Holocaust trains were railway transports run by the Deutsche
Reichsbahn national railway system under the strict supervision of the
German Nazis and their allies, for the purpose of forcible deportation
of the Jews, as well as other victims of the Holocaust, to the German
Nazi concentration, forced labour, and extermination camps.
Modern historians suggest that without the mass transportation of the
railways, the scale of the "Final Solution" would not have been
possible. The extermination of people targeted in the "Final
Solution" was dependent on two factors: the capacity of the death
camps to gas the victims and "process" their bodies quickly enough, as
well as the capacity of the railways to transport the victims from the
Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe
Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe and Jewish ghettos in German-occupied
Poland to selected extermination sites. The most modern accurate
numbers on the scale of the "Final Solution" still rely partly on
shipping records of the German railways.
2 The role of railways in the Final Solution
2.1 Scale of the need for mass transportation
3 The journey
3.1 Point of arrival
4 The calculations
5 Operations across Europe
5.3 Bohemia and Moravia
7 Remembrance and commemoration
8 Railway companies involved
12 External links
The first mass deportation of
Nazi Germany occurred in less
than a year before the outbreak of war. It was the forcible eviction
Jews with Polish citizenship fuelled by the Kristallnacht.
Jews were rounded up and sent via rail to refugee
camps. In July 1938 both the United States and Britain at the Évian
Conference in France refused to accept any more Jewish immigrants.
British Government agreed to take in the shipment of children
Nicholas Winton in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on the
conditions that he pay the cost (via Czech travel agency Cedok) and
arrange for the foster care. Winton managed to arrange for 669
children to get out on eight trains to London (a small group of 15
were flown out via Sweden). The ninth train was to leave
Prague on 3
September 1939, the day Britain entered World War II. The train never
left the station, and none of the 250 children on board were seen
again. All European
Jews trapped under the Nazi regime became the
target of Hitler's "
Final Solution to the Jewish Question".
The role of railways in the Final Solution
Entrance, or so-called "death gate", to
Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the
Within various phases of the Holocaust, the trains were employed
differently. At first, they were used to concentrate the Jewish
populations in the ghettos, and often to transport them to forced
labour and German concentration camps for the purpose of economic
exploitation. In 1939 for logistical reasons the Jewish
communities in settlements without railway lines in occupied Poland
were dissolved. By the end of 1941, about 3.5 million Polish Jews
had been segregated and ghettoised by the SS in a massive deportation
action involving the use of freight trains. Permanent ghettos had
direct railway connections, because the food aid (paid by the Jews
themselves) was completely dependent on the SS similar to all newly
built labour camps.
Jews were legally banned from baking
bread. They were sealed off from the general public in hundreds of
virtual prison-islands called Jüdischer Wohnbezirk or Wohngebiet der
Juden. However, the new system was unsustainable. By the end of 1941,
Jews had no savings left to pay the SS for further
bulk food deliveries. The quagmire was resolved at the Wannsee
conference of 20 January 1942 near Berlin, where the "Final Solution
of the Jewish question" (die Endlösung der Judenfrage) was set in
place. It was a euphemism referring to the Nazi plan for the
annihilation of the Jewish people.
During the liquidation of the ghettos starting in 1942, the trains
were used to transport the condemned populations to death camps. To
implement the "Final Solution", the Nazis made their own Deutsche
Reichsbahn an indispensable element of the mass extermination machine,
wrote historian Raul Hilberg. Although the prisoner trains took
away valuable track space, they allowed for the mass scale and
shortened duration over which the extermination needed to take place.
The fully enclosed nature of the locked and windowless cattle wagons
greatly reduced the number and skill of troops required to transport
Jews to their destinations. The use of railroads enabled
the Nazis to lie about the "resettlement program" and, at the same
time, build and operate more efficient gassing facilities which
required limited supervision.
The Nazis disguised their "Final Solution" as the mass "resettlement
to the east". The victims were told they were being taken to labour
camps in Ukraine. In reality, from 1942 on for most Jews, deportations
meant only death at either Bełżec, Chełmno, Sobibór, Majdanek,
Treblinka, or Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some trains that had already
transported goods to the Eastern front on their return carried human
cargo bound for extermination camps. The plan was being realized
in the utmost secrecy. In late 1942 during a telephone conversation
Hitler's private secretary
Martin Bormann admonished Heinrich Himmler
who was informing him about 50,000
Jews already exterminated in a
concentration camp in Poland. "They were not exterminated – Bormann
screamed – only evacuated, evacuated, evacuated!" and slammed down
the phone, wrote Enghelberg.
Scale of the need for mass transportation
General map of deportation routes and camps
Wannsee Conference of 1942, the Nazis began to murder
Jews in large numbers at newly built death camps of Operation
Reinhard. Since 1941, the Einsatzgruppen, mobile extermination squads,
were already conducting mass shootings of
Jews in the Eastern
territories which were occupied earlier by the Soviet Union, as well
as east of the 1939 Soviet borders . The
Jews of Western Europe
were either deported to ghettos emptied through mass killings, such as
Rumbula massacre of the inhabitants of the Riga Ghetto, or sent
directly to Treblinka,
Sobibór extermination camps built
in spring and summer of 1942 only for gassing.
Auschwitz II Birkenau
chambers began operating in March. The last death camp, Majdanek,
launched them in late 1942.
At Wannsee, the SS estimated that the "Final Solution" could
ultimately eradicate up to 11 million European Jews; Nazi
planners envisioned the inclusion of
Jews living in neutral and
non-occupied countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Turkey, and the United
Kingdom. Deportations on this scale required the coordination of
numerous German government ministries and state organisations,
Reich Main Security Office
Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), the Transport
Ministry, and the Foreign Office. The RSHA coordinated and directed
the deportations; the Transport Ministry organized train schedules;
and the Foreign Office negotiated with German-allied states and their
railways about "processing" their own Jews.
In recent years, the German spokesman for the Train of Commemoration
remembrance project, Hans-Rüdiger Minow told
The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post that
from among the
World War II
World War II railway staff and officials, there is "no
word about those who committed the crimes" even though 200,000 train
employees were involved in the rail deportations and "10,000 to 20,000
were responsible for mass murders". The railwaymen were never
Auschwitz Album. "Selection" on the Judenrampe, May–June 1944.
