- What was the Holocaust?
- Judaism and Jewish life
- What is antisemitism?
- How did the Nazis gain power?
- Life in Nazi-controlled Europe
- What were camps?
- What was the Final Solution?
- How did people respond?
- Survival and legacy
Deportation and transportation to camps often took days. Individuals, families and whole communities together with their personal belongings were packed into cattle trucks. They were locked in and transported for days.
They had no information. They did not know where they were going, the length of the journey or what would happen to them when they eventually arrived at their destination.
The conditions on the journey were appalling.
We can learn about these journeys from the many child survivors who wrote of their experiences:
Agnes, an 11 year-old girl from Czechoslovakia, wrote: “Later we were moved and driven into railway wagons – the sort that transport animals – which were part of a long train. Some of the wagons were open-topped, some closed.”
Jack, 15 years old, from Greece, talks of his experience at the start of what must have been a very long journey: “Some 20 railway cars were waiting for us... There were 70 to 80 people in a car... After a while, there was a muffled sound of closing latches... the whistle blew and the train started moving slowly. It was April 7, 1943. Penned in and cramped, we departed from our homeland, without being able to see it.”
Moshe, aged 17, from Hungary, then explains that: “the doors were shut, leaving us almost in darkness. The grills, too, were closed to prevent escape. Air entered only through the cracks. So we travelled for 24 hours, without food or water. We were hungry and thirsty. But the desire and hope to see our families made us forget everything else.”
David, a Polish Jew aged 13, graphically describes how cramped it was on the train: “There is no room to sit. In order to make room we are forced to stand with our hands above our heads.... Suddenly, the door is slammed shut and sealed. A water bucket is tossed into the car for use as a disposal container for human waste.”
The packed railway wagons would often be shunted around from one railway siding to another for days on end, and for what must have seemed like an eternity. Many of the very young, the old and the sick would die because of the inhumane conditions during the journey. Those who did survive were severely traumatised by the experience.
Arrival at the camp
Eventually, after days of travelling in the most cramped conditions, the railway carriages arrived at a camp. The doors of the carriages would be pulled open to give the prisoners their first glimpse of daylight, at a place they had never seen before.