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Pen Your Pride

Boxcar Horrors

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             "We suffered from thirst and cold: at every stop we clamored for water, or even a handful of snow, but we were rarely heard; the soldiers of escort drove off anybody who tried to approach the convoy. Two young mothers, nursing their children, groaned night and day begging for water....The hours of darkness were nightmares without end....Next to me, crushed against me for the whole journey, there had been a woman. We had known each other for many years, and the misfortune had struck us together, but we know little of each other. Now in this hour of decision, we said to each other things that are never said among the living....everybody said farewell to life through his neighbor....the climax came suddenly. The door opened with a crash, and the dark echoed with outlandish orders in that curt, barbaric barking of Germans in command....a vast platform appeared before us, lit up by reflectors. A little beyond it a row of Lorries....a dozen SS men...began to interrogate us.... How old? Healthy or ill? And on the basis of that reply they pointed in 2 different directions." This is just one of many recollections of horrid Jewish deportation that took place during the 1940's when Adolf Hitler came to power.  

          Picture this. You're one of 300 people shoved into cattle car made to hold 100. There are no windows. It is blistering hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. You're surrounded by nothing but black for days on end. There is no food and the bucket of water was gone in the first hour. You're surrounded by death. People around you are suffocating and falling to the floor. The bucket provided for bodily function has overflowed, and now you have to sit in feces and urine. You have to watch people give up their pride and dignity, one of the only things they still hold dear to themselves. The floor is covered in a layer of quick lime causing your feet to burn. You're separated from most of your family and you look like a skeleton. The stench of death and urine is overwhelming and engulfing. You hear little kids screaming for mom and dad, you hear husbands pleading with passengers to make room for their pregnant wives. These are to be your living conditions for the next 4 ½ days. Cruelty like this is what the human race is capable of.  

           The Jewish people and other "Undesirables" were ushered into windowless freight cars and treated much worse than livestock on their journeys to the concentration camps. The longest transport took 18 days, when the train got the concentration camp all the passengers were already dead. Auschwitz alone had 44 sets of parallel train tracks, and a special railroad that was built directly to the exit ramp located at Birkenau. The Nazis called the boxcars, cattle cars because the notion of a cattle car did much more damage to the confidence of the Jews, it was much more dehumanizing then the more humane term of freight car. On the contrary the term "cattle car" proposed behavior like cattle being hauled to a slaughter house, the Nazis believed that passenger cars were made for humans, and that cattle cars were for sub-human Jews and Undesirables.  

          But the Nazis weren't stupid. They were far from it actually. They conveniently station death camps along major railroad lines, and they tool indirect roots so other people would continue moving. They posted signs giving the Jewish prisoners the impression they were at a normal railroad station. The Nazis led the Jews into a false sense of security. They told them they were going to better conditions and work camps. Between the years of 1933 and 1945 the Nazis stretched their railway systems to accommodate the demands of the camps. Then there was the payment. Yes that right payment. The Jews had to pay to be transported to death camp; they had to pay to die. The Jewish people were ticketed like people even though they were being sent to concentration camps like cattle. The Nazi officers used travel agents to schedule one way passages to the death camp at a rate of 4 pennies per kilometer of track. Children 10 and under rode half price, and children under 4 rode for free. The same procedures used to send people on vacation were    used to send Jews to their deaths.  

       The prisoners were put into these cattle cars which survivors later began to refer to as "sardine boxes". The Nazis just kept piling more and more people in and whoever didn't make it in a car was cut off from their family, most of the time never to be seen again. There was barbed wire across the small opening at the top of the cars. There were messages scrawled on the walls in blood. Then at the end of the trip when they'd arrived at their destination, the Nazis would open the doors and as the people started coming out they'd start screaming and hitting the Jewish people with whips. Then the Nazis started to deport the Ghetto hospitals. EVERYBODY had to walk. When they were finally boarded up there wasn't anyplace to squat let alone sit or lie down. If there was somebody dying they died standing up.  

          But as I said before the Nazi's weren't stupid. They knew how to test their limits. Whenever the Germans didn't have enough Jews to make a large transport the victims were stuck in a switching room -"standing room only"- for 2 ½ days. They also lured the Jews to their death offering food. In her book I Have Lived 1000 Years Livia Bitton Jackson describes a scene where the Nazis offered soup claiming it was from the red cross, then when the prisoners lined up to get the food they were shot. Jackson's brother was one of the victims.  

         There were 2 categories of boxcars. In the first category the cars were quasi sealed, meaning that the regular ventilation shafts have been closed off which explains why so many people died of suffocation. The second category was an open flat bed. Which by Nazi standards were obviously impractical, therefore almost all Jewish people were transported in the quasi sealed cattle cars. In the last days of the war, US troops ran across many of these cars that had been abandoned by their escorts. They were still filled with people. The troops put these people into two categories; dead and dying.  

        The Nazis used the cattle cars to transport Jews faster and more efficiently, they also used the cars to save precious bullets, and anyone who tried to escape would be shot.  

         The cattle cars were known as the first place of death during the holocaust. They were considered suffocation chambers, death on wheels, add that to the horrible sanitary conditions and you've got a recipe for death. The elderly and young children often died long before making it to their destination. The overall plan to deport the Jews was called Nisko Atkion.  

       The holocaust was a horrible thing. It's the world's greatest example of racism and genocide. Sadly though most of the people involved were never prosecuted, and there are lots of people in the world who deny it ever happened. The cattle cars were just another way to dehumanize the Jewish people. Anne Frank said "... in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again."  

            If Anne can think that after 2 years of hiding and being a victim of a boxcar, there has to be some humanity left right? Regardless the topic you study the holocaust was a horrible thing that hopefully future generation will learn from.

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