To be sent to the right meant assignment to slave labour; to the left,
the gas chambers. This image shows the arrival of Hungarian
Carpatho-Ruthenia. The main entrance, or "death gate", is visible in
the background. Courtesy of Yad Vashem.
The first trains with German
Jews expelled to ghettos in occupied
Poland began departing from central Germany on 16 October 1941.
Subsequently, called Sonderzüge (special trains), the trains had
low priority for the movement and would proceed to the mainline only
after all other transports went through, inevitably extending shipping
time beyond expectations.
The trains consisted of sets of either third class passenger
carriages, but mainly freight cars or cattle cars or both; the
latter packed with up to 150 deportees, although 50 was the number
proposed by the SS regulations. No food or water was supplied. The
Güterwagen boxcars were only fitted with a bucket latrine. A small
barred window provided irregular ventilation, which oftentimes
resulted in multiple deaths from either suffocation or the exposure to
the elements. Some freight cars had a layer of quick lime on the
At times the Germans did not have enough filled up cars ready to start
a major shipment of
Jews to the camps, so the victims were kept
locked inside overnight at layover yards.
The Holocaust trains waited
for more important military trains to pass. An average transport
took about four days. The longest transport of the war, from Corfu,
took 18 days. When the train arrived at the camp and the doors were
opened, everyone was already dead.
Due to delays and cramped conditions, many deportees died in transit.
On 18 August 1942, Waffen SS officer
Kurt Gerstein had witnessed at
Belzec the arrival of "45 wagons with 6,700 people of whom 1,450 were
already dead on arrival." That train came with the
Jews of the Lwów
Ghetto, less than 100 kilometers away.
Point of arrival
Original carriage at the Judenrampe platform, Auschwitz-Birkenau
The SS built three extermination camps in occupied Poland specifically
for Operation Reinhard: Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka. They were
fitted with identical mass killing installations disguised as communal
shower rooms. In addition, gas chambers were developed in 1942 at
Majdanek concentration camp, and at
Auschwitz II-Birkenau. In German-occupied USSR at the
Maly Trostinets extermination camp
Maly Trostinets extermination camp shootings were used to kill victims
in the woods. At the
Chełmno extermination camp
Chełmno extermination camp victims were
killed in gas vans whose redirected exhaust fed into sealed
compartments at the rear of the vehicle. They were utilized in
Trostinets as well. Neither of these two camps had international
rail connections therefore the trains used to stop at the nearby
ghettos in Łódź and in Minsk respectively. From there, the
prisoners were taken by trucks to die. At Treblinka, Belzec,
Sobibor the killing mechanism consisted of a large
internal-combustion engine delivering exhaust fumes to gas chambers
through pipes. At
Auschwitz and Majdanek, the gas chambers relied
Zyklon B pellets of hydrogen cyanide, poured through vents in the
roof from cans sealed hermetically.
Once alighted, the prisoners were split by category. The old, the
young, the sick and the infirm were sometimes separated for immediate
death by shooting, while the rest were prepared for the gas chambers.
In a single 14-hour workday, 12,000 to 15,000 people would be
killed at any one of these camps. The capacity of the
crematoria at Birkenau was 20,000 bodies per day. The selected
new arrivals who looked healthy were put to slave labor in the
Sonderkommandos, burying victims in mass graves and burning corpses
under pain of death.
Interior of a boxcar used to transport
Jews and other Holocaust
victims during World War II, the United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington, D.C.
The standard means of delivery was a 10 metre long cattle freight
wagon, although third class passenger carriages were also used when
the SS wanted to keep up the "resettlement to work in the East" myth,
particularly in the Netherlands and in Belgium. The SS manual covered
such trains, suggesting a carrying capacity per each trainset of 2,500
people in 50 cars, each boxcar loaded with 50 prisoners. In reality
however, boxcars were crammed with up to 100 persons and routinely
loaded from the minimum of 150% to 200% capacity. This resulted in
an average of 5,000 people per trainset; 100 persons in each freight
car multiplied by 50 cars. Notably, during the mass deportation of
Jews from the
Warsaw Ghetto to
Treblinka in 1942 trains carried up to
7,000 victims each.
In total, over 1,600 trains were organised by the German Transport
Ministry, and logged mainly by the Polish state railway company taken
over by Germany, due to the majority of death camps being located in
occupied Poland. Between 1941 and December 1944, the official date
of closing of the
Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, the transport/arrival
timetable was of 1.5 trains per day: 50 freight cars × 50 prisoners
per freight car × 1,066 days = 4,000,000 prisoners in total.
On 20 January 1943, Himmler sent a letter to Albert Ganzenmüller, the
Under-secretary of State at the Reich Transport Ministry, pledging:
"need your help and support. If I am to wind things up quickly, I must
have more trains." Of the estimated 6 million
during World War II, 2 million were murdered on the spot by the
military, political police, and mobile death squads of the
Einsatzgruppen aided by the Orpo battalions and their auxiliaries. The
remainder were shipped to their deaths elsewhere.
Most of the
Jews were forced to pay for their own deportations,
particularly wherever passenger carriages were used. This payment came
in the form of direct money deposit to the SS in light of the
"resettlement to work in the East" myth. Charged in the ghettos for
accommodation the adult
Jews paid full price one-way tickets, while
children under 10–12 years of age paid half price. Those who were
running out of money in the ghetto were loaded onto trains to the East
as first, while those with some remaining supplies of gold and cash
were shipped as last.
The SS forwarded part of this money to the German Transport Authority
to pay the German Railways for transport of the Jews. The Reichsbahn
was paid the equivalent of a third class railway ticket for every
prisoner transported to their destination: 8,000,000 passengers 4
Pfennig per track kilometer, times 600 km (average voyage
length), equaled 240 million Reichsmarks. Children under four went
DRB Class 52
DRB Class 52 steam locomotive used by the Deutsche
Reichsbahn during World War II. Members of this class were used in the
Polish-made Pt31-64 steam locomotive produced by H. Cegielski –
Poznań in the interwar Second Polish Republic. Members of this class
were used by
Nazi Germany for deportation actions.
