Watch online now:
“Transport XX to Auschwitz – a film by Karen Lynne & Richard Bloom and Michel van der Burg”.
The attack on this deportation train in Belgium – by three young men – the rescue, and the many escapes and escape attemps are documented in this film.
Today 70 years ago – on the night of April 19, 1943 – this remarkable heroic rescue occured in Belgium, were 17 people were liberated during an attack on the cattle car train ‘Transport XX’ – crammed with 1631 Jewish passengers, heading for Auschwitz – and another more than 200 others jumped out also.
During the Nazi occupation of Belgium 28 train convoys with over 25,000 Jews and 351 Roma left Mechelen towards the Auschwitz extermination camp.
On the night of April 19, 1943, the 20th transport headed East with 1631 Jewish passengers crammed into 40 cattle cars.
This ‘Transport XX’ left the Mechelen transit camp ‘Kazerne Dossin’ at 10 pm. and was attacked and stopped some 30 minutes later outside Brussels – near Boortmeerbeek.
Armed with only 1 pistol, pliers and an improvised red hurricane lamp the three young Belgians Robert Maistriau, Jean Franklemon, and Youra Livschitz – old schoolmates – stopped the train by putting the red lamp in the middle of rails. They were able to open one of the cattle cars and liberated 17 men and women. Another more than 200 prisoners escape from the train before the German border. Many were shot and 26 were killed. Eventually, half of them succeeded to escape.
The attack, rescue, and many escapes and escape attemps from this 20th deportation train in Belgium are documented in this newly released film “Transport XX to Auschwitz” by the first-hand accounts of one of the attackers, people that jumped from the train and survivors who returned from Auschwitz.
This attack by three young man, who follow their heart, is the only documented attack on a death train during the Shoah.
Simon Gronowski beside deportation wagon – image from interview video by Michel van der Burg. Original photo: Pierre Salmon
The film “Transport XX to Auschwitz” documents the attack and rescue story of one of the attackers, Robert Maistriau, and several escape attempts and escapes of the deportees: Régine Krochmal, Louis de Groot and his brother, the 11 year old Simon Gronowski, Lilly Wolkenfeld Schwartz and her friends, Gunther and Marie Mendel, Willy Berler, Louis Micheels who as doctor in charge of patients decided not trying to escape – and others…
Régine Krochmal – portraits from Transport XX. Image: Michel van der Burg
Régine Krochmal had been active in the resistance and was a nurse. She had to escort together with a doctor the more dead then alive deportees in the ‘hospital’ car. Just before she went into the car she was warned by the Jewish camp doctor of the Dossin barracks, who gave her a knife with the words: “Cut the bars, jump, because they will burn you“.
Régine, had to fight off the accompanying doctor in her car who was trying to prevent her from sawing through the bars of the small vent in order to escape. She jumped out the very same moment the train was attacked and stopped.
Then when the train stops, the attacker Robert Maistriau cuts the barbed wire on the sliding door of one of the cars, opens the door and calls “Fliehen Sie, Fliehen Sie!” At first people are confused and scared – but then 17 people jumped out and escaped, while the Germans were shooting. He next starts working on a second car, but the train began moving…
In every car the Germans had appointed one prisoner responsible for preventing and reporting attempts to escapes. Louis de Groot – was one of these appointed ‘guards’ and was told “When anybody escapes, or you let anybody escape, everybody is killed!“. He, however, calmed down the scared people in his car. “They did not want to let me out of that – they were so afraid – that I – that we will be killed. So, I say ‘no – I arrange it for you’. I was quite an acrobat. So, we broke open that little air thing…“. He, together with some others managed to break open the little ventilation window. Louis then took a girl with him when he jumped – together with his brother Abraham and two boys.
In a scene from the film “Transport XX to Auschwitz,” Simon Gronowski stands at the spot where he jumped from the train 70 years ago – near the village of Kuttekoven. (Photo: Marc Van Roosbroeck)
Simon Gronowski was only 11 years old when he was helped by his mother to jump from the train, and survived – unlike his mother who was gassed at Auschwitz. Simon was ‘lucky’. He was taken care of by the Belgian gendarme Jean Aerts and his wife, and not betrayed. That salvation was no exception: almost all refugees from the deportation train survived with the help of the Belgian population. Simon Gronowski was the youngest person to ever escape from a death train.
Lilly Wolkenfeld Schwartz had to push her Belgian friend Lilian to jump from the train. The train was moving fast when guys in the compartment of Lilly and her friends Bella and Lilian managed to open the doors. Bella and a lot of other people jumped, but Lilian said “…I can’t“. So Lilly pushed her to jump, and jumped after her. Lilly: “…and as I jumped I had a bullet here, which I found out later…“
Both Gunther Mendel and Marie (Neufeld) Mendel too managed to escape via the little ventilation window and jumped. Gunther: “I went out foot first…you have to throw yourself backwards, because the train was doing maybe 30-40 miles an hour..“. Marie: “..I jumped out – I let myself out - and I lost a shoe…“
Louis Micheels had thought of escaping, but as he was responsible for the seriously ill patients in the hospital car – then thought “how can I, as a doctor in charge of patients in this transport, how can I desert and escape?“. Upon arrival in Auschwitz however “my patients were dragged out, thrown on the truck like they were cattle, dead cattle..“
When Willy Berler was about to jump off the train, he saw that the unfortunate man who had jumped before him, was stuck to the train with his head crushed like a melon. Willy did not jump. “If I had known …. about Auschwitz …. I would have jumped.“
These are remarkable stories of the heroic rescue, escapes, and escape attempts from Transport XX to Auschwitz, which occurred on April 19, 1943 – the first night of Passover – when, at the same time, also the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began, some 720 miles away.
During the Shoah, the Nazis, in their quest for the ‘final solution’ of the Jewish question, utilized thousands of such trains from Germany and the occupied countries to transport 3,000,000 Jews to the concentration and death camps.
Film festivals & holocaust education programs
This documentary is available for Jewish and other film festivals as well as holocaust education programs.
For more info contact: Richard Bloom (Richard Bloom Productions – USA) or Michel van der Burg (michelvanderburg.com)
Currently (as of Jan. 2013) the film is available for viewing in the world holocaust museums and centers:
- the Yad Vashem’s Visual Center (Israel) – Library Catalog
- the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC
- Kazerne Dossin. Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights. – Documentation Centre
The film “Transport XX to Auschwitz” premiered at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) 2012 – and was screened in October at the main film festival theatre Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale, and again in November in Sunrise, Florida.
Early this month screenings at Jewish community centers followed in commemorations of Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – in Florida and the Greater Washington area
Richard Bloom (Richard Bloom Productions – USA)
Michel van der Burg (michelvanderburg.com)
Following the news of the film other stories are emerging.
- Film tells story of daring attack on train to Auschwitz – Jewish Journal
- A Story of Transport XX – April 19, 1943 – by Audrey Rogers Furfaro
Escaping the train to Auschwitz
BBC News – 19 April 2013 – By Althea Williams and Sarah Ehrlich
This day in Jewish history / Daring escape from an Auschwitz-bound train
HAARETZ – Apr.19, 2013 – By David B. Green
- post updated April 20 by adding News section and news items