Survivors retrace first Auschwitz journey

The train tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp

The train tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp

A trio of Holocaust survivors has set off on a journey to retrace the first rail convoy to Auschwitz exactly 70 years after it happened.

A memorial train will retrace the 140 kilometre route from Tarnow, in southern Poland, to Oswiecim, where the Nazis built the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1940.

On June 14 1940 the first train left for Auschwitz carrying 728 Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution to the gas chambers.

Only 300 people who were on the original journey made it out of the concentration camp alive: an estimated 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

In addition to the memorial journey, the Association of Auschwitz Families are to hold a ceremony at the camp itself involving several other Holocaust survivors.

Those taken on the convoy were told by guards they were in a concentration camp because they were enemies of the German people. They were tortured and made to work on building up the camp so the Nazis could send more people there.

The memorial journey follows more than 40 countries giving their backing to global guidelines on returning property looted by the Nazis.

Stuart Eizenstat, a special adviser to the US Secretary of State on Holocaust issues, called the decision by 43 nations, made at a conference in Prague, to back the new rules, a “major advance in providing belated justice to victims and their families.”

The plans, the result of a year of negotiation, are intended to make processing claims for property stolen between 1933 and 1945 faster and more transparent, and improve access to information for those investigating.

Mr Eizenstat said it was now up to the countries as to whether the guidelines were effectively implemented.

Adding that there are 500,000 Holocaust survivors and around half live at or below the poverty level, he said: “We all have done not enough."

Last updated: 3:45pm, June 14 2010