The Reichsbahn pocketed both this money and their own share of the
cash paid by the transported
Jews after the SS fees. According to an
expert report established on behalf of the German "Train of
Commemoration" project, the receipts taken in by the state-owned
Deutsche Reichsbahn for mass deportations in the period between 1938
and 1945 reached a sum of US $664,525,820.34.
Operations across Europe
Powered mainly by efficient steam locomotives, the Holocaust trains
were kept to a maximum of 55 freight cars on average, loaded from 150%
to 200% capacity. The participation of German State Railway (the
Deutsche Reichsbahn) was crucial to the effective implementation of
Final Solution of the Jewish Question". The DRB was paid to
Jews and other victims of the Holocaust from thousands of
towns and cities throughout Europe to meet their death in the Nazi
concentration camp system.
As well as transporting German Jews, DRB was responsible for
coordinating transports on the rail networks of occupied territories
and Germany's allies. The characteristics of organized concentration
and transportation of victims of the Holocaust varied by country.
After Germany invaded
Belgium on 10 May 1940, all
Jews were forced to
register with the police as of 28 October 1940. The lists enabled
Belgium to become the first country in occupied Western Europe to
deport recently immigrating Jews. The implementation of the "Final
Belgium centred on the
Mechelen transit camp
Mechelen transit camp (Malines)
chosen because it was the hub of the Belgian National Railway
system. The first convoy left
Mechelen transit camp
Mechelen transit camp for
extermination camps on 22 July 1942, although nearly 2,250
already been deported as forced laborers for
Organisation Todt to
Northern France. By October 1942 some 16,600 people had been
deported in 17 convoys. At this time deportations were temporarily
halted until January 1943. Those deported in the first wave
were not Belgian citizens, resulting from the intervention by Queen
Elisabeth with the German authorities. In 1943, the deportations
of Belgians resumed.
A cattle truck used for the transport of Belgian
Jews to camps in
Eastern Europe. The openings were covered in barbed wire. This
example is preserved at Fort Breendonk.
Jews with Belgian citizenship were deported for the
first time. After the war, the collaborator Felix Lauterborn
stated in his trial that 80 per cent of arrests in Antwerp used
information from paid informants. In total, 6,000
deported in 1943, with another 2,700 in 1944. Transports were halted
by the deteriorating situation in occupied
Belgium before the
The percentages of
Jews which were deported varied by location. It was
highest in Antwerp, with 67 per cent deported, but lower in Brussels
(37 per cent), Liége (35 per cent) and Charleroi (42 per cent).
The main destination for the convoys was
Auschwitz concentration camp
in occupied Poland. Smaller numbers were sent to Buchenwald and
Ravensbrück concentration camps, as well as
Vittel concentration camp
in France. In total, 25,437
Jews were deported from Belgium.
Only 1,207 of these survived the war.
The only time during
World War II
World War II that a
Holocaust train carrying
Jewish deportees from Western Europe was stopped by the Underground
happened on 19 April 1943, when the Transport No. 20 left Mechelen
with 1,631 Jews, heading for Auschwitz. Soon after leaving Mechelen,
the driver stopped the train after seeing an emergency red light, set
by the Belgians. After a brief fire fight between the Nazi train
guards and the three resistance members – equipped only with one
pistol between them – the train started again. Of the 233 people who
attempted to escape, 26 were shot on the spot, 89 were recaptured and
118 got away.
From the Holocaust Museum in Skopje; original wagon used for transport
of Macedonian Jews
Bulgaria joined the
Axis powers in March 1941 and took part in the
Yugoslavia and Greece. The Bulgarian government set up
transit camps in Skopje,
Dupnitsa for the
the former Serbian province of
Vardar Banovina and
Republic of Macedonia
Republic of Macedonia and Greece). The "deportations to the east"
of 13,000 inmates, mostly to
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka extermination camp began on
22 February 1943, predominantly in passenger cars. In four days,
some 20 trainsets departed under severely overcrowded conditions to
occupied Poland requiring each train to stop daily to dump the bodies
Jews who died during the previous 24 hours. In May 1943 the
Bulgarian government led by King Boris III expelled 20,000
Sofia and at the same time, made plans to deport Bulgaria's
the camps pursuant to an agreement with Germany.
Holocaust train from
Thrace was witnessed by Archbishop Stefan of
Sofia who was shocked by what he saw. His protest letter along with
those of other Orthodox clergymen were ignored by the King. A
Sofia on 24 May 1943 by the Jewish community led by
Daniel Zion was quashed by Bulgarian police arresting 400
Jews. Luckily, a small delegation under parliamentarian Dimitar
Peshev managed to launch a successful protest at the Ministry of
Internal Affairs. The new order issued by Minister Petar Gabrovski
to release the
Jews already rounded up, was not reversed. His
decision prevented the Jewish community of 49,000 people from being
exterminated in death camps of General Government. Nevertheless,
Jews remained the subject of severe racial restrictions
locally and were stripped by the government of currency, jewelry and
gold handed over to the Bulgarian national bank. According to
Bulgarian historian Nissan Oren, King Boris did not show any
humanitarian inclinations for the
Jews of his country, and the later
claims of his benevolence are without firm foundation.
Bohemia and Moravia
Czechoslovakia was annexed by
Nazi Germany in 1939. Within the new
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia the Czechoslovak
State Railways (ČSD) were taken over by the Reichsbann and the new
German railway company Böhmisch-Mährische Bahn (BMB) was set up in
its place. The Czech human losses in
World War II
World War II were
considerably lower than among other nations, estimated at between
36,000 and 55,000 with a positive growth ratio due to rising
birthrate, except for the Jews. One entire town was turned into a
walled-off ghetto in 1941, and named Theresienstadt. In all, it
contained around 50,000
Jews from the Protectorate and 37,000 from the
Reich, with the remaining 20,000
Jews transported to other camps.
