Holocaust Museum Houston Acquires Rare Nazi-Era Artifact, Outpouring of Community Support for “Secret” Project Makes Acquisition Possible

HOUSTON, TX (Dec. 14, 2005) A rare World War II relic that became an international symbol of evil and oppression will be relocated from Germany to Houston, Texas this December to be transformed into a monument to hope that humanity may one day be free of hatred, prejudice and discrimination.

With the acquisition of a 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 will become 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 rail car was located, documented and acquired after an extensive effort spanning several years and will be 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, 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 rail car is tentatively scheduled to arrive from Hahn, Germany at Fort Worth Alliance Airport on Dec. 22, 2005. After brief ceremonies there, it will be unloaded and transported by truck to Houston for public, ecumenical ceremonies at Holocaust Museum Houston tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. on Dec. 23, 2005.

After those ceremonies, it will be placed in storage while a permanent exhibit site is prepared for unveiling during the Museum’s 10th Anniversary Rededication Ceremonies at the Museum at 2 p.m. on March 5, 2006.

Invited special guests for the March 5 ceremonies include former U.S. President Bill Clinton; Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Houston Mayor Bill White; Ross Perot, Jr.; and almost 300 survivors of the Holocaust who now live in the Houston region. More than 2,000 guests are expected to attend the free event.

“In the human experience, we each must play one of four roles,” said Peter N. Berkowitz, chairman of the Museum’s Board of Directors. “We can be victims. We can be bystanders and watch as evil prevails. We can be perpetrators of injustice, or we can be rescuers who stand up to oppression. When it arrives in Houston, this artifact will have completed that circle – from being an ordinary rail car, to becoming a tool for the mass murder of millions and – now – to becoming a symbol to teach and remind the world what can happen when hatred, prejudice and discrimination go unchecked.”

Once it is installed as a permanent exhibit at the Museum, visitors will be able to walk inside by crossing a ramp embossed with details of some of the thousands of rail transports that took millions of victims to their deaths – with those that also carried Houstonians who survived the Holocaust highlighted.

The car will be refurbished to its original condition, even including its original stenciled markings from the manufacturer, but will be 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.

“We began a search for such an artifact many years ago, shortly after the Museum was opened in 1996, and intensively in 2001. It was an artifact we had to have,” said Susan Llanes-Myers, executive director of the Museum. “With the possible exception of the swastika, the railroad cattle car used to transport so many innocent people to their deaths is the most universally known symbol of the Holocaust. Never before in history – and never since – have so many people been so systematically victimized. Only by being confronted with this kind of evidence of the past, and only by reminding future generations, can we ensure that another Holocaust never is allowed to happen again, to any group of people, anywhere in the world.”

The rail car 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 rail cars 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 rail cars 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, Gottwaldt said that fact has no historical relevance since all rail car models of that period were named after cities as a matter of convenience and identification.

However, he said 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, he said. The rounded roof allowed for a larger loading gauge, and, thus, faster loading, he said. 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, Gottwaldt said. More than 30,000 rail cars 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, he said.

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, Gottwaldt said.

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 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 rail car 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.

"We tried to keep this low-key to make it a special part of our 10th anniversary ceremonies, but that just hasn’t been possible,” said Llanes-Myers. “Once word got out, we’ve had calls one after the other from companies and individuals who want to help make this unique lesson to the perils of hatred a reality.”

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

Perot, chairman of the board of Perot Systems and chairman of Hillwood, offered direct support, including providing services at Fort Worth Alliance Airport. The airport is the centerpiece of Hillwood’s 17,000-acre AllianceTexas development.

EP-Team, Inc., a partner of Hillwood, provided project management, which included site expertise in Europe and the United States, rail car 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 Grocers Supply quickly agreed to help with storage of the artifact while the permanent exhibit site is prepared.

Other companies, such as TNT Crane and Rigging, Inc., 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 and WoodRock & Co. offered underwriting support.

When asked about the complicated transport solution required for such a large artifact, Berkowitz said, “The evolution of the ‘solution’ started in the planning stages in May 2005, and through the efforts and assistance of EP-Team, we were able to provide a competent and workable solution to moving the rail car by air. Because of the historic value of the car, we believed air movement was the most effective and logical way to proceed. EP-Team was able to provide for the donation of many of the transport costs by air, and we chose to use Fort Worth Alliance Airport (AFW) upon arrival in the United States because the nature of AFW made for greater ease of handling versus other airports.”

Polet Airlines, a heavy cargo specialist based in Russia, owns the Antonov AN-124-100F that was chartered by EP-Team, and Alexey Ozerov, vice president for the Americas for Polet, said the logistics of the undertaking presented a “unique challenge.”

“Over the course of several months, our teams in Russia, Europe and the United States worked closely with EP-Team’s European headquarters in Amsterdam to design and fabricate a new, untried ramp loading system specifically for this project,” he said.

David Pulk, president and CEO of EP-Team, said the Alliance facility was “an ideal location” for arrival and was chosen because of its dedicated cargo service, efficiency in offloading cargo and its proximity to Interstate 35 West.

“We have been overwhelmed by the community support for this project, particularly since we had tried to keep it quiet before a formal announcement,” said Berkowitz. “Once word got out, one call led to another and another and another. I don’t think there’s been any outpouring of community support like this anywhere in the world since the ‘Paper Clips’ documentary,” which focused on the efforts of a Tennessee school to collect 6 million paper clips as a way to help students grasp the concept of the 6 million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust.

Once officially installed at the Museum on March 5, 2006, the rail car will be open for public viewing free of charge, as are all Museum exhibits.

Holocaust Museum Houston promotes awareness and educates the public of the dangers of prejudice, hatred and violence against the backdrop of the Holocaust by fostering remembrance, understanding and education.

Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston's Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.

For more information about Holocaust Museum Houston or the rail car exhibit, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.

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