Greek Train Enthusiast Displays Rail Cars Used in Nazi Deportations of Jews

Thessaloniki Prepares To Mark 70th Anniversary of Atrocity

By JTA

Published March 10, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

“Everyone was loaded onto wagons designed for merchandise or livestock: newborns, invalids, everyone,” said Paul Hagouel, whose father, Leon, survived the journey from Thessaloniki and two years in Auschwitz. “All they had was a bucket in one corner for their needs. So you can imagine many died. It was terrible.”

JTA

Kontopoulos gives tours of his rail collection with an infectious energy and enthusiasm, frequently skipping from topic to topic mid-sentence when something else catches his attention. But when he returns to the spartan wagons, he becomes sheepish. He has plans to renovate them and build a shelter, he says, but it’s just him and a few volunteers. Since Greece’s economic crisis erupted five years ago, the donations he relied upon have dried up.

But he also has another problem. Due to a lack of documentation, there is isn’t sufficient evidence, historians say, to prove that these cars were the actual ones used in the deportations.

Kontopoulos bases his claim on institutional knowledge. Within the Greek railway, he said, it was well known that these carriages, built in Belgium in 1873 and having registration numbers beginning with Z-1, were the ones used to carry Jews to the camps. After the war, some of them were converted to dormitory trains for railway workers. He found these four in an abandoned lot in 1996.

“I feel very lucky we got them because everything else that was there was destroyed,” Kontopoulos said.

Historians say it’s possible these are authentic Holocaust carriages. But Greeks traditionally are not strong on paperwork and there is no official documentation to back up the claim.

“We have tried to find record of the railways, but we have not found confirmation of the make of the wagons or their serial numbers,” said Jason Handrinos, a historian who did research for a planned Greek exhibit at Auschwitz. “We are not even sure if they were Greek or German.”

The Jewish community is ambivalent. Because of the lack of documentation, the community is reluctant to officially embrace Kontopoulos’ claims. But, in an an acknowledgment of the raw power of these carriages and their ability to evoke the horror of the transports, they take Jewish visitors to see them.

“It was very moving to see those cars,” said Stephanie Block of San Francisco, who was part of a delegation from the Jewish Federations of North America that visited the rail cars. “You can imagine the misery of people huddled and packed inside as well as the hatred it must have taken to engineer such a system of mass transport.”

For his part, Kontopoulos is unfazed by the doubts about their authenticity. Undeterred by age or lack of resources, the old collector wants to finish restoring them and put up a plaque so the cars can stand as a testimony to what he saw 70 years ago.

“We have an obligation,” he said, “to use the history of the wagons to show the next generations the horror of that time.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.