Hitler’s Death Trains - The Role of the Reichsbahn in the Final Solution
The book is part of The Images of War series published by Pen & Sword in Great Britain. The book contains a total of 138 photos with 127 taken from wartime archives and the last 11 taken by the author's nice during her visit to Auschwitz in February, 2022. All photos are in black and white. The book is divided into an Introduction, 6 chapters, and an Aftermath. The chapters are as follow: Plans for the Genocide, Special Trains, Destination: The Reinhard Camps, Transport Across Europe, Western Deportations and Hungarian Transports. The book contains more than enough photos showing the deportation of the Jews across Europe with many photos showing them waiting for transport to the trains, walking to the stations, their belongings waiting to be sorted out, as well as several pictures of the individuals that have been killed. These last pictures are not for the faint at heart as they are very graphic.
In Chapter One the author introduces us to the "reasons" the German planned for the genocide of the Jews. The program started first by shipping/transporting them to ghettos across Europe. This was considered a temporary solution. To implement these actions the SS worked with the Reichsbahn to transport the Jews first to the gettos and later on to the extermination camps. Chapter two is concerned with The "Final Solution" and how to implement this solution. The first phase of the process was given the name of "Operation Reinhard" and this was the code word for the systematic annihillatiion of the Polish Jews and was the beginning of the most deadly phase of the program; that of the use of the extermination camps in order to implement The Final Solution.
Chapter three talks about the Reinhart Camps-Belzec, Sobibor-Treblinka-, as well as the construction of the camps, rail lines to the camps and how the "passengers" were treated. In chapter four the author talks about the other death camps that have been constructed in the eastern part of occupied Poland. Although several of the camps had railway spurs, the camp at Majdanek was one that did not have a platform and those that were assigned to this camp had to walk from the nearest railway platform to the camp. In addition the Auschwitz camp was used to dispose of the sick and disabled, yet plans were put together to produce the factory-like killing installations in order to dispose of anyone that was a threat to the government, or were unfit for slave labor. The chapter also talks about how the other countries' railway helped in the Final Solution. In chapter five we are introduced to the transportation of Jews from the western part of the German occupied countries. Countries like Holland, Austria, and Bulgaria deported their Jews to the extermination camps located in Poland. This was taking place as the war was starting as Germany was losing the war. In chapter six the author talks about how after the camps of Chelmo, Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka that were now closed. the shipping to other camps was started to take care of the Final Solution, in particular, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Entire Jewish communities from Poland, France, Netherlands, Italy and the rest of the occupied lands became the responsibility of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The chapter talks about the how Hungarians Jews were transported to Auschwitz and there the fit were assigned to slave labor and those not considered fit were sent to their death. The aftermath depicts the collapse of the system due to the advancing armies, as well as the destruction of the rolling stock due to bombing. It has to be accepted that the German Reichsbahn did play a crucial, as well as effective part in the Final Solution, as well as the additional killing of other races, opponents, homosexuals, etc. The book ends with photos of the free concentration camp inmates, as well as with photos taken in 2022.
Although I was very interested in the use of the German rail system for the use of the Final Solution, I found myself looking at photos that were not for the faint at heart. Those photos, even though few, make me think about an aspect of the war that is not touched upon very often. I cannot understand the hate shown to a selected group of individuals because of their background either religious or by birth.
I will recommend the book only to those that are very interested in this aspect of the war and have no fear to look at some controversial photos. My thanks to Casemate Publishers for allowing to review the book.