Commemoration of the “Judenrampe”
The “Judenrampe,” the railroad tracks between the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps where the Germans sent countless transports full of Jews, Poles, Roma and others who would become victims of the camp during the war, was opened to visitors on January 27, 2005.
French President Jacques Chirac and the French Jewish former prisoner Simone Veil opened this special open-air exhibition on Thursday, during the commemoration of the liberation of the German Auschwitz death camp. Veil was deported to Auschwitz as a 17-year-old girl. This very place was the final destination of her transport by train.
The exhibition includes part of the tracks and the central part of the platform, which was associated with the unloading of the transports and with selection. Two original cattle cars that the Nazis used to transport people to Auschwitz—a French SNCF car from the turn of the 20th century and a German car from 1917—stand on the tracks.
During the Second World War, the German railroads (Deutsche Reichsbahn) used various types of rolling stock from all the conquered countries. Older wagons, often in worse condition than those that carried soldiers or armaments, were used for mass transports of people on low-priority trains.
The exhibition is supplemented by texts and photographs on four boards standing near where the trains were unloaded and Jews selected. There are reproductions of two sketches drawn illegally by an anonymous prisoner. Found in 1947, the sketches depict an arriving transport and German SS physicians carrying out selection.
Although the site is now original only to a small degree, its commemoration has great significance for both the memory of peoples and the history of the camp. The Nazis sent transports of over half a million Jews from all over Europe, as well as tens of thousands of Poles (mostly political prisoners), Roma, and others to the “Judenrampe” between the spring of 1942 and mid-May 1944. In the field adjacent to the platform and along the road, SS physicians carried out selections of arriving Jews, as a result of which 70 to 75% of them were sent immediately to their deaths in the gas chambers.
Because of its distance from the concentration camp sites, the “Judenrampe” has never been included within the Museum boundaries. It even lies outside the boundaries of the “buffer zone” established by UNESCO after Auschwitz was entered on the World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.
A Brief History of Commemorative Efforts
In 1991, the Museum prepared a project for commemorating the siding and unloading platform or ramp. The project never came to fruition because of a lack of funds, the distance between the Judenrampe and the death camp site, and the fact that the Judenrampe was never inside the Museum boundaries.
Serge Klarsfeld came to the Museum in mid-2004 and, in the name of the Shoah Remembrance Foundation, expressed a readiness to offer funding and cooperate in commemorating the Judenrampe.
Also expressing their willingness to cooperate were local government (represented by the wójt of the Oświęcim commune), Polskie Koleje Państwowe (PKP- Polish State Railways—the Rail Infrastructure Repair and Maintenance Enterprise in Cracow and PKP Cargo S.A.) and the Museum of Industry and Railroads in Silesia of Jaworzno Ślaśkie.
The Commemoration of this tragic site is a common effort.