Three-quarters of Bohemian and Moravian
Jews died in the
Holocaust, of whom 33,000 died in Terezín. The remainder were
Holocaust trains from
Theresienstadt mainly to
Auschwitz-Birkenau. The last train for Birkenau left
28 October 1944 with 2,038
Jews of whom 1,589 were immediately
The Holocaust "Güterwagen" boxcars used by Milles and Drancy
internment camps in France
The French national
SNCF railway company under the Vichy Government
played its part in the "Final Solution". In total, the Vichy
government deported more than 76,000 Jews, without food or water
(pleaded for by the Red Cross in vain), as well as thousands of
other so-called undesirables to German-built concentration and
extermination camps aboard the Holocaust trains, pursuant to an
agreement with the German government; fewer than 3 percent survived
the deportations. According to Serge Klarsfeld, president of
the organization Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France,
SNCF was forced by German and Vichy authorities to cooperate in
providing transport for French
Jews to the border and did not make any
profit from this transport. However, in December 2014,
to pay up to $60 million worth of compensation to Holocaust survivors
in the United States. It corresponds to approximately $100,000 per
Drancy internment camp
Drancy internment camp served as the main transport hub for the Paris
area and regions west and south thereof until August 1944, under the
Alois Brunner from Austria. By 3 February 1944, 67
trains had left from there for Birkenau.
Vittel internment camp
served the northeast, closer to the German border from where all
transports were taken over by German agents. By 23 June 1943, 50,000
Jews had been deported from France, a pace that the Germans deemed too
slow. The last train from France left Drancy on 31 July 1944 with
over 300 children.
July 1942 selection of
Jews in Thessaloniki.
After the invasion,
Greece was divided between the Italian, Bulgarian,
and the German zones of occupation until September 1943. Most Greek
Jews lived in
Thessaloniki (Salonika) ruled by Germany, where the
collection camp was set up for the
Jews also from
Athens and the Greek
Islands. From there 45,000–50,000
Jews were sent to
Auschwitz-Birkenau between March and August 1943, packed 80 to a
wagon. There were also 13,000 Greek
Jews in the Italian, and 4,000
Jews in the Bulgarian zone of occupation. In September 1943 the
Italian zone was taken over by the Third Reich. Overall, some
Jews were deported in
Holocaust trains by the SS
to Auschwitz, Majdanek, Dachau and the subcamps of Mauthausen before
the war's end, including over 90% of Thessaloniki's prewar
population of 50,000 Jews. Of these, 5,000
Jews were deported to
Treblinka from the regions of
Thrace and from Macedonia in the
Bulgarian share of the partitioned Greece, where they were gassed upon
Under Hungarian control the number of
Jews grew to a total of 725,007
officially by 1941. Some 184,453 of them lived in Budapest. While
in alliance with Nazi Germany, Hungary acquired new provinces at both
the First and the Second Vienna Awards (1938; 1940). The Hungarian
Army received vital help from the
Hungarian State Railways (MÁV) in
Northern Transylvania (Erdély). The non-native
Jews were expelled
from the Hungarian territory; some 20,000 of them were transported to
occupied Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, while the Transylvanian Jews
were sent back to Romania. Hungary took part in Operation
Barbarossa, supplying 50,000 Jewish slave labour for the Eastern
Front. Most of the workers were dead by January 1943. Later that year
Hitler discovered that Prime Minister Miklos Kállay secretly
conferred with the Western Allies. To stop him, Germany launched the
Operation Margarethe in March 1944, and took over control of all
Jewish affairs. On 29 April 1944 the first deportation of
Jews to Birkenau took place. Between 15–25 May
according to SS-
Edmund Veesenmayer 138,870
been deported. On 31 May 1944 Veesenmayer reported additional 60,000
Jews sent to the camps in six days, while the total for the past 16
days stood at 204,312 victims. Between May and July 1944, helped
by Hungarian police, the German
Sicherheitspolizei deported nearly
Jews mostly to Auschwitz-Birkenau, or
437,000 at the rate of 6,250 per day.
Holocaust train from Hungary, exhibition
Approximately 320,000 Hungarian
Jews are estimated to have been
Auschwitz-Birkenau before July 1944. On 8 July, the
Jews from Hungary had stopped due to international
pressure by the Pope, the King of Sweden, and the Red Cross (all of
whom had recently learned about the extent of it). However, in
October 1944 some 50,000
Jews were forced on a death march to Germany
following a coup d'état which put the Hungarian pro-Nazi government
back in control. They were forced to dig anti-tank ditches on the road
westward. A further 25,000
Jews were put in an "international ghetto"
under Swedish protection engineered by
Carl Lutz and Raoul Wallenberg.
When the Soviet Army liberated Budapest on 17 January 1945, of
the original 825,000
Jews in the country, less than 260,000 Jews
were still alive, including 80,000 Hungarian natives.
Further information: Kastner train
One Hungarian passenger train later known as the Kastner train
Jews to safety in Switzerland on 30 June 1944 in
exchange for gold, diamonds and cash. It was organized by the
Hungarian journalist and lawyer Rudolph Kastner, the de facto leader
of the Zionist
Aid and Rescue Committee
Aid and Rescue Committee (Vaada). For reasons that are
still disputed, the Nazi officials under
Adolf Eichmann sold them exit
visas in exchange for 6.5 million pengő (RM 4,000,000 or
$1,600,000). In their secret negotiations with the SS, Vaada
compiled a list of "paying persons" including prominent individuals,
Orthodox Jews, Zionists and known refugees, as well as some 600
Jews who held Palestinian immigration certificates. The list also
controversially included 388 people from Kastner's home town of
Further information: Hungarian Gold Train
The fascist government of
Ferenc Szálasi issued a decree in April
1944 ordering all
Jews under the Hungarian jurisdiction to "deposit"
with the authorities their gems, gold jewellery, items made with the
use of precious metals, and all valuables including Oriental carpets,
silver, furs, paintings and fine furniture. These valuables were
laden on a train consisting of 44 cars sent westward ahead of the
Soviet advance. This train was seized in May 1945 by U.S. occupation
troops in Austria. The Hungarian escort pushed the train into a tunnel
near Boeckstein where it was found by the Americans who took control
of the railway station in Werfen. Two Hungarian lorries were seized in
the French sector. The goods were stored in Salzburg. After household
items were given to furnish American families, the remainder was
repatriated to America where in June 1948 it was sold at Parke-Bernet
Galleries in New York City.[note 2]
Holocaust train exhibition, Verona
The popular view that
Benito Mussolini resisted the deportation of
Jews to Germany is widely seen as simplistic by Jewish
scholars, because the Italian Jewish community of 47,000
constituted the most assimilated
Jews in Europe. About one out of
every three Jewish males were members of the Fascist Party before the
war began; more than 10,000
Jews who used to conceal their
identity, because antisemitism was part of the very ideal of
italianità wrote Wiley Feinstein.
