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Controversial Setting

DW staff (kjb)January 24, 2008

An exhibition on the deportation of Jewish children to Nazi death camps has opened in a Berlin train station. Germany's rail company had initially rejected the idea, but bowed to pressure from the transport minister.

Thousands of people were murdered by the Nazis in the Auschwitz concentration campImage: AP

Ordinary people supported the Nazi dictatorship in their everyday lives, which is why the exhibit about these crimes must be shown in an everyday place, Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the opening of the exhibition Potsdamer Platz station in downtown Berlin.

Forty information boards with photos, personal testimonies, biographies and diagrams detail the fate of, among others, 11,400 Jewish children who were deported from France to the Auschwitz death camp by train between 1942 and 1944.

The exhibition, which also honors the Sinti Roma deported and killed by the Nazis, is a replicate of a similar show that took place in French train stations four years ago. Both were organized by the French-German couple Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, who founded the organization Sons and Daughters of Jews Deported from France.

Poignant location despite commuter chaos

Beate Klarsfeld
Nazi-hunter Klarsfeld outlined the personal stories of thousands of deported childrenImage: AP

"Putting an exhibition in a station is very different from putting it in a museum," Serge Klarsfeld told the AFP news agency on Wednesday. "It speaks to the German people directly."

However, Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national rail operator, had at first opposed the proposal to transform train station into a place of remembrance.

"The subject is too serious," Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn said in October 2006. "It deserves more than commuters' divided attention as they run to catch their trains while gulping down a sandwich."

In response, the rail company drew harsh criticism from the Klarsfelds, who accused it of not owning up to its past.

The Reichsbahn, predecessor of Germany's present day train service, played an essential role in the Nazi scheme to deport and exterminate millions of Jews, Roma and other "unwanted" people. It also received money from the Nazi government for each person it deported.

Trains made genocide possible

Track 17 at the Grunewald station
Track 17 in Grunewald is a memorial to Holocaust victimsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Deutsche Bahn finally gave in to pressure from the transport minister.

"It was important to me that this exhibition should go ahead and expose the troubled past of the Reichsbahn," Tiefensee said Wednesday at the opening of the exhibition.

Mehdorn did not attend the ceremony, but Margret Suckale, Deutsche Bahn's personnel and legal manager, affirmed that, "without a doubt, the Reichsbahn played a supporting role in the National Socialist genocide."

A Deutsche Bahn press statement emphasized that the company seeks to uncover and remember its Nazi past in other ways as well, including a memorial at Track 17 at the Grunewald station and with an exhibition at its museum in Nuremberg.

The deportation exhibition, titled " Chartered Trains to Death -- Deportation with the German Reichsbahn," will be on display at the Potsdamer Platz station in Berlin through Feb. 11 before moving on to 10 additional German cities throughout the year. Halle (Saale), Schwerin and Münster are its next stops.