October 27, 2006
Hopes to stage an exhibition at railway stations around Germany on the deportation of Jewish children to Auschwitz by train have sparked a row between the organizers and the country’s rail operator.
Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, who have devoted their lives to tracking down former Nazis and bringing them to justice, want Deutsche Bahn to host an exhibition of photographs of Holocaust victims as successor to Hitler’s wartime Reichsbahn.
“We want to show the relationship between the children and the stations … that these children were captured and sent by train to their deaths in Auschwitz,” Beate Klarsfeld said.
The exhibition would consist of 180 photographs of Jewish children from Germany and Austria who were among around 11,000 deported from France by rail during the Holocaust.
The deportations passed through German stations on their way to the Nazi concentration camp in southern Poland.
Deutsche Bahn’s Chief Executive Hartmut Mehdorn has resisted pressure to allow the exhibitions on platforms, arguing its own museum in Nuremberg is a better forum for the event.
“We have a good exhibition and we are ready to show this in places other than Nuremberg,” Mehdorn has told Die Welt newspaper. “However, we don’t think much of showing it in railway stations or on railway platforms.”
“This subject is far too serious for people to take in while chewing on their bread rolls on their way to catch a train.”
Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said on Wednesday that the railway operator, wrangling with the government over a planned privatization, should not give the impression it was trying to bury the issue.
“National Socialism was a dictatorship which was supported by everyday activities,” Tiefensee told the Sueddeutsche newspaper, adding the exhibition belonged on the platforms.
Social Democrat politician Monika Giefahn called on Mehdorn and Deutsche Bahn to give up its “historically unjustified and unmoral resistance to the exhibition”.
Mehdorn told Die Welt the railway was active in dealing with the past and said that the Klarsfelds’ plans were less about deported children and more about trying to create a scandal.
Beate Klarsfeld dismissed Deutsche Bahn concerns that the show could attract trouble from right-wingers, citing their successful travelling exhibition of pictures of French children shown in 18 French railway stations between 2000 and 2004.
“What is important is that we reached 100,000-odd people who were preparing to take a train and had a few minutes to spare and were attracted by this exhibition,” Klarsfeld said. “It was effective since it was unexpected for them.”