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Heavy Loads

Loaded Trains

Het Spoorwegmuseum, Utrecht (NL)

The NS4088 freight wagon was built in 1914, but disappeared without a trace for almost 60 years. During the Second World War, the wagon ended up in Eastern Europe and was left behind there. In 2002, the damaged wagon was found at a remote yard in Bucharest in Romania and brought back to the Netherlands. A freight wagon with an unknown wartime history, but it is certain that these types of wagons were used by the Dutch Railways for the transport of Jews, Roma and Sinti to concentration and extermination camps in Eastern Europe. We were asked by the Railway Museum (het Spoorwegmuseum) to create a concept and a design for a permanent exhibit around this freight wagon about the ‘Transport of Jews in the Second World War’ and the role of the railways.

 

Location
Utrecht (NL)
Client
Het Spoorwegmuseum
Year
2013
Surface
20 m2
Status
Permanent
Role
Concept and design
Idea, research and text
The Railway Museum
Cartography
MUST Stedebouw, Amsterdam (2013)
Interactive media
BICmultimedia.nl
Restauration and building
Kloosterboer Decor
Recordings
Bob Kommer Studio’s
English translation
Pardon me?
Role of the railways

The role that the railways played in Europe with the mass deportations is controversial. For the Dutch Railways, these transports also constitute a dark chapter in its history. In total, 93 trains departed via Camp Westerbork and Camp Vught, which carried more than 100,000 people. Approximately 1,200 Jews were transported from Maliebaan station, where the Railway Museum is currently located. The material, the timetable and the transport to the border were arranged by Dutch personnel. The crucial position of the Dutch Railways in this system remained undiscussed for a long time.

We wanted to ‘tarnish’ the freight wagon as little as possible, both inside and outside, with exhibition-like elements like photos, panels and texts. We consciously chose not to restore the wagon to the original ‘polished’ condition, opting instead for a condition that reflected how the wagon might have looked after 60 years of use. We had a simple exhibition concept: the story of the victims inside the wagon. Outside, an insight into the organisation of the transport system and the voices of perpetrators, bystanders and witnesses

Immersion 

You step inside the empty, bare space of the freight wagon. There is minimal incidence of light and you are immersed in an intense audio experience. All 93 trains are presented chronologically in the audio. A neutral voice states the departure date, train number, number of passengers, number of women, men and children, arrival date and any survivors. With each train, there is a series of poignant audio fragments detailing the train journey experiences of the deportees. Everything is based on authentic material from Red Cross reports, letters recovered that were thrown out of the train and many diaries and books. Read out by survivors and various voice actors, old and young, women, men and children.

Logistics operation in pictures

A completely new light is cast on the organisation and execution of the deportations by the railways on an interactive console outside the entrance to the wagon. Impressive maps and infographics were made by the urban design firm MUST. Beginning with the European perspective, you zoom in further and further on the situation in the Netherlands and ultimately in Utrecht. In addition, you get to know the perpetrators, witnesses and bystanders. You can also leave behind comments and memories on the console.

The maps and infographics can also be viewed online on the website https://www.spoorwegmuseum.nl/ontdek/nu-in-het-museum/beladen-treinen/