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In The Tracks Of The Shoah

In The Tracks Of The Shoah

In a ceremony attended by leaders of Houston’s Jewish community and other prominent Texans, three Holocaust survivors lit candles last week to mark the arrival of a World War II-era railcar at the Holocaust Museum Houston. Each candle represented one million of the three million Jews packed into freight cars during the Holocaust and sent to their deaths by rail, a museum spokesman says.

The museum purchased the railcar through a broker this fall, operating secretly at first because of political sensitivities in Germany, but later working with a German company to restore the car. Firms from all over the world donated time, goods or services to transport the 27-foot car by air and by truck to Houston.

Although extensive records exist about trains used in the Holocaust, the museum says, the German railway system destroyed all information related to the cars themselves, including, in most cases, their "builder’s plates." But the car that arrived in Houston on Dec. 28, one of about 10 displayed by Holocaust centers around the world, is the only one that still has its plate, the museum says- information that helped to authenticate it.

It is not clear whether this particular car was used to transport Jews to the concentration camps, but museum officials say it is likely given the year it was built (1942) and the fact that it has steps to facilitate the loading of human passengers. Peter Berkowitz, the museum’s chairman, says visitors to the center, many of them students, will be able to walk through the car after it’s unveiled this March. "We don’t want to treat this as an artifact," he adds. "We want this to be part of an educational process that reminds the world of what can happen when hatred and prejudice go unchecked."

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