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Dr. Ann Livschiz
Department of History
Department of Educational Studies
Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne
IPFW Student Research and Creative Endeavor Symposium Award Winner
The German railway system heralded the country’s much-desired advancement towards modernity and prosperity. As early as 1814, German planners of the railway system envisioned a railway to be an innovative means of travel, that it would boost unity, national strength, and increase trade with neighboring countries. However, one segment of the population would be noticeably absent from the initial phase of securing the financial support it needed to launch the railway system: Jews. From its inception, anti-Semitism was rooted in the formation of Germany’s first railway system. Although the railway company would later accept Jewish capital and even began to hire Jews in various positions (1848), the anti-Semitic ideologies were suppressed but not entirely eliminated. The early exclusionary practice by the railway’s planners against Jews set in motion a chain of events (and a tyrannical leader) that led to the largest mass transit of humans to the Nazi death camps. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler became Germany’s Chancellor and he immediately sought to weave his party’s Nazi ideologies into every aspect of German life, and this included Germany’s most cherished enterprise, its railway company. On the one-hundredth anniversary of the first German railway system, in December 1935, Hitler declared that the railway was “the most progressive transportation enterprise in the world.” The largely autonomous German railway company Hitler spoke about had successfully transported people and goods from east to west at dizzying speeds. It had become one of Germany’s largest employers and one of the most influential.
However, what was once the leader of Germany’s advancement towards modernity and prosperity, a massive derailment of epic proportions occurred when its leaders allowed the railway system to become the Nazi regime’s own malevolent vessel, sending millions of humans to their deaths. From the willing actors within the Reich who orchestrated the forced deportations of unsuspecting Jews into the darkened cattle cars on their way to the death camps in Eastern Europe, the German railway system during Hitler’s twelve-year reign was transformed from a symbol of national pride into one with a horrific and enduring legacy.
Arts and Humanities | European History | History
Gasnarez, Tina, "The German National Railway (Reichsbahn) Under the Nazi Regime: The Transformation from a Glorified Past to an Enduring Legacy of Horror" (2014). 2014 IPFW Student Research and Creative Endeavor Symposium. 51.