Enjoying my favourite 55 minute train change time in Hannover last week I was delighted to see the Zug der Erinnerung [Wikipedia] there. When entering the station it just looked like a steam locomotive with some old coaches attached to it (no good photo opportunities, unfortunately, as it was at the very end of a platform), but on closer inspection those coaches were housing a historical exhibition, a bit like the Science Express, just smaller and less swanky.
The train is set to refresh the memory of the role of railways in the Third Reich. As pretty much all films or photos of deportations and people being ‘delivered’ to concentration camps include trains and railway stations, that role is an essential one. A national railway network is a great tool if you want to deport and kill sizeable parts of your population.
The first half of the exhibition shows the stories of a number of kids whose deportation is documented, along with photos and the typical form letters documenting and ‘justifying’ what was done. It’s always depressing to see those.
While I strongly doubt that the exhibition makers want to be apologetic in any way, I found some of the texts a bit unfortunate. Writing that a person
had to die because he was physically unfit for work suggests a causality which simply doesn’t exist.
… was killed seems like a correct way to state that, a way which fortunately is used on most of the displays.
The second part of the exhibition deals with the railway aspect. You cannot move huge numbers of people across your railway network without the people running the network being your accomplices. Just as in any other German industry, the railway company, Deutsche Bahn, formerly Deutsche Reichsbahn, in denial about knowing anything after the war. And hardly anybody was accused or punished for what they had done.
They also point out that Deutsche Bahn, remains pretty much in denial about what the company did in the Third Reich. Their way of presenting history only seems to find notes about technological advances for that decade and their bosses don’t want to discuss the issue. How much could an apology cost them? And wouldn’t it just seem better to address the topic before all of the survivors have died of old-age? But that’s probably the way business works. Dictatorships with a taste for world domination come with plenty of ‘business opportunities’…
The exhibition also suggested that Deutsche Bahn aren’t too happy or even keen about it. I assume it may have to do with the company being state owned or railway stations being regulated sufficiently by law that they can even park their train at a platform run by the very company a part of the exhibition criticises. In the ‘proper’ capitalist world that couldn’t happen.
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