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The International Institute for Holocaust Research

The Transports and Their Historical Significance

The deportation of millions of Jews by the Nazis from various locations throughout Europe and the Mediterranean into ghettos, camps and murder sites in Eastern Europe provided a key element in implementing the “Final Solution of the Jewish Problem”.

The practical significance of banishing Jews from their homes and their towns and cities constituted the physical and cultural destruction of Jewish communities, many of which had existed for many centuries. The Jews, including old people and young children, were transported by various forms of transport such as trains, trucks and ships and, sometimes, even on foot. Physical conditions on these transports were unbearably harsh and the deportees often suffered from lack of food and water, as well as from the anxiety and terror of not knowing what fate awaited them. Many deportees died in the course of their journey.

The transports, like other components of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Problem” are an example of the ways in which the state made use of modern technology and a bureaucratic infrastructure in carrying out crimes against humanity. These included a mass transport system, a railroad system that covered the whole of Europe and the use of advanced organizational and logistical methods. The dispatch of a transport containing several thousand Jews required cooperation and coordination between various bodies in Germany, including the Nazi security services and government offices; e.g. the ministry of transport, the foreign office, the ministry of finance, local authorities and the railroad company. The ability to dispatch transports of Jewish deportees beyond Germany’s borders depended on cooperation with relevant authorities in the Axis countries and the satellite states. In areas under German occupation, local police forces and other auxiliary forces from among the local population aided the operation that involved the mass deportation of Jews.

This fact expands the circle of those involved and was responsible for a complex and broad scale system of deportations that included people in different positions, such as the engine driver transporting deportees and the railroad company clerk who ordered train cars or planned the train schedule. It was a systemized operation that often ended within a few days with the murder of Jewish deportees alongside pre-prepared pits and/or gas chambers.

Transports from major towns and cities in Europe, such as Vienna, Paris or Berlin, or even from more rural regions, were usually carried out quite openly. The local non-Jewish communities observed, or were able to observe, their Jewish neighbors being removed from their homes and taken to assembly sites and train stations; they could watch as the trains set off on their journey. This transparency differs from other stages in the Final Solution, which the Germans carried out in secret or in relatively remote locations.

The German security authorities often forced the Jewish leadership to participate in organizing the transports, by preparing lists of potential deportees and providing various logistical services, which included supplying the deportees with food and work tools. The cooperation that was imposed on the Jewish leadership in carrying out the transports was one of the main characteristics of Nazi activity