The Commemoration Train
BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Own report) - Three years after the beginning of the serious dispute concerning the Deutsche Reichsbahn's role in Nazi deportations from all parts of Europe, the company's successor, the Deutsche Bahn (DB), with headquarters in Berlin, has yielded to international pressure and granted access to the premises of train stations for commemoration activities. The "Commemoration Train" will arrive Thursday Nov. 8, unimpeded in the Frankfurt main station and begin its 3,000 km journey through locations from where deportations were made. The train will be transporting an exhibition about the fate of more than 12,000 children from Germany, who had been carried off to death camps. European biographies remind of the murdered children and youth from formerly occupied states, estimated at more than a million. The "Commemoration Train" is sponsored by citizens' initiatives throughout Germany and is financed through donations. The German Ministry of Transportation, which, months ago, had been solicited for aid, has left all pleas unanswered. The inauguration of this unusual campaign, that has now prevailed over the explicit resistance of government institutions, has evoked the interest of foreign media.
As announced by the organizers, the "Commemoration Train" will be turned over to the public on track 1a at the Frankfurt Main Station on the eve of the memorial of the Nazi pogrom night (November 8 - 9, 1938). This is where the citizens' initiatives over the years had been appealing to the Deutsche Bahn AG to confront its predecessor's past and allow, unimpeded, the exercise of the commemorations of the victims of the Reichsbahn's deportations. The company's top management first sought to confront the demands evasively ("too expensive," "too little space") and then violently. On the Auschwitz commemoration day in 2007, photos of deported children were ripped down at one train station or, for example in Wuerzburg, commemoration ceremonies were rudely disrupted. The fact that the "Commemoration Train" citizens' initiatives' demands have now been accorded, signifies a major defeat of the company's top management in Berlin.
In April, the citizens' initiatives decided to use the public rail system to circumvent the train company's ban from the premises. They rented a locomotive and cars to transport the planned exhibition to the stations. With costs reaching into the hundreds of thousands of Euros, the project, at first, seemed impossible. Through the participation of the German Trade Union Federation's (DGB) regional offices in Baden Wuerttemberg and Saxony, that invited the train to come to their regions, the project was able to establish a financial basis. Not only organizations in sympathy with the campaign but even municipal sponsors are, in the meantime, promoting the exhibition in the "Commemoration Train", for example the city of Bochum (in North Rhine Westphalia) and Gotha (in Thuringia). The broad social movement engaged in the commemoration of the victims of the Nazis, made it difficult, from the very beginning, for the train company to maintain its ban. In the summer, because of the international interest in having the deported adequately commemorated, ministerial authorities and the management of the train company decided to permit the "Commemoration Train" to make its route.
The campaign for the commemoration of the children and youth deported by the Nazis, is explicitly in opposition to the revival of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and nationalist megalomania in Germany. According to an internal written concept, on hand at german-foreign-policy.com, the unusual commemoration of the victims of that period is to win back the "public space that government authorities have either docilely abandoned to the extreme right or did not resolutely enough defend."
Exemplary for the attitude of official authorities is the maneuver of the ministry of transport, responsible for affairs concerning the German railroad company. At the beginning, the ministry, completely neglecting its historical responsibilities, answered the pleas to support the citizens' initiatives against the top managers of the German railroad company with empty phrases, ("not within their competence"). The ministry, under Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee (SPD), engaged in non-committal talks with the citizens' initiatives, only to break them off after several months, without explanation, to plan its own separate exhibition. The implicit objective was to impose the official interpretation of history, if possible without public participation. This intention failed. In the "Commemoration Train" the officials responsible for mass deportations were named, among them the former Minister of Transportation, Julius Dorpmueller. In the postwar period, Dorpmueller was very prestigious in the West German train company, despite his institutional complicity in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children and youth.
On its drive that begins tomorrow, the "Train of Commemoration" will carry its message all the way to the Auschwitz Memorial, where the deported will be commemorated next spring. By then the Ministry for Transportation in Berlin may have come up with an answer to the question of why it has once again left the German citizens' initiatives solicitation for support unanswered. This is of particular interest to the foreign media, that is widely reporting on the "Train of Commemoration" and the victims of the German expansion policy.
Up-to-date information can be found at www.zug-der-erinnerung.eu .