The Holocaust came to Italy in September 1943 after the German
takeover of the country due to its total capitulation at
Cassibile. By February 1944 the Germans shipped 8,000
Auschwitz-Birkenau via Austria and Switzerland, although more
than half of the victims arrested and deported from northern Italy
were rounded up by the Italian police and not by the Nazis. Also
between September 1943 and April 1944, at least 23,000 Italian
soldiers were deported to work as slaves in German war industry, while
over 10,000 partisans were captured and deported during the same
period to Birkenau. By 1944 there were over half a million Italians
working inside the Nazi war machine.
The Netherlands was invaded on 10 May 1940 and fell under the German
military control. The community of native-Dutch
Jews including the new
Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria was estimated at
140,000. Most natives were concentrated in the
before being moved to
Westerbork transit camp
Westerbork transit camp in the north-east near
the German border. Deportees for "resettlement" leaving aboard the NS
passenger and freight trains were unaware of their final destination
or fate, as postcards were often thrown from moving trains.
Most of the approximately 100,000
Jews sent to Westerbork
perished. Between July 1942 and September 1944 almost every
Tuesday a train left for
camps, or Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt, in a total of 94 outgoing
trains. About 60,000 prisoners were sent to
Auschwitz and 34,000 to
Sobibor. At liberation approximately 870
Jews remained in
Westerbork. Only 5,200 deportees survived, most of them in
Theresienstadt, approximately 1980 survivors, or Bergen-Belsen,
approximately 2050 survivors. From those on the sixty-eight transports
Auschwitz 1052 people returned, including 181 of the 3450 people
taken from eighteen of the trains at Cosel. There were 18 survivors
out of approximately one thousand people selected from the nineteen
trains to Sobibor, the remainder were murdered on arrival. For the
Netherlands the overall survival rate among
Jews who boarded the
trains for all camps was 4.86 percent. On 29 September 2005,
the Dutch national rail company
Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) apologised
for its role in the deportation of
Jews to the death camps.
Action Saybusch, 24 September 1940. Expelled Poles await transport at
a railway crossing (in this photo, some members of the 129 families
deported from Dolna Sól).
Further information: Occupation of Poland (1939–1945), The Holocaust
in Poland, and Nazi crimes against the Polish nation
Following invasion of Poland in September 1939
Nazi Germany disbanded
Polish National Railways (PKP) immediately, and handed over their
assets to the
Deutsche Reichsbahn in Silesia,
Greater Poland and in
Pomerania. In November 1939, as soon as the semi-colonial General
Government was set up in occupied central Poland, a separate branch of
DRB called Generaldirektion der
Ostbahn (Kolej Wschodnia in Polish)
was established with headquarters called GEDOB in Kraków; all of
the DRB branches existed outside Germany proper. The
granted 3,818 kilometres (2,372 mi) of railway lines (nearly
doubled by 1941) and 505 km of narrow gauge, initially.
In December 1939, on the request of
Hans Frank in Berlin, the
Ostbahndirektion was given financial independence after paying back
10 million Reichsmarks to DRB. The removal of all bomb
damage was completed in 1940. The Polish management was either
executed in mass shooting actions (see: the 1939
the 1940 German AB-Aktion in Poland) or imprisoned at the Nazi
concentration camps. Managerial jobs were staffed with German
officials in a wave of some 8,000 instant promotions. The new
Eastern Division of DRB acquired 7,192 kilometres (4,469 mi) of
new railway lines and 1,052 km of (mostly industrial) narrow
gauge in the annexed areas.
The first Polish agglomeration subjected to forcible expulsion of
Polish nationals was the port city of Gdynia. In total, 70,000-80,000
civilians had been expelled. The forced displacement of
18,000–20,000 Poles from
Silesia began during
Action Saybusch of
1939 and ballooned to around 265,000 before 1944, on top of 630,000
expelees from the Wartheland. The total number of Polish
nationals deported from Polish areas annexed by
Nazi Germany reached
923,000. The DRB trains were used to cleanse and resettle
interwar Poland with the German-speaking colonists in the name of
Expulsion of civilians from Poland's capital after the Warsaw
Uprising, through Dulag in Pruszków. Female prisoners attended by Red
Cross. Prisoners were sent to concentration camps including
Further information: War crimes in occupied Poland during World
The German SS employed
Ostbahn to conduct the first mass transport to
Auschwitz concentration camp
Auschwitz concentration camp (which just opened) in mid June
1940. Notably, the Birkenau infamous "Gate of Death" for the
incoming freight trains at
Auschwitz was built in 1943 long after its
gas chambers went into operation. Expulsions were part of a
broader Nazi policy called Generalplan Ost. The plan
resulted in forced removal of over 1.7 million ethnic Poles from their
homes. Poles were deported to any one of the German forced labour
camps including over 30
Polenlager camps in Germany and in
Mass deportations of Polish nationals using freight trains (but also
lorries) took place during the ethnic cleansing of Zamojszczyzna
between November 1942 and July 1943, in which all branches of German
police including Orpo and Sonderdienst, as well as Wehrmacht and the
Ukrainian Auxiliary Police
Ukrainian Auxiliary Police participated. Over 110,000 Poles were
forcibly removed from liquidated villages in the General Government,
including around 30,000 children most of whom were never found.
