Train retraces route of first Auschwitz convoy, 70 years on
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Last Updated: Monday, June 14, 2010, 20:33
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 camp.

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, 1940.

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 Holocaust.

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 nations.

"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 chimney".

The Nazis set up Auschwitz in a former Polish army barracks in 1940, the year after sparking World War II by invading Poland.

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

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