When you enter Birkenau, the first thing you see is a wagon, standing alone on long tracks that run from the gate to the gas chambers. This wagon was brought to Birkenau in the autumn of 2009 and has since been sealed. It is filled with the memories of all the souls that were transported here – and with something more. Inside is a small blue velvet prayer bag. It was placed there in remembrance of a story of resistance
By WWII, Jews had been living in Hungary for almost a thousand years. They were an integral part of the intellectual, cultural and commercial life of Hungarian society. For most of the war they remained relatively safe. But on 19 March 1944, when Germany occupied Hungary, this changed dramatically. Within months, more than half a million Hungarian Jews were murdered, most in the gas chambers of Auschwitz Birkenau. They were brought there in wagon cars packed so tightly they couldn’t move.
This wagon was made in Germany in the early 20th century, to carry goods across Europe.
During WWII, the very same type of wagon carried thousands of people from Hungary to their death in the Birkenau death camp. It was discovered on the German-Dutch border in 2008 by a team sent to search for a wagon that had been used to transport Hungarian Jews in 1944. Its owner, a railway enthusiast, agreed to donate it to the Auschwitz State Museum. The process of searching for the wagon conserving it, and transporting it to Birkenau was undertaken by a man who was just 13 when his father disappeared in Hungary in 1944.
This man decided to place the wagon in Birkenau in honor of the Hungarian Jews who were transported there. His father, Hugo Lowy, was among them. Upon his arrival in May 1944, Hugo was murdered by German soldiers, who beat him to death because he steadfastly refused to relinquish his prayer bag containing his tallit and tefillin which represented the essence of his faith. Almost 50 years later, through a chance meeting, one of Hugo’s grandsons, Peter, met a witness to this terrible event. The family finally discovered what had befallen Hugo. The torment of not knowing was over.