Saturday, February 6, 2021

For Artists & Filmmakers: Competition to Create Artistic Vision of the Holocaust Trains - Swedish Holocaust Memorial Association project.

For Artists & Filmmakers: Competition to Create Artistic Vision of the Holocaust Trains
Project by Swedish Holocaust Memorial Association (SHMA)

Cattle wagon - box car - size 21,3 square meters


Board 1.

Board 2.

Board 3.

The Holocaust experience has been so painful as almost impossible to explain to future generations in a meaningful way. Our members of Swedish Holocaust Memorial Associations are the second generation of Holocaust survivors but the tragic fate of our families - even for us- is beyond our comprehension. As children of Holocaust survivors whose families were taken from the Warsaw Ghetto and transported to Treblinka or Majdanek in the cattle cars we often ponder how terribly degrading and painful it must have been. There are dramatic and sorrowful descriptions of the witnesses both in writing and on tape, and numerous photographs depicting people being forced into the abyss of the chlorine stinking cattle cars but it is still impossible to describe the conditions, the force of a crowd, the brutality of the Nazis, the stench of urine and feces, the screams of children, the lack of air. Yet we feel that there is a need to better explain the extent of the tragedy for the sake of remembering those who perished and to counteract the voices of Holocaust denial. The use of cattle cars to transport the Jews from the ghettos to the extermination camps has become symbolic of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, permitting rapid extermination of the Jews on an “industrial” scale. Several museums around the world display a cattle car but cannot physically replicate the sense of overcrowding that would be appropriate and sensitive to the feelings of contemporary audiences, especially the young.

The Swedish Holocaust Memorial Association has developed a Visual Framework (Boards 1-3) to convey the conditions prevailing in a typical cattle wagon based on detailed factual information available from the archives. Our goal is to challenge artists around the world to create a powerful artistic vision whether in the form of installation, photograph, sculpture, film, or animation. We are announcing a competition for such a project that will be open until July 22, 2021. The best project will receive a symbolic prize of SEK 1000 and a signed copy of the book “The Liberated 1945” published by SHMA in 2020. The proposals should be sent to 

The selected three best works will be sent to all the key Holocaust museums research and remembrance centers around the World.

Our Visual Framework of three Boards is based primarily on the information about trains leaving the Umschlagplatz in Warsaw. The freight wagons when used for military purposes were called 40-8 because they were meant to accommodate either 40 soldiers or 8 horses. This is in stark contrast with the number of people transported in these wagons from Umschlagplatz to Treblinka which averaged at 110. According to both the Jewish (Oneg Shabat) and German sources, such trains usually had 60 wagons. The figure of 110 persons is also based on the information about the train that took Korczak and his orphans to Treblinka on August 5, 1942. On that date, 6783 people were deported. 110 persons in 60 wagons gave a figure of 6600. It is known that the number of people in a wagon sometimes reached 150 persons.

Board 1 visualizes the conditions in the wagon measuring 3x8 meters, 24 square meters, filled with people, men, women, and children, by showing both the longitudinal and cross-sections of the wagon. This is a powerful picture that could be reproduced on a large scale. Each person was allowed to take up to 15 kg of luggage but it is clear that there would be no space to accommodate even a fraction of that.

Board 2 shows the wagon of 3x8 meters partially filled with 60 crowded people. Based on this visual, there seems to be space for a group of another 25 people that could be forced into the wagon in these extremely crowded conditions. Yet we know that 110 people on average were transported in these wagons and another group of 25 people is shown below. There were instances when the wagons were filled with 145-150 persons. Board 2 also shows a sample of luggage for about 10 people. It is hard to imagine how the luggage for 110 people could be accommodated in the wagon filled with 110 individuals, visualizing the dramatic lack of space. The picture of the partially filled wagon could show the tragedy of the situation if replicated in its full dimension on the floor or on the pavement leading to one of the Holocaust museums.

Board 3 is important in understanding the premises of the previous two presentations.
The size of an average standing person as seen from above is set at 45x65 cm. Below there is a sketch of a wagon measuring 3x8 meters divided schematically into 100 spaces. In order to fit 100 persons in such a wagon, each person could occupy no more than 40x60 cm which is shown in the pictogram. This simple presentation dramatizes the situation visualized in Board 1 and Board 2. If 40x60 cm is a maximum space per person with 100 people, then 110 or 150 requires unbelievable crowding.

Cattle wagons at Umschlagplatz in Warszawa

Umschlagplatz in Warszawa

Umschlagplatz in Warszawa

Umschlagplatz in Warszawa

Umschlagplatz in Warszawa

Bekanntmachung: 3) Each person which will be resettled is allowed taking along 15 kg luggage and all valuables: Gold, jewellery, money etc. Food for three days is necessary.

At 10 a.m. on 22 July 1942 Höfle, Michalsen, Worthoff and other officers of Aktion Reinhard visited the Judenrat. Höfle dictated to the Judenrat the German conditions for the "resettlement to the east".
In this way the Judenrat was forced to help "cleaning" the ghetto.
The main orders in Announcement - Bekanntmachung were:
1) All Jews will be resettled to the east, regardless of age and sex.
2)  With the exception of:
  • a. Jews working for German institutions or companies
  • b. Jews working for the Judenrat 
  • c. Jewish hospitals' staff
  • d. Members of the Jewish Order Service
  • f. Wifes and children of above-mentioned persons
  • h. Patients of a Jewish hospital on the day of resettlement.
3)  Each person which will be resettled is allowed taking along 15 kg luggage and all valuables: Gold, jewellery, money etc. Food for three days is necessary.
4)  The resettlement will start on 22 July 1942, 11 o'clock (11 a.m.).
  • The Judenrat is responsible for delivery of 6,000 persons daily until 4 p.m.. Assembly point is the Jewish hospital at Stawki Street.
  • On 22 July 1942, the Jewish hospital at Stawki Street has to be emptied so that the building can be used for the people being resettled.
  • The Judenrat has to announce the German orders.
5) Punishments:
  • Each Jew who is leaving the ghetto during the resettlement action will be shot.
  • Each Jew who is acting against the resettlement will be shot.
  • Each Jew who doesn't belong to the above-mentioned persons and who will be discovered in Warsaw after the resettlement action will be shot.

The first contingents put together by the Judenrat consisted of refugee assembly institutions, prisons and old people's homes.
If these orders will not be carried out, a corresponding number of hostages will be shot.
When SS-Hauptsturmführer Worthoff ordered to provide 10,000 Jews for the 24 July 1942, including children of a children's transport, the Judenrat lea
der Adam Czerniakow committed suicide.

Warsaw Ghetto announcement

Auschwitz, the luggage left by new arriving peoples prior to selection procedure.

Recent reactions from the Holocaust survivors