On the Tarnow-Auschwitz Train: Exactly 70
years after German troops packed hundreds of Poles into cattle
cars, survivors and relatives retraced the route of the first
rail convoy to Auschwitz.
A special memorial train set off this morning from the
southern Polish town of Tarnow, retracing the original
140-km route to Oswiecim, site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death
Before embarking, participants paid tribute at a monument
unveiled on the platform, inscribed with the names of the 728
prisoners sent from a jail in Tarnow to the camp on June 14,
A total of 1.1 million people perished at
Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II, according to figures
from the camp's memorial museum.
One million were Jews from Poland and across
Nazi-occupied Europe. The camp is an enduring symbol of the
The other victims included some 75,000 non-Jewish Poles,
21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and up to 15,000
others including resistance members from other occupied
"They told us we were being sent to a concentration camp,
but none of us knew then what a concentration camp was,"
Kazimierz Zajac, an 86-year-old survivor of the convoy, said to a news agency.
On arrival, the Nazis tattooed numbers onto their arms.
Zajac still bears his, 261.
The captors' message was stark, Zajac recalled: "Jews
won't live for more than a month, priests for three months and
for the others, the only way out is up the crematorium
The Nazis set up Auschwitz in a former Polish army
barracks in 1940, the year after sparking World War II by
Later expanded into a purpose-built death camp for Jews,
the site's initial role was to hold and kill Poland's elites
and stem underground resistance to the brutal Nazi occupation.
Many of the men on the original convoy were captured
trying to escape to join a Polish exile army in France, after
Germany invaded in September 1939.
Among them was Kazimierz Albin, now 87, snared in January
1940 trying to cross into Slovakia,a Nazi ally.
As in 1940, today's train stopped in the city of Krakow.
It was there that the prisoners learned that the Germans had
just conquered Paris.
First Published: Monday, June 14, 2010, 20:33