"Policy of Historical Memory"


WESTERBORK/BERLIN/SOBIBÓR (Own report) - Tensions, between the German government and several countries victimized by Nazi crimes, are casting a shadow over the commemorations of the mass deportations and murders carried out during "Operation Reinhard" seventy years ago. In 1942 - 43, the Nazis murdered within the framework of "Operation Reinhard" around two million west and east European prisoners in the Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, Bełżec, and Sobibór extermination camps. In Sobibór, alone, by July 1943, the Nazi terror regime had murdered more than 34,000 Dutch Jews, including German emigrants. By early January, Berlin had still refused to contribute to the costs of this year's scheduled Sobibór memorial services of the Netherlands, Slovakia, Israel, and Poland. Berlin also does not intend to contribute to covering the costs of the other "Reinhard" memorial sites. As its proprietor, the German government is allowing the Deutsche Bahn AG to charge tariffs for the commemorations of the Sobibór victims. A citizens' initiative seeking to hold commemorations at stations along the route of deportation, in May and June, for those who were murdered must expect to pay the costs. This financial "boycott" is reportedly in concert with the German Ministry of Transport, under CSU minister Ramsauer, according to a press statement by the "Train of Commemoration." The citizens' initiative is appealing for donations to commemorate the victims of Sobibór at several German train stations.

In February 2011, the governments of the Netherlands, Slovakia, Poland and Israel have pledged in a "memorandum" of several pages, financial contributions "for the establishment of a museum and a memorial at the former Sobibór Nazi extermination camp." When German parliamentarian, Jerzy Montag (Green Party) asked the government in October 2011, why the German government was not participating in the commemoration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs answered that there is absolutely no precondition for doing so, because there has been "no request" [1] from abroad.

No Majority

Even when a resolution was tabled in the German parliament, proposing that the government "rather than rely on the fact that no one raises the issue (...), should offer Poland a financial contribution toward the transformation of the former Sobibór extermination camp into a memorial site (...), thereby actively taking part in the act of commemoration," it was defeated by the governing majority in parliament.[2] A non-partisan plenary vote introduced by the "The Left" party had no chance of passing. The resolution sought to have the parliament agree in 2011 that "it is the conviction of the German Bundestag that the preservation and the maintenance of memorials (...), such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bełżec, Chelmno, Majdanek; Sobibór and Treblinka (...) are fundamental responsibilities of the German policy of historical memory" - a conviction not shared by a majority in the German Bundestag.[3]


To make, at least, a symbolic gesture, several parliamentarians proposed that a delegation, with representatives of each of the parliamentary parties, visit the sites of the crimes committed in the framework of "Operation Reinhard" as well as other camps. Cornelia Pieper (FDP), Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accepted the proposition and "declared that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could take on the organization of such a trip. The Germany-Poland Parliamentary Group should also participate."[4]


Her acceptance was premature and had not taken into account possible persuasion of the Minister of Finance. The ministry's "War-Time Damage" department keeps an eye on the practical consequences of Germany's "policy of historical memory." November 19, 2012, Pieper renounced the trip.[5] Agnes Krumwiede, spokesperson for cultural policy for the Green Party protested - to no avail. Krumwiede's parliamentary group's research uncovered the fact that "no official delegation of the West German government or parliament has ever visited the former Lublin-Majdanek concentration and extermination camp" [6] - which had been one of the major killing fields of the Nazi's "General Government."

Forty Thousand Euros

Coinciding with the renouncement of this trip, the German government made another blemish on its the policy of historical memory: The ultimate deprivation of the donations made available to the "Train of Commemoration" by several hundred thousand visitors. By the end of 2012, the Deutsche Bahn AG (DB AG) had obliged that citizens' initiative to pay forty thousand Euros from these donations (for rental of tracks and space at stations). Following years of protests and several petitions to the German Bundestag, the citizens' initiative had hoped to retrieve this money for use in its Sobibór activities in May and June.


However, rather than facilitate the "Train of Commemoration's" Sobibór commemoration, the DB AG reached an agreement with the German Ministry of Transportation to neutralize the 40,000 Euros. That sum was transferred to a federal foundation under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance, the Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future" (EVZ), to which the "Train of Commemoration" can apply for a grant. When, in February, the citizens' initiative applied for such a grant to commemorate the victims of Sobibór along the deportation route across Germany, the jaws of the trap snapped shut. The grant was denied.[7]

Ten Thousand Euros More

Should, in spite of this setback, the "Train of Commemoration" decide to commemorate the Sobibór victims along the route, the citizens' initiative calculates, the DB AG will demand another ten thousand Euros.[8] The initiative is hoping for the support of the German population and will begin May 26, to commemorate the small children and youth at ten of the train stations, where they had passed in wagons of the "Reichsbahn" on their way to Sobibór.

Forty Six Wagons

The train is due to stop in Berlin June 8.[9] On that day, seventy years ago, forty six sealed wagons of the "Reichsbahn," carrying 1,296 small children and youth across Germany a stopped briefly in Berlin, and arrived in 'Sobibór on June 11. Within a couple of hours, all one thousand two hundred and ninety six small children and youth had been killed by firing squad or in gas chambers.

Please read also The Commemoration Train, Legal Successors, Not a Cent, Berlin Central Station and Hundred Thousand Euro Offer.

[1] Schreiben AA (Staatssekretärin Emily Haber) vom 03.11.2011
[2] Ausschuss Kultur und Medien; Ausschussdrucksache 17 (22) 70a
[3] Erhalt der Gedenkstätten nationalsozialistischer Vernichtungslager sicherstellen; Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 17/7028
[4] Ergebnisse des Berichterstattergespräch zur aktuellen Situation in Sobibór am 7. März 2012 (im Deutschen Bundestag)
[5] Schreiben AA vom 19.11.2012
[6] Die vergessenen Vernichtungslager; Pressemitteilung vom 24. 01.2013
[7] Pressemitteilung vom 17.04.2013
[8] Gedenken trotz Boykott; www.zug-der-erinnerung.eu 18.04.2013
[9] Für die Kinder von Westerbork - Für die Hoffnung von Sobibór. Flyer; www.zug-der-erinnerung.eu