View from here - A long, sad journey into history

16th July 2010 at 01:00
A travelling exhibition is just one of the ways German schools help children understand the Holocaust. Frances Mechan-Schmidt reports

Few trains take more than two years to reach their destinations. But the Remembrance Train (Zug der Erinnerung) has now completed a journey across Germany and Poland, which started in November 2007, and has been visited by hundreds of pupils.

The train was set up as a mobile exhibition to commemorate the deportation of several hundred thousand children from Germany and the rest of Europe to Nazi concentration camps, using German trains.

The non-profit organisation behind the exhibition decided to focus on children in order to make it easier for the younger generation to identify with the victims of the Shoah.

Schoolchildren have visited the exhibition to gaze at the photos, maps and other information charting the plight of those wrenched from their homes and herded into the trains which so often took them to their deaths. The horrendous logistical aspect is also covered: the railway employees who prepared the trains, the accounting experts who calculated the costs, as well as the SS men who, together with the Reichsverkehrsministerium (Reich Transport Ministry) and the Deutsche Reichsbahn (national rail company), were responsible for the deportation of more than a million children from all over Europe to death camps in Germany and Poland.

School classes have paid tribute to them by researching the fate of children deported from their own towns and cities and contributing the information to the exhibition.

Such initiatives reflect a growing interest within German schools in keeping the spirit of reconciliation alive; many schools also engage in links with schools in Israel. The Padagogischer Austauschdienst (educational exchange authority) oversees roughly 140 registered links under the aegis of the federal government.

Some regional states are also active, such as the Bayerischer Jugend- ring, which promotes youth exchange programmes subsidised by the Bavarian education authorities; these include around 20 links with a wide range of schools in different parts of Israel, some of which are Arab schools.

The Remembrance Train was meant to end its journey in Oswiecim in Poland, the location of Auschwitz, on May 8, 2008 - the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. But following the overwhelming response to the exhibition, reflected in the 390,000 visitors to date, the train started rolling again in March last year, travelling the length and breadth of Germany. It ended its journey in Berlin a few weeks ago.

Now stationary, it continues to attract throngs of visitors, including many schoolchildren, bringing flowers in remembrance of their dead counterparts.

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