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Flights and attempts to flee

In preparation of her dissertation, Tanja von Fransecky has spent four days at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen looking through files. The historian who is supported by the Center for Research on Antisemitism in Berlin investigates the subject of “Flights and attempts of Jewish deportees to flee from deportation trains in France, Belgium and the Netherlands”. “From the documents the tracing service keeps I could gather further information on the fates of deportees and on the course of the transports“, said Fransecky.

Gathering material for her thesis, forty-one-year-old Fransecky has already visited several archives and memorial centres within Germany and abroad. “Although the ITS is one of my last stops”, she reports, “I have managed to make some new findings here.” Just to cite an example: she has been able to investigate some pieces of correspondence on the escort troops of deportation trains. “The deportation convoys from France, Belgium and the Netherlands were not accompanied by the SS or the Gestapo, as is often assumed, but by the police“, the researcher explains. “One letter says that a police inspector and 20 policemen were moved from Stuttgart and ordered to continuously accompany the transport leading from Paris to Auschwitz on 7th October 1943 – a fact that contrasts with the habitual commando exchange at the Reich’s border.” The historian collects every piece of information putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

When she started writing her dissertation, she placed tracing adverts for contemporary witnesses and made contact with victims’ associations and archives. Proceeding that way, the list of the persons known to have fled from a transport became longer and longer. “I now know of the fate of about 700 Jewish people who dared to make the often times lethal jump.” Fransecky derived many an information from talks with contemporary witnesses, e.g. that arguments in the single wagons became violent upon the mere mention of the words “flight” or “escape” – this being the case because everyone remembered that, on the departure of the train, the accompanying commandos had threatened all people kept in the wagon with death should they state that someone was missing. “But the will of those who had dared to take the jump was overwhelming,” tells Fransecky. “I know of a petite nurse who was locked in the sick people’s wagon together with a doctor. She was supposed to help, but how could she without food and medicine? She knocked down the doctor who tried to hinder her from fleeing, and jumped off the train to join her resistance group in Belgium again.”

The more the persecutees came to know about annihilation in the concentration camps, the more desirous they became of fleeing. “Some of the wagons were so decayed and rotten that flight, in fact, became possible. And what is more, some of the victims smuggled various escaping aids in the trains.” The darkness of the night that covered the journey to the East came as an offer to flee and hide. “As many people had been active and committed members in resistance groups prior to deportation, forged papers had now and then been made ready for life after escape beforehand.”

At the ITS, Fransecky has searched for the names of about 200 men and women, inspected several files and above all compared and completed biographical data. “Travelling to Arolsen towards the end of my research work has been a good idea since it has allowed me to complete biographical data.”