I read in a news article here that Marion Blumenthal Lazan, a Holocaust survivor, told a group of middle school students that she was on a train to the gas chamber when the train was liberated by Soviet Soldiers on April 23, 1945.
This quote is from the article in The Tribune, a newspaper in Greeley, CO:
Lazan’s family was liberated by the Soviet Army while on the train to the gas chamber on April 23, 1945. The war between Russia and Germany kept her alive, she said. The 10-hour train trip became two weeks because the train was blocked, and it never arrived at its destination. She spent her last two weeks in captivity crammed into a train with no food, dirty water and no sanitation.
Germany was losing the war in April 1945 and the war was very nearly over. Yet the Nazis continued their genocial killing of the Jews until the very end. Regarding the last days of the war and the killing of the Jews, Daniel Goldhagen wrote in his best-selling book Hitler’s Willing Executioners :
Finally, the fidelity of the Germans to their genocidal enterprise was so great as seeming to defy comprehension. Their world was disintegrating around them, yet they persisted in genocidal killing until the end.
The train to the gas chamber was coming from Bergen-Belsen, but where was it going? I learned at the Bergen-Belsen memorial site that there were three trains headed to the Theresienstadt camp in April 1945.
Bergen-Belsen was an exchange camp, set up for exchanging Jews for Germans being held as prisoners by the Allies. It became a concentration camp only in the last months of the war.
According to a book written by Eberhard Kolb, which I purchased at the Bergen-Belsen memorial site, Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler had opened a special section at the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp on July 8, 1944, where 1,683 Hungarian Jews from Budapest were brought.
The Jews in the Hungarian section were treated better than all the others at Bergen-Belsen. They received better food and medical care and were not required to work. They wore their own clothes, although they were required to wear a yellow Star of David patch.
The Bergen-Belsen camp had different categories of prisoners, and the Hungarian Jews were in the category of Preferential Jews (Vorzugsjuden) because they were considered desirable for exchange purposes.
Marion Blumenthal was probably in the Vorzugsjuden section of Bergen-Belsen described above by Eberhard Kolb.
I learned the following information on my trip to the Bergen-Belsen memorial site:
Altogether, there was a total of 2,896 Jews released for ransom, including a transport of 1,210 Jews from the Theresienstadt Ghetto who entered Switzerland on February 7, 1945.
After the departure of the second Hungarian transport to Switzerland in December, more transports from Budapest continued to arrive at Bergen-Belsen and the Hungarian section remained in existence there until April 1945.
After the Hungarian Jews had entered Switzerland, there were false reports by the Swiss press that the Jews were being ransomed in exchange for asylum for 200 SS officers who were planning to defect. When Hitler heard this, from Ernst Kaltenbrunner who was no friend of Himmler, he ordered all further releases of Jews for ransom to stop. Nevertheless, Himmler continued to release Jews from the concentration camps, as he continued to negotiate with the Allies.
Between April 6 and April 11, the Hungarian Jews were evacuated from Bergen-Belsen on the orders of Himmler who was planning to use them as bargaining chips in his negotiations with the Allies. The Jews in the Star Camp and also in the Neutrals Camp were also evacuated, along with the Hungarians, in three trains which held altogether about 7,000 Jews who were considered “exchange Jews.”
One of these trains arrived with 1,712 people on April 21, 1945 and entered the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Two weeks later the Theresienstadt Ghetto was turned over to the Red Cross, just before Russian troops arrived. The other two trains never made it to Theresienstadt because they had to keep making detours due to frequent Allied air attacks, according to Eberhard Kolb’s book Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945.
One of the trains finally stopped on April 14, 1945 near Magdeburg in northern Germany; the guards ran away and the Jews on the train were liberated by American troops. The third train halted on April 23, 1945 near the village of Tröbitz in the Niederlausitz region; they were liberated by Russian troops after the guards escaped.
Marion Blumenthal was on the train that stopped at the village of Tröbitz. She was 10 years old and she had been a prisoner of the Nazis for 6 and 1/2 years.