In the second phase of the same plan which was dubbed the
Ukraineraktion, the Germans brought in trainloads of Ukrainian
peasants into the area of Zamość, in order to form a buffer zone
shielding the 10,000 ethic German colonists arriving Heim ins Reich
from Romania among other places. By the end of March 1943, over 7,000
Ukrainian peasants were placed in the areas surrounding the settlers,
and 116 villages around
Zamość had been cleansed of their Polish
One of the 1942 executions of the Polish railwaymen kept hanging for
two days along the tracks in Kraków, for their alleged sabotage
action in Bieżanów
Further information: Forced labour under German rule during World War
Deutsche Reichsbahn acquired new infrastructure in Poland worth in
excess of 8,278,600,000 złoty, including some of the largest
locomotive factories in Europe, the
H. Cegielski – Poznań
H. Cegielski – Poznań renamed
Chrzanów renamed Oberschlesische Lokomotivwerke
Krenau producing engines Ty37 and Pt31 (designed in Poland), as well
as the locomotive parts factory Babcock-Zieleniewski in Sosnowiec
renamed Ferrum AG (tasked with making parts to V-1 i V-2 rockets
also). Under the new management, formerly Polish companies began
producing German engines BR44, BR50 and BR86 as early as 1940
virtually for free, using forced labor. All Polish railwaymen were
ordered to return to their place of work, or face death. Beating with
fists became commonplace, although perceived as shocking by Polish
long-term professionals. Their public executions were introduced in
1942. By 1944, the factories in Poznań and
mass-producing the redesigned "Kriegslok" BR52 locomotives for the
Eastern front, all stripped of coloured metals by the rule with
intentionally shortened lifespan.
Jews from the
Warsaw Ghetto who died inside sealed boxcars
Treblinka extermination camp, August 1942
Before the onset of
Operation Reinhard which marked the most deadly
phase of the Holocaust in Poland many
Jews were transported by road to
killing sites such as the Chełmno extermination camp, equipped with
gas vans. In 1942, stationary gas chambers were built at Treblinka,
Majdanek and Auschwitz. After the Nazi takeover of
PKP, the train movements, originating inside and outside occupied
Poland and terminating at death camps, were tracked by
IBM-supplied card-reading machines and traditional waybills produced
by the Reichsbahn.
The Holocaust trains were always managed and
directed by native German SS men posted with that express' role
throughout the system.
Final Solution and German camps in occupied
Poland during World War II
The shipments to camps under
Operation Reinhard came mainly from the
Warsaw Ghetto created by Nazi Germans on 16 November 1940
held eventually over 450,000
Jews cramped in an area meant for about
60,000 people. The second-largest Ghetto in Łódź held 204,000 Jews.
Both ghettos had collection points known as
Umschlagplatz along the
rail tracks, with most deportations from
place between 22 July through to 12 September 1942. The
Treblinka started on 23 July 1942, with two pendulum trains
delivering victims six days each week ranging from about 4,000 to
7,000 victims per transport, the first in the early morning and the
second in the mid-afternoon. All new arrivals were sent
immediately to the undressing area by the
Sonderkommando squad that
managed the arrival platform, and from there to the gas chambers.
According to German records, including the official report by SS
Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, some 265,000
Jews were transported in
freight trains from the
Warsaw Ghetto to
Treblinka during this period.
The murder operation code-named Grossaktion
Warsaw concluded several
months before the subsequent
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising resulting in new
deportations. The Nazi 1942 record of the total number of victims
most of whom were transported by train to
Operation Reinhard death
camps, including cumulative numbers known today, is as follows:
Numbers and notes
quoted: 434,508 (real total of 600,000 with 246,922 deportees from
within the semi-colonial
General Government alone, per contemporary
quoted: 24,733 (cumulative number of 130,000 victims, per Majdanek
State Museum research) 
quoted: 101,370 (final count in excess of 200,000 with 140,000 from
Lublin, and 25,000
Lviv alone per contemporary historians)
quoted: 713,555 (overall minimum of 800,000–900,000 at Camp II and
20,000 at Camp I) 
Höfle Telegram lists the number of arrivals to the Aktion
Reinhard Camps through 1942 (1,274,166)
Höfle Telegram lists the number of arrivals to the Reinhard camps
through 1942 as 1,274,166
Jews based on Reichsbahn own records. The
last train to be sent to
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka extermination camp left Białystok
Ghetto on 18 August 1943; all prisoners were killed in gas chambers
after which the camp closed down per Globocnik's directive. Of the
more than 245,000
Jews who passed through the Łódź Ghetto, the
last 68,000 inmates, by then the largest final gathering of
all of German occupied Europe, had been liquidated by the Nazis after
7 August 1944. They were told to prepare for resettlement; instead,
over the next 23 days they were sent to Birkenau by train at the rate
of 2,500 per day, with some of the crippled selected by Josef Mengele
for his "medical experiments".
The rail traffic on most Polish railway lines was extremely dense. In
1941 an average of 420 German trains were passing through every 24
hours on top of Polish internal traffic; in 1944 the number rose to
506 military transports per day. No new lines had been built by
Nazi Germany. Most supplies from layover yards were taken away.
However, almost all Polish language signs were replaced with German,
which led to new problems. On 24 November 1944 two trains (one German
with military cargo, and one Polish) traveling at regular speeds
collided head-on in
Barwałd Średni near Wadowice. It was the biggest
train collision of
World War II
World War II in occupied Poland with both
locomotives and nearly half of their trainsets destroyed completely.
Some 130 people from the Polish passenger train were killed and over
Jews already dead from the
Holocaust train in Romania
traveling for 7 days in total, July 1941.
Responsibility for the Holocaust
Responsibility for the Holocaust § Romania
Căile Ferate Române
Căile Ferate Române (Romanian Railways) were involved in the
transport of Jewish and Romani people to concentration camps in
Romanian Old Kingdom, Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and
Transnistria. In a notable example, after the
Iasi pogrom events,
Jews were forcibly loaded onto freight cars with planks hammered in
place over the windows and traveled for seven (7) days in unimaginable
conditions. Many died and were gravely affected by lack of air,
blistering heat, lack of water, food or medical attention. These
veritable death trains arrived to their destinations
Podu Iloaiei and
Călăraşi with only one-fifth of their passengers
alive. No official apology was released yet by Căile
Ferate Române for their role in the Holocaust in Romania.
