On August 4, 1942, a train left Mechelen carrying nearly a thousand Jewish men, women and children. Its destination was Auschwitz.
Eighty years ago today, on August 4, 1942, the first train departed from the German-occupied army barracks in Dossin, Mechelen, heading for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and extermination center. It transported 999 Jewish men, women and children, only eight of whom would live to survive the war.
Even more heartbreakingly, these innocent Jewish people had willingly come to the barracks and boarded the train of their own accord. They were each given an Arbeitseinsatzbefehl, or employment order, which would enable them to find work.
The first man on the deportation list was Alfred Israel Rosendahl, a German Jewish refugee who had lived in Antwerp since he was expelled from his homeland in 1939. He entered the train clutching his Arbeitseinsatzbefehl no. 92. Upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, he was put to heavy work in the concentration camp and died just 14 days later.
A temporary reprieve
Although 999 people boarded the train to Poland on that day, only 998 arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. A 16-year-old girl, Hanna Karpowitz, somehow managed to escape. Unfortunately she was re-arrested and put on the second transport. Half of the people on that train were gassed immediately upon arrival.
Later, when news spread, people no longer came freely to Dossin but had to be arrested, during raids. After this first transport from Mechelen to Auschwitz on August 4, 1942, thousands more Jews and Roma passed through the Dossin barracks between 1942 and 1944. A total of 28 transports left the barracks, deporting 25,843 people. Only one in twenty survived.
Reference: Article in Dutch on VRTNWS by Sarah Van Genechten.
The great escape
However, on April 19, 1943 resistance fighters stopped a train transport from Mechelen to Auschwitz in the Flemish village of Boortmeerbeek. 236 people escaped. Read the full story here.
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Chilling. We need to keep reminding ourselves about this.
Yes, Anabel, I agree, especially as comments supporting similar behaviour are heard even today, even from country leaders.
Exactly. What is going on here, for example, is very worrying.
Thank you Denzil for a personal perspective on this ungraspable act of evil. And for sharing the escape too. I’m following the Auschwitz Museum on Twitter and it’s brought the Holocaust into nearly unbearable focus. How did people do this.
Thanks Clare, yes I agree, how, and why? I can’t get my head around this.
I will not be able to pass through Mechelen now without recalling this horror story.
Yes Chris, it’s horrific, especially when we hear of Viktor Orban speaking about maintaining “ethnic homogeneity” in Hungary.
My mothers cousins was on this train . I investigated the families disappearance in 1990 . It led me to Place de l’Aviation in Brussels and a complex search through all the index cards of those deported people . From there I spoke to a Professor Maxime Steinberg who filled in many details of What happened to Jeanne Sorgenstein and her mother Sarah on this fateful 1st transportation from Belgium . unfortunately they didn’t survive It also led me to a hidden child from that family that was taken in by a neighbour in Brussels whilst they were searching the building . I discovered was living in Toronto under a different name
That’s quite some story Paul, and well done for persevering with the research. That’s a very lucky child who was protected by the neighbour.
Luck was not the word . Miracle was more like it, Maurice the serving boy told me when we met that he was shoved under the bed by the woman that took him in . The German soldier came into the apartment and he looked under the bed and he saw his face and eyes looking at him . He was in a dark corner and he wasn’t seen . Or perhaps he was , I doubt it , though well never know . The woman couldn’t keep him and he lived on the street in Brussels eating from dustbins until he became I’ll . Somehow He ended up hidden by nuns in Wezembeek Opem .
Wow a miracle indeed.
A dark period in human history that we should never forget.
The brave people of the Resistance we’re incredible. Not sure I could have done it. Good post, Denzil.
Thanks Pat, no it’s difficult to put ourselves in such a position.
Sorry it should read Maurice was the surviving boy
So much horror and still it happens.
Yes, that’s the ongoing tragedy isn’t it Carol, not learning from the past.