Present in the vicinity of a train station are very distinct and familiar sounds: the racket of heavy locomotives chugging down the rail and the screech of high-friction braking. A breeze sweeps through two columns of trees, creating a low keening sound which escapes into the open space beyond. To stop and listen, the sounds could easily be human: faint shouts and cries. Are they tricks of the mind, or are the dead speaking? The spectre of cruelty, despair, and suffering clings to the abandoned track; seven decades in the past don’t seem very far.
On a cool grey late-autumn afternoon, I’m on an S-Bahn train heading towards Potsdam. Beyond the limits of the “Stadtbahn” and one stop beyond the “Ring” at Westkreuz, the train pulls into the former goods and freight station at Grunewald. Dropping into the underground passage, signage points to the memorial at track 17. I leave the station by the southeast exit, and turn left to ascend the ramp along the side street.
In the Berlin borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Grunewald station lies on the S7 S-Bahn line serving central Berlin city, the city of Potsdam to the southwest, and Ahrensfelde to the northeast in the Berlin borough of Marzahn-Hellersdorf. Grunewald station began operation in 1879 under its original name Hundekehle named after a nature reserve nearby. The station changed its name to “Grunewald” in 1884 when the old Grunewald station began its new life as “Halensee” station. Grunewald station and its tracks were incorporated into Berlin’s S-Bahn train network in 1928.
Many companies including the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial Rail) were actively complicit in the machinery of mass murder during Nazi rule. After reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the two separate railways also merged to form Deutsche Bahn in 1994, and calls arose for the new company to acknowledge its dark past. To mark the Reichbahn’s collaboration in deporting people to camps and their deaths, present-day Deutsche Bahn AG established a memorial at track 17. Inaugurated in 1998 the memorial was designed and built by architects Hirsch, Lorch, and Wandel who were very mindful of the 1991 Karol Broniatowski memorial near the station’s entrance.
Along track 17, metal plates have been inserted, one for every transport train which took Berlin’s Jews to their deaths. Each plate includes the transport date, the number of people deported, and the transport’s destination. The first train of record departed Grunewald on 1941 October 18 when 1251 Jews were deported to Łódź. Another plate marks the last train of record (so far) leaving Grunewald on 1945 March 27 when 18 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt; blank plates leave room for additional commemorations with new uncovered information. More than 50-thousand Jews from Berlin were deported from this station alone. The first set of trains went to concentration-camps in eastern Europe, but by the end of 1942, trains were directed to Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt.
The vegetation that’s been left to grow around the track over the years is a visible symbol and an unspoken promise to all: that no train will leave track 17 ever again.
Grunewald station, underground passage to track 17
Track 17: in commemoration to people who were deported to death camps on Deutsche Reichsbahn trains, 1941-1945. Erected by Deutsche Bahn AG.
Southeast entrance with signage to the memorial. At top, the weather-vane is in the shape of a locomotive.
Zum Gedenken an die mehr als 50.000 Juden Berlins, die zwischen Oktober 1941 und Februar 1945 vorwiegend vom Güterbahnhof Grunewald aus durch den nationalsozialistischen Staat in seine Vernichtungslager deportiert und ermordet wurden. Zur Mahnung an uns, jeder Missachtung des Lebens und der Würde des Menschen mutig und ohne Zögern entgegenzutreten. In memory of the more than 50-thousand Berlin Jews deported between October 1941 and February 1945, most of whom were sent from the Grunewald station by the Nazis to extermination camps and murdered. This is our warning: to maintain basic human dignity, to oppose all blatant disregard for life with courage and without hesitation. (by Karol Broniatowski, 1991)
Memorial by Karol Broniatowski, 18 October 1991: bronze plaque (above) and concrete wall with hollowed out imprints of human bodies
A little further …
First sight of track 17
Metal slabs surround both sides of track 17
1st metal plate: 1st recorded train on 1941 October 18: 1251 Jews deported from Berlin to Łódź
“Last” metal plate: train on record leaving 1945 March 27: 18 Jews deported from Berlin to Theresienstadt
Far end of the memorial
Germany and Israel. Near the former signal building, this bronze plaque in both Hebrew and German was unveiled on 3 April 1987.
Hebrew inscription: memorial to the victims of extermination. German inscription: In memory of the tens of thousands of Jewish citizens of Berlin, who were deported by the Nazis between October 1941 and February 1945 from here to death camps and murdered. (“Zum Gedenken an zehntausende jüdische Bürger Berlins, die ab Oktober 1941 bis Februar 1945 von hier aus durch die Nazi-Henker in die Todeslager deportiert und ermordet wurden.”)
The track to nowhere
End of the line
No train will leave this track ever again
• Deutsche Bahn, track 17 memorial: in English | auf Deutsch
• Memorial Museums, in English
• “In the field of stelae” (Holocaust memorial in central Berlin), in English
• Memorial to Sinti and Roma Murdered by Nazis, in English
• Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf borough, city-state of Berlin, in German
• Berlin city portal, in German
S-Bahn station Grunewald is about 20 minutes from Berlin central station with the S-Bahn S7 train, direction (Richtung) Potsdam. Open to the elements and free of charge, the memorial is accessed either from the underground passage inside the station or from the street ramp outside; follow the signs for “Mahnmal Gleis 17” (Memorial at track 17).
I made the photos above on 7 December 2015. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-7vx.