World War II Holocaust Railcar

Morgan Family Center

The Museum's 1942 World War II railcar is of the same type as those used to carry millions of Jews to their deaths. The railcar was formally dedicated and opened to the public during 10th Anniversary ceremonies at Holocaust Museum Houston on Sunday, March 5, 2006.

The rare World War II relic, an internationally recognized symbol of evil and oppression, was relocated from Germany to Houston, Texas to be transformed into a monument to hope that humanity may one day be free of hatred, prejudice and discrimination.

With the acquisition of the genuine World War II-era German railroad cattle car of the type used to carry thousands of Jews and other innocent victims to their deaths during the Holocaust, Holocaust Museum Houston is only one of a handful of museums anywhere in the world that can provide patrons with an authentic physical reference point from which to learn the horrors that victims of Nazi persecution endured.

The 25.7-foot-long, 10.5-metric-ton railcar was located, documented and acquired after an extensive effort spanning several years and was transported from Germany to the United States aboard the world's largest production cargo aircraft, an Antonov AN-124-100F (Ruslan) operated by Polet Airlines, a Russian-based cargo airline under direction and management of EP-Team, Inc., an international logistics management company specializing in providing unique transport and logistics solutions.

The railcar exhibit is partially enclosed by a concrete wall that bears quotations from Houston survivors of the Holocaust who were transported by rail during their ordeals.

The car has been refurbished to its original condition, even including its original stenciled markings from the manufacturer, but has been left empty to commemorate the lives lost there and to give visitors a more realistic impression of what it must have been like for up to 200 people to have been forced inside for days at a time with no food, no water and no necessities.

The railcar was authenticated for the Museum by Alfred Gottwaldt, senior curator for railways for the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin (German Museum of Technology and Transportation). Gottwaldt has studied German rail transports during the Holocaust for more than 20 years and is recognized as the world's leading historian on the use of trains to transport Holocaust victims to the various camps.

"Because many of the records were destroyed almost as soon as the trains departed, it is impossible for anyone anywhere to say with absolute certainty that any of these railcars on display anywhere in the world were actually used to transport victims to specific concentration camps. The trains themselves were documented, but not necessarily the railcars used on specific trains,"said Gottwaldt. "However, we have done many studies on how the cars were lettered and so on. We can document that this car was built in 1942 for the German Reichsbahn based on its 'Oppeln' model and 'round-roof' style."

The car's "builder's plate," discovered only in late November during the restoration process, carried the inscription: "Gottfried Lindner Aktiengesellschaft, Ammendorf bei Halle" and showed a "works number" of 6953 and year of production as 1942. Ammendorf was a rail production facility near the city of Halle in central Germany.

While Oppeln was a city in the province of Upper Silesia (Oberschlesien) where the Auschwitz death camp was located, that fact has no historical relevance since all railcar models of that period were named after cities as a matter of convenience and identification.

However, cars of the Museum's type can be seen in photographs of the Auschwitz camp and were photographed in use near the Treblinka concentration camp, hence the modern-era term of "Treblinka Car" for the Museum's particular model.

The model acquired by Holocaust Museum Houston is a "round-roof" model, and Auschwitz photographs show only one of every 10 or 12 cars had rounded roofs. The rounded roof allowed for a larger loading gauge and, thus, faster loading.

As well, the model acquired by the Museum - while originally built to haul cattle and grain - had fixed steps that allowed for faster loading and unloading of human cargo, both soldiers and prisoners, at sites without railway platforms.

The drive assembly and axle positioning in the Oppeln design allowed for both a quieter ride and for transports at speeds up for 20 km/h faster than other rail cars, which allowed for more people to be transported in shorter timeframes.

By historical estimates, more than 3 million Jewish people were taken to their deaths by train. More than 30,000 railcars were involved in that effort, and most trains had up to 50 cars each, with each car holding anywhere from 50 to 200 people depending on where they were in use.

Trips sometimes took days to complete, and many occupants died en route to the camps. In winter, occupants were exposed to freezing temperatures. In summer, they endured suffocating heat and stench.

Killing centers were deliberately situated along rail lines in Poland, with 44 parallel tracks leading to the Auschwitz station alone. A special rail spur built to receive the large number of Jews from Hungary ran directly into the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Almost all such cars have fallen into disrepair such that they are no longer traceable or have been destroyed, and few records exist of the exact use or current location of any particular car.