Norway surrendered to
Nazi Germany on 10 June 1940. At the time, there
Jews living in Norway. About half of them escaped to
neutral Sweden. Round ups by the SS began in the fall of 1942 with
support of the Norwegian police. In late November 1942 all
Oslo including women and children were put on a ship requisitioned by
the Quisling government and taken to Hamburg, Germany. From there,
they were deported to
Auschwitz-Birkenau by train. In total, 770
Jews were sent by boat to
Nazi Germany between 1940 and
1945. Only two dozen survived.
On 9 September 1941, the parliament of the Slovak Republic – a Nazi
puppet state – ratified the Jewish Codex, a series of laws and
regulations that stripped Slovakia's 80,000
Jews of their civil rights
and all means of economic survival. The fascist Slovak leadership was
so impatient to get rid of
Jews that it paid the Nazis DM 500 in
exchange for each expelled Jew and a promise that the deportees would
never return to Slovakia. The decision by Slovakia to initiate and pay
for the expulsion was unprecedented among the satellite states of Nazi
Germany. They paid 40 millions RM to the SS for it. Some 83 percent of
the Jewish population perished in two waves of deportations to
Auschwitz, Belzec, and Majdanek; the second wave after the Uprising of
28–29 August 1944.
Switzerland was not invaded because its mountain bridges and tunnels
between Germany and Italy were too vital for them to go into war.
Also, the Swiss banks provided necessary access to international
markets by dealing in pilfered gold. There were 18,000 Jews
living in Switzerland at the onset of World War II. The country
did not turn over their own
Jews to the Germans, but according to
three anonymous eyewitnesses, allowed the
Holocaust trains (aware
of them since 1942) to use the
Gotthard Tunnel on the way to the
camps. Most war supplies to Italy were shipped through the
Austrian Brenner Pass.
Entrance to the Gotthard Tunnel
There exists substantial evidence that these shipments included
Italian forced labour workers and trainloads of
Jews in 1944 during
the Nazi occupation of northern Italy, when a German train passed
through Switzerland every 10 minutes. The need for the tunnel was
complicated by the British
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force having bombed and disrupted
services through the Brenner Pass, as well as a heavy snowfall in the
winter of 1944–45.
Of 43 trains that could be tracked down by the 1996 Bergier
Commission, 39 went via Austria (Brenner, Tarvisio), one via France
(Ventimiglia-Nice). The commission could not find any evidence that
the other three passed through Switzerland. It is possible that the
train could have been carrying dissidents back from concentration
camps. Started in 1944, some repatriation trains went through
Switzerland officially, organised by the Red Cross.
After the Soviet Army began making severe inroads into German-occupied
Europe and the Allies landed in
Normandy in June 1944, the number of
trains and transported persons began to vary greatly. By November
1944, with the closure of Birkenau and the advance of the Soviet Army,
the death trains had ceased. Conversely, the subsequent death marches
had the advantage of being able to utilize the forced labour to build
As the Soviet and Allied Armies made their final pushes, the Nazis
transported some of the concentration camp survivors either to other
camps located inside the collapsing Third Reich, or to the border
areas where they believed they could negotiate the release of captured
Prisoners of War
Prisoners of War in return for the "Exchange Jews" or those that
were born outside the Nazi occupied territories. Many of the inmates
were transported via the infamous death marches, but among other
transports three trains left Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 bound for
Theresienstadt—all were liberated.
The last recorded train is the one used to transport the women of the
Flossenbürg March, where for three days in March 1945 the remaining
survivors were crammed into cattle cars to await further transport.
Only 200 of the original 1000 women survived the entire trip to
Remembrance and commemoration
The wagon monument, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
There are numerous national commemorations of the mass transportation
Jews in the "Final Solution" across Europe, as well as some
lingering controversies surrounding the history of the railway systems
utilized by the Nazis.
Warsaw national monument to
Holocaust trains at the former
Umschlagplatz of the
All railway lines leading to death camps built in occupied Poland are
ceremonially cut off from the existing railway system in the country,
similar to the well-preserved arrival point at
Auschwitz known as the
"Judenrampe" platform. The commemorative monuments are traditionally
erected at collection points elsewhere. In 1988 a national monument
was created at the
Umschlagplatz of the
Warsaw Ghetto. Designed by
architect Hanna Szmalenberg and sculptor Władysław Klamerus, it
consists of a stone structure symbolizing an open freight car. In
Kraków, the memorial to
Jews from the
Kraków Ghetto deported during
the Holocaust spreads over the entire deportation site known as the
Square of the Ghetto Heroes (Plac Bohaterow Getta). Inaugurated in
December 2005, it consists of oversized steel chairs (each
representing 1,000 victims), designed by architects Piotr Lewicki and
Kazimierz Latak. At the former Łódź Ghetto, the monument was
built at the
Radegast train station
Radegast train station (Bahnhof Radegast), where
approximately 200,000 Polish, Austrian, German, Luxemburg and Czech
Jews boarded the trains on the way to their deaths in the period from
16 January 1942, to 29 August 1944.
Memorial to the Murdered
Jews of Europe, Berlin
In 2004/2005, German historians and journalists began publicly
demanding that at the German passenger train stations commemorative
exhibits be set up, after the railroad companies in France and the
Netherlands began commemorations of Nazi mass deportations in their
own train stations. The
Deutsche Bahn AG (DB AG), the state-owned
successor of the
Deutsche Reichsbahn replied: "we do not have either
the personnel or the financial resources" for that kind of
commemoration. Demonstrations then began at railway stations in
Frankfurt am Main
Frankfurt am Main and in
Cologne as well as inside the long-distance
border-crossing trains. Because the DB AG had responded by having
its security personnel repress the protests, German citizens'
initiatives rented a historical steam locomotive and installed their
own exhibition in remodeled passenger cars. This "Train of
Commemoration" made its first journey on the 2007 International
Holocaust Remembrance Day of January 27. The
Deutsche Bahn AG refused
it access to the main stations in
Hamburg and Berlin. German
Jewish communities protested against the company levying mileage
tariffs and hourly fees for the exhibit (which by December 31, 2013
reached approx. US $290,000).
Parliamentarians of all parties in the German national parliament
called on the DB AG to rethink its behavior. Federal Transport
Wolfgang Tiefensee proposed an exhibition by artist Jan
Philipp Reemtsma on the railways' role in the deportation of 11,000
Jewish children to their deaths in Nazi concentration and
extermination camps throughout World War II. Because the CEO of the
railroad company maintained his refusal, a "serious rift" occurred
between himself and the Minister of Transport. On January 23,
2008, a compromise was reached, wherein the DB AG established its own
stationary exhibit Sonderzüge in den Tod [Chartered Trains to Death
– Deportation with the German Reichsbahn]. As national press
journals pointed out, the exhibit "contained nearly nothing about the
culprits." The post-war careers of those in charge of the railroad
remained "totally obscured." Since 2009 the civil society
association Train of Commemoration which, with its donations financed
the exhibition "Train of Commemoration" presented at 130 German
stations with 445,000 visitors, has been demanding cumulative
compensation for the survivors of these deportations by train. The
railroad's proprietors (the German Minister of Transport and the
German Minister of Finances) reject this demand.
