Holocaust Edu in the 21st Century: A Flensburg Perspective: Erna de Vries and the Holocaust Boxcar

Video (18:38), 2017, Auschwitz Survivor Erna de Vries in Flensburg, Germany

My name is Joachim Reppmann and I am a historian from Flensburg in north Germany with a second residence in Northfield, Minnesota. In 2015 my wife and I organized the transportation of what can be called a "Holocaust boxcar" from a forest in central Germany to the impressive Fagen Fighters World War II Museum in Granite Falls, Minnesota, where it is now on display. On January 12, 2017, the Auschwitz survivor Erna de Vries, age 93, was featured in the filming of an "Untold Story" in the city of Flensburg. Integral to the background of the story is the fact—certainly unknown to most Americans—that in the final days of the war hundreds of high-ranking Nazis went into hiding in this city, which briefly became a sort of new "capital of the Reich."

Erna de Vries from Lathen, Germany.

LAST STOPS: How the story of the boxcar in the Fagen Fighters Museum ends. The story of the boxcar is inseparably connected with the history of the Nazi death camps. Erna de Vries (née Korn), a Holocaust survivor, makes a journey through time more than seventy years after her liberation. Once again she is sitting in a train, just as she was at the time she was taken to Auschwitz in an ordinary railroad passenger car. Memories of that journey, on the way to the intended annihilation of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis, resurge in her mind. Now she wants to see and feel how the perpetrators, who considered themselves members of the master race, showed their true colors at the end of the war. Three days before the surrender on May 8, 1945, several of the mass murderers, among them SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höß, and the Chief Inspector of Concentration Camps Richard Glücks, met at police headquarters in Flensburg. At this meeting the contempt of these war criminals for mankind was no longer the point, but only how they could go into hiding. Their last stop was a flight from responsibility. Seventy-one years after this meeting, Erna de Vries sits in this room for the first time, remembering her own path of suffering in the very same location where the perpetrators of these crimes were unmasked one final time as unscrupulous criminals.

From left: Evelyn Sadri and Erna de Vries in front of the Flensburg Police Headquarter, where the Third Reich ended.

With the arrest of the final official state government on May 23, this town now becomes the last stop for the entire band of Nazis. The Auschwitz survivor looks at the cells in the building, experiences once again her liberation and the end of both the Second World War and the Nazi top brass. With her visit to the town where one final scene was played out following the surrender, the circle is closed. She has survived and can now set out to tell subsequent generations about the Holocaust and the cowardly murderers who perpetrated it.

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