The train on this mural depicts the trains that were fundamental in the Holocaust and the Nazi Final Solution. The trains and concentration camps provided the technology, and efficiencies needed for large scale extermination. They also required not only the involvement of German military units, but tens of thousands of railroad employees in Germany, and occupied Eastern Europe. They also required the participation of the local population in identifying, and herding Jewish citizens into centers for relocation and transport.
The horror and indignities imposed on people of all ages, stuffed in numbers of of 50 to 150 per cattle car is beyond imagination. Although, for the interested reader there are numerous direct video recordings of survivors at numerous American Holocaust museums,and their on-line sites
Over the years I have talked to many people from Europe and Eastern Europe who were alive during World War II. Most of them indicate that they did not know about the extermination and concentration camp’s. A significant number said they knew something on was going on, but didn’t know specifically. Even Jews did not seem to understand the mass extermination plans at least prior to the end of 1942. They tended to believe , and wanted to believe and not see propaganda and also in many instances their Jewish leadership.
There are any number of reasons for this sad situation. I do think that the level of genocide contemplated by the Nazi’s was hard to believe and hard to comprehend. I also think that people in general tend to hear what they want to hear, and see what they want to see, and therefore could have been ignorant of what was going on; because they didn’t want to know.
Although this horror is 70 years behind us, I think there are many issues that constantly need to be looked at because they say a lot of about the potential of human behavior and the limitations of human behavior.
At Yad Vashem in Israel ,and many Holocaust museums in America, there are dedications and recognition given to the righteous. Gentiles who risked their own lives, the lives of their families, and all of their possessions, to save as many Jewish victims as they could. Their courage and resourcefulness,is worth not only recognizing, but studying . It shows the amazing nobility of which man is capable, as clearly as the Nazi’s demonstrated the baseness of man. These people were able to hear, and were able to see, what was going on ,and take risky personal responsibility. It is as important that these courageous people be honored and recognized, as the perpetrators condemned.
Several years ago I had occasion to see performed a song called the Southbound Train by Smythe and Taylor. The humanity of the song was very powerful, and surprised me because it appeared right in the middle of a series of folk songs. The sentiments in the song from one man’s heart that was on his way to extermination, was very powerful, and moving.
What really surprised me was how enthusiastically the small crowd embraced the song, and finished in the singing of the song. It was a moment I won’t forget and was yet another example of what makes the Wet Mountain Valley special. It’s not just the scenery.