Jews being loaded into railway trucks in Marseilles, 1943
SNCF commissioned a report on its involvement in World War
II. The company opened its archives to an independent historian,
Christian Bachelier, whose report was released in French in
2000. It was translated to English in 2010.
In 2001, a lawsuit was filed against French government-owned rail
SNCF by Georges Lipietz, a Holocaust survivor, who was
SNCF to the
Drancy internment camp
Drancy internment camp in 1944.
Lipietz was held at the internment camp for several months before the
camp was liberated. After Lipietz's death the lawsuit was pursued
by his family and in 2006 an administrative court in
Toulouse ruled in
favor of the Lipietz family.
SNCF was ordered to pay 61,000 Euros in
SNCF appealed the ruling at an administrative appeals
court in Bordeaux, where in March 2007 the original ruling was
overturned. According to historian Michael Marrus, the court
Bordeaux "declared the railway company had acted under the
authority of the Vichy government and the German occupation" and as
such could not be held independently liable. [note 3] Marrus
wrote in his 2011 essay that the company has nevertheless taken
responsibility for their actions and it is the company's willingness
to open up their archives revealing involvement in the transportation
Holocaust victims that has led to the recent legal and legislative
Between 2002 and 2004 the
SNCF helped fund an exhibit on deportation
of Jewish children that was organized by Nazi hunter Serge
Klarsfeld. In 2011,
SNCF helped set up a railway station outside
of Paris to a
Shoah Foundation for the creation of a memorial to honor
Holocaust victims. In December 2014, the company came to a $60
million compensation settlement with French Holocaust survivors living
in the United States.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen used its 29 September 2005 apology for its role
in the "Final Solution" to launch an equal opportunities and
anti-Discrimination policy, in part to be monitored by the Dutch
council of Jews.
Railway companies involved
Deutsche Reichsbahn, the
German Reich Railway
CFR, the state railways of Romania
MÁV, Hungarian State Railways
National Railway Company of Belgium, National Railway Company of
Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) in the Netherlands 
Ostbahn, a railway operator set up by the
General Government in
SNCF, French National Railway Company
^ Although Kastner was later criticised for putting his own family on
the train, Hansi Brand, a member of the Vaada testified at Eichmann's
Jerusalem in 1961 that Kastner had included his family to
reassure the others that the train was safe, and was not destined, as
they feared, for Auschwitz.
^ To date, of the 1,176 paintings on the Gold Train originally stored
by the U.S. Army, only one has been repatriated. On 30 September
2005, the U.S. Government reached agreement with the representatives
of the Hungarian Jewish community to pay $25.5 million in compensation
with additional $500,000 for the creation of archives preserving
documents associated with the Gold Train, and to declassify any
remaining documents related to it.
^ Following the Lipietz trial, SNCF's involvement in World War II
became the subject of attention in the United States when SNCF
explored bids on rail projects in Florida and California, and SNCF's
partly owned subsidiary,
Keolis Rail Services America bid on projects
in Virginia and Maryland. In 2010,
Keolis placed a bid on a
contract to operate the Brunswick and Camden lines of the MARC train
in Maryland. Following pressure from Holocaust survivors in
Maryland, the state passed legislation in 2011 requiring companies
bidding on the project to disclose their involvement in the
Keolis currently operates the Virginia Railway
Express, a contract the company received in 2010. In
California, also in 2010, state lawmakers passed the Holocaust
Survivor Responsibility Act. The bill, written to require companies to
disclose their involvement in World War II, was later vetoed by
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. While bidding on these rail
SNCF was criticized for not formally acknowledging and
apologizing for its involvement in World War II. In 2011, SNCF
Guillaume Pepy released a formal statement of regrets for the
company's actions during World War II. Some historians
have expressed the opinion that
SNCF has been unfairly targeted in the
United States for their involvement in World War II. Human rights
attorney Arno Klarsfeld has argued that the negative focus on
disrespectful to the French railway workers who lost their lives
engaging in acts of resistance.
^ a b c d e Hedi Enghelberg (2013). The trains of the Holocaust.
Kindle Edition. p. 63. ISBN 978-160585-123-5. Book excerpts
^ a b Prof. Ronald J. Berger, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater
(2002). Fathoming the Holocaust: A Social Problems Approach.
Transaction Publishers. pp. 57–58. ISBN 0202366111.
Bureaucrats in the Reichsbahn performed important functions that
facilitated the movement of trains. They constructed and published
timetables, collected fares, and allocated cars and locomotives. In
Jews to their death, they did not deviate much from the
routine procedures they used to process ordinary train traffic.
^ Simone Gigliotti,
Victoria University, Australia
Victoria University, Australia (2009). The Train
Journey: Transit, Captivity, and Witnessing in the Holocaust. Berghahn
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Railway use for Holocaust.
Transports to Extinction:
The Holocaust Deportation Database on the
Yad Vashem website
Photo slide show of the Holocaust, showing deportation trains
The Hungarian Gold Train
Victims of Nazism
Survivors of Sobibór
Victims and survivors of Auschwitz
Books and other resources
Films about the Holocaust
Nazi concentration camps
Rescuers of Jews
Shtetls depopulated of Jews
Timeline of deportations of French Jews
Timeline of the Holocaust
Timeline of the Holocaust in Norway
Sisak children's camp
Risiera di San Sabba
Extermination through labour
Human medical experimentation
Concentration Camps Inspectorate
End of World War II
Romani people (gypsies)
Slavs in Eastern Europe
People with disabilities
Reich Security Main Office (RSHA)
Orpo Police Battalions
Lithuanian Security Police
Ukrainian Auxiliary Police
Nazi racial policy
Forced euthanasia (Action T4)
Days of remembrance