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.
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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