.

The Train of Commemoration Foundation had recently complained that, despite Deutsche Bahn's historic involvement in the transportation of prisoners to Nazi death camps, the company had invoiced the foundation for rail-track use.

The foundation argued that the Bahn had to accept its historic responsibility as the transport provider to the Nazis and that included supporting the exhibition. It said the tens of thousands of euros of tolls charged to the rolling exhibit were "in effect a boycott of this public commemoration."

After the foundation threatened to publicly shame the company, Deutsche Bahn admitted that it was charging the group the same toll for track use as it charged other private train operators. A Bahn spokesman said the company had to treat all customers equally and that no one could use the tracks for free.

Government grant lets DB off the hook

But instead of Deutsche Bahn waving the fee, the Germany's Transport Ministry has intervened. It offered a grant of 15,000 euros ($22,000) to the foundation and called for corporate sponsorship for the project.

A red stop light seen beside the logo for Deutsche Bahn
Deutsche Bahn is accused of obstructing the exhibitionImage: AP

While the grant and any corporate sponsorship that follows may help to alleviate the financial costs for the foundation, the organizers of the exhibit feel Deutsche Bahn is getting off the hook, courtesy of its federal paymasters.

They see the row over rail-track fees as just another example of Deutsche Bahn's indifference to the project since its conception.

The group came up with the notion of creating an exhibit that would symbolically travel through the country on the very railways that were used in the deportations after hearing of a 2003 French exhibition organized by French Nazi hunters and activists Beate and Serge Klarsfeld.

The Klarsfeld exhibit, which focused on the deportation of 11,000 Jewish children via rail from France to Nazi death camps, was shown in French train stations. When it attempted to widen its travels into Germany, following the route the French victims of the Holocaust would have taken, Deutsche Bahn denied it authorization.

Latest installment of dispute

Holocaust survivor Margot Kleinberger visits the exhibit
Holocaust survivor Margot Kleinberger visits the exhibitImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The Train of Commemoration Foundation was then conceived by a group of journalists, artists, lawyers and academics who took up the torch of the Klarsfeld exhibit and created their own rolling exhibition, detailing how Jewish children were caught up in the Nazi machinery of death and taken to the gas chambers in cattle wagons.

But both Deutsche Bahn and the German Transport Ministry, which issued the transport orders under the Nazi regime, failed to show interest in the project.

The Train of Commemoration has been touring Germany since early November and is to reach the Auschwitz death camp in Poland on May 8. So far 40,000 people have seen the exhibition, which is set to visit a total of 40 German cities before reaching Auschwitz.