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Railcar provides stark reminder as Holocaust exhibit comes to Kansas City’s Union Station

By Roy Inman | May 27, 2021

German freight car is largest exhibit in exhibition opening June 14

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Four-wheeled European freight car on short piece of track outside railroad station
Four-wheeled European freight car on short piece of track outside railroad station
A German railcar sits outside Union Station Kansas City, which will host the exhibit “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.” (Roy Inman)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — By railfan standards this two-axle, metal-framed, wooden rail freight wagon is an interesting, vintage piece of rolling stock, but otherwise unremarkable.

For the world at large, it has a larger, darker place in history, which is why it is on display at Kansas City’s Union Station.

The car was one of 120,000 built between 1910 and 1927 for the German National Railway (Deutsche Reichsbahn). This particular example carries a builder’s date of 1916, measures 31 feet long, weighs about 35,000 pounds and is deeply weathered. The steel bracing, couplers and door handles are rusted.

It typically hauled foodstuffs, livestock, general goods and the like before World War II.

But during the war, from 1940 to early 1945, these wagons were also used to transport those who the Nazis considered enemies of the Third Reich: Jews, and other European resisters to German rule, hostages, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma (Gypsies), and others to the death camps. For many the destination was a place in German-occupied Poland: Auschwitz. There were other killing centers, but Auschwitz was the largest. One survivor said, “Even death fears Auschwitz.”

The car is the largest artifact in the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away” that opens at Union Station June 14. There are more than 700 objects and 400 photographs contained in the exhibition, which will run through January. For tickets, visit www.unionstation.org/

No one knows for sure if this wagon was one of those used for the brutal trip to the concentration camps.

The 31-foot long cars would haul up to 100 men, women, children, and whatever belongings they could carry. Buckets at either end of the cars were toilets. The journey could take days, with no food or water provided, and many died en route. The goal of the Nazis was to eradicate all the Jews from Europe, and some seven million were killed as Hitler pursued his “Final Solution.” After their arrival at the camps, prisoners were given a “shower” of the poison gas, Zyklon B, then their bodies were incinerated.

Millions of those victims were transported to their fate in such cars. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says the movements were referred to as “resettlement to the east,” while those on the trains were told they were being taken to labor camps.

8 thoughts on “Railcar provides stark reminder as Holocaust exhibit comes to Kansas City’s Union Station

  1. It wasn’t only Nazi concentration camp victims transported this way. Soviet soldiers headed toward battle, POWs on both sides of the Eastern Front, British and Australian POWs after the fall of Singapore, Soviet civilian deportees to Siberia or Kazakhstan, and others, traveled in equally appalling circumstances. This is how Stalin sent tens of thousands of soldiers to fight in Mongolia or the Soviet Far East in the 1930’s. Auschwitz was only one part of the atrocious brutality of a series of wars that raged from 1931 to 1945.

  2. I was personally disappointed in this ‘fast’ filler piece in the NEWSWire: For a magazine not only concerned with the History, and currency of things of American Railroading. hat European Car is very historical. It is a p;art of a ‘gift ‘ from the people of Europe to the American People fr their support in Supporting the freeing of Europe from the German’s.
    ‘The GIFT was “The Merci Train”: it consisted of 49 Cars * (number of States at that time) European ‘Box’Cars. Called by many 40&8’s *(40 men, or 8 horses, when ‘loaded’) The cars originaly, contained ‘gifts’ from all over Europe, and destined one for each U.S. State., They were delivered here by each American Railroad, as appropriate.
    After their ‘deliverys’ were accomplished’ many went on display , in their their destination State .
    You can ‘Search’ for the Topic of ” Merci Train” for the whole story, and how it came about; many into custody of Veterans organizations, in their appropriate State.

    1. The Merci Train was 49 FRENCH wagons sent to the US in thanks for the nation’s war effort to liberate France.

  3. There is an identical car at the Fagen Fighters WW ll museum in Granite Falls, MN.
    The folks at the museum went to Poland and rescued that car. A wonderfull museum

    1. Illinois Holocaust Museum, Skokie, has a French boxcar used to transport Holocaust victims and/or French troops.

  4. I wonder what percentage of those walking past had any idea of what they were seeing or were even curious, and if they did stop to look, comprehended what they were seeing.

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