The Museum's car was found while being used as storage for spare railway parts by a German railway workshop in the small town of Blankenburg, Germany after Museum Chairman Peter Berkowitz asked for assistance from Houstonian Donna Fujimoto Cole of Cole Chemical and Distributing, Inc.

Cole contacted Gulf Chemical International Corp., which does business with various companies in Germany. One of Gulf's contacts, the German firm of Lexzau, Scharbau GmbH & Co. KG, researched the issue, found a potential railcar and arranged on Gulf's behalf to purchase the car for the Museum. Because of the political sensitivity, most similar cars now on display worldwide were acquired by brokers who kept their eventual destinations secret.

Berkowitz traveled to Germany, arranged for the car's authentication and was able to secure permission from the German government for the Museum to relocate it to Houston. He and his wife, Charlotte, later arranged to donate the car to the Museum's permanent collection.

Rice University President David Leebron was contacted for assistance, and volunteered the services of Rice architecture students to design the memorial.

Perot, chairman of the board of Perot Systems and chairman of Hillwood, offered direct support, including providing services at Fort Worth Alliance Airport for its arrival.

EP-Team, Inc., a partner of Hillwood, provided project management, which included site expertise in Europe and the United States, railcar preparation, ground solutions and transport, and arrangements for air shipment. EP-Team called on the assistance of its staff in Singapore, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Moscow, Hartford, Washington, D.C., and Dallas-Forth Worth to organize and coordinate the transport. BP America, working in cooperation with BP in Germany, donated 47 tons of jet fuel for the Antonov flight.

The Houston construction company Linbeck heard of the project through Leebron, and Team Manager Jeff Bryson, a railroad aficionado, offered site construction and historical preservation assistance. Rio Grande Pacific Corp. of Fort Worth donated the rail, railroad ties and bedding for the permanent site. Charles M. Schayer & Co. volunteered to assist with customs documentation and import issues, Pierpont Communications offered public relations support, and H-E-B and Grocer's Supply quickly agreed to help with storage of the artifact while the permanent exhibit site was prepared. Other companies, such as T & T Crane and Emmert International, volunteered to assist with transport of the car from Fort Worth to Houston and with its unloading. The Lester and Sue Smith Foundation offered underwriting support.

The car is open for public viewing during normal business hours free of charge.

The railcar
The railcar's "builder's plate," discovered only in late November 2005 during the restoration process, carried the inscription: "Gottfried Lindner Aktiengesellschaft, Ammendorf bei Halle" and showed a "works number" of 6953 and year of production as 1942. Ammendorf was a rail production facility near the city of Halle in central Germany. Photo by Alfred Gottwaldt
Holocaust Museum Houston
Holocaust Museum Houston Holocaust Museum Houston's 25.7-foot-long, 10.5-metric-ton railcar was located, documented and acquired after an extensive effort spanning several years and was transported from Germany to the United States in late December aboard the world's largest production cargo aircraft, an Antonov AN-124-100F (Ruslan) operated by Polet Airlines. The railcar looks new because it was refurbished in Germany prior to going on public display in March 2006. Photo by Tracy Hicks
The railcar was refurbished to its original condition, even including its original stenciled markings from the manufact
The railcar was refurbished to its original condition, even including its original stenciled markings from the manufacturer. It was left empty to commemorate the lives lost there and to give visitors a more realistic impression of what it must have been like for up to 200 people to have been forced inside for days at a time with no food, no water and no necessities. Photo by Alfred Gottwaldt
The railcar was authenticated for the Museum by Alfred Gottwaldt, senior curator for railways for the Deutsches Technik
The railcar was authenticated for the Museum by Alfred Gottwaldt, senior curator for railways for the Deutsches Technik The railcar was authenticated for the Museum by Alfred Gottwaldt, senior curator for railways for the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin (German Museum of Technology and Transportation). Gottwaldt has studied German rail transports during the Holocaust for more than 20 years and is recognized as the world's leading historian on the use of trains to transport Holocaust victims to the various camps. Photo by Tracy Hicks
The railcar exhibit is partially enclosed by a concrete wall that bears quotations from Houston survivors of the Holoca
The railcar exhibit is partially enclosed by a concrete wall that bears quotations from Houston survivors of the Holocaust who were transported by rail during their ordeals. Photo by Tracy Hicks
World War II Holocaust Railcar
 
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