Competition to Create Artistic Vision of the Holocaust Trains

Project by Swedish Holocaust Memorial Association (SHMA)

The Holocaust experience has been so painful as almost impossible to explain to future generations in a meaningful way. Our members of Swedish Holocaust Memorial Associations are the second generation of Holocaust survivors but the tragic fate of our families – even for us- is beyond our comprehension. As children of Holocaust survivors whose families were taken from the Warsaw Ghetto and transported to Treblinka or Majdanek in the cattle cars we often ponder how terribly degrading and painful it must have been.

There are dramatic and sorrowful descriptions of the witnesses both in writing and on tape, and numerous photographs depicting people being forced into the abyss of the chlorine stinking cattle cars but it is still impossible to describe the conditions, the force of a crowd, the brutality of the Nazis, the stench of urine and feces, the screams of children, the lack of air.

Yet we feel that there is a need to better explain the extent of the tragedy for the sake of remembering those who perished and to counteract the voices of Holocaust denial. The use of cattle cars to transport the Jews from the ghettos to the extermination camps has become symbolic of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, permitting rapid extermination of the Jews on an “industrial” scale. Several museums around the world display a cattle car but cannot physically replicate the sense of overcrowding that would be appropriate and sensitive to the feelings of contemporary audiences, especially the young.

The Swedish Holocaust Memorial Association has developed a Visual Framework (Boards 1-3) to convey the conditions prevailing in a typical cattle wagon based on detailed factual information available from the archives. Our goal is to challenge artists around the world to create a powerful artistic vision whether in the form of installation, photograph, sculpture, film, or animation. We are announcing a competition for such a project that will be open until July 22, 2021. The best project will receive a symbolic prize of SEK1000 and a signed copy of the book “The Liberated 1945” published by SHMA in 2020. The proposals should be sent to The selected three best works will be sent to all the key Holocaust museums research and remembrance centers around the World.

Our Visual Framework of three Boards is based primarily on the information about trains leaving the Umschlagplatz in Warsaw. The freight wagons when used for military purposes were called 40-8 because they were meant to accommodate either 40 soldiers or 8 horses. This is in stark contrast with the number of people transported in these wagons from Umschlagplatz to Treblinka which averaged at 110. According to both the Jewish (Oneg Shabat) and German sources, such trains usually had 60 wagons. The figure of 110 persons is also based on the information about the train that took Korczak and his orphans to Treblinka on August 5, 1942. On that date, 6783 people were deported. 110 persons in 60 wagons gave a figure of 6600. It is known that the number of people in a wagon sometimes reached 150 persons.

Board 1 visualizes the conditions in the wagon measuring 3×8 meters, 24 square meters, filled with people, men, women, and children, by showing both the longitudinal and cross-sections of the wagon. This is a powerful picture that could be reproduced on a large scale. Each person was allowed to take up to 15 kg of luggage but it is clear that there would be no space to accommodate even a fraction of that.

Board 2 shows the wagon of 3×8 meters partially filled with 60 crowded people. Based on this visual, there seems to be space for a group of another 25 people that could be forced in the wagon at these extremely crowded conditions. Yet we know that 110 people on average were transported in these wagons and another group of 25 people is shown below. There were instances when the wagons were filled with 145-150 persons. Board 2 also shows a sample of luggage for about 10 people. It is hard to imagine how the luggage for 110 people could be accommodated in the wagon filled with 110 individuals, visualizing the dramatic lack of space. The picture of the partially filled wagon could show the tragedy of the situation if replicated in its full dimension on the floor or on the pavement leading to one of the Holocaust museums

Board 3 is important in understanding the premises of the previous two presentations.

The size of an average standing person as seen from above is set at 45×65 cm. Below there is a sketch of a wagon measuring 3×8 meters divided schematically into 100 spaces. In order to fit 100 persons in such a wagon, each person could occupy no more than 40×60 cm which is shown in the pictogram. This simple presentation dramatizes the situation visualized in Board 1 and Board 2. If 40×60 cm is a maximum space per person with 100 people, then 110 or 150 requires unbelievable crowding.

Boards 1-3 created by Amalia Reisenthel are at


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