The role of transport in the Holocaust

ID: 237
Inventions of modernity as tools to control and exterminate Jews in Lviv. Railway and tram system as a part of extermination plan.

This story elaborates on the theme Holocaust Topography, that was prepared as a part of the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

For the Holocaust, many of the achievements of the 19th and early 20th centuries were used: the bureaucracy, science, industry, and the transportation system. According to Zygmunt Bauman, a philosopher and sociologist, the murder of six million Jews would not have been possible without these achievements of modernity, both in terms of the ambition to control the social order and technically. They made it possible to create a machinery of extermination in which Jews would be dehumanized and pushed beyond the influence of moral laws.

The railway, as a means of transporting large numbers of people, became one of the key elements in this machinery. The developed network of communications allowed to transport thousands of people quickly and simultaneously, in inhumane conditions. Due to the network, it became possible to quickly concentrate Jews and transport them to local ghettos and, later, to death camps with the involvement of a minimum number of service personnel.

The Lviv Railway connected the eastern territories with the western ones. The presence of a large ghetto, the Janowska camp and convenient railway connection in Lviv led to the city becoming a kind of "transit zone" for Jews from various cities and towns of Galicia. The railway stations of Klepariv and Pidzamche as well as the city electric transport, which marked the city modernization in the late 19th century, were transformed into a part of the "death machine" mechanism. Those who could be used for forced labour were selected near the railway stations close to the Janowska camp and the ghetto. The rest were sent to Bełżec or other death camps.

On the day when the Operation Reinhard officially started, March 17, 1942, the first trains with deported Jews arrived at Bełżec: one from Lublin in the morning and another from Lviv in the afternoon.

A particularly large number of transports arrived at Bełżec from Lviv between August 10 and 25, 1942, when more than 40,000 Jews were deported from the ghetto. At first, many Jews believed that the stamp in the Meldekarte indicating their having a job could save them from deportation, but soon it became clear that these were false hopes. Lviv was inspected district by district, and the captured Jews were brought to the Sobieski School (now school № 87) or to the pl. Św. Teodora in the old Jewish neighbourhood, from where they were taken by tram to a square surrounded by barbed wire, in the Janowska camp near the Klepariv station.

Rudolf Reder, who survived the deportation to Bełżec, describes the events as follows:

I was in my workshop, I did not have a work permit. I locked the door, the police came and knocked, I did not answer. They battered down my door, then punched and kicked me on all parts of my body. They dragged me onto a crowded tram. I could not move and could hardly breathe. They pulled me off the tram at the police station on ul. Janowska, where all our people were assembled.

At six o'clock we were ordered to stand up and to form four rows. Surrounded by the SS and Ukrainian police, we were forced to walk to the Klepariv railway station. At the station, near the passenger platform, there were 50 goods wagons. The wagon doors were opened. A hundred people were crammed into each wagon.

There was an armed SS guard on the roof of each wagon. The whole terrible procedure went very fast. Within an hour all 50 wagons were loaded with our people. All the doors were shut from the outside.

In our wagon, there were adult men, children, young women and some older women. We stood crammed together in the hot and badly ventilated wagon. All of us were exhausted, some fainted. We were given neither water nor food. At 8 o'clock the train began moving. The train traveled fast, though it seemed slow to us.

Philip Friedman, a historian and witness to the events, wrote as follows:

At that time, people were taken to Bełżec naked or in underwear to make it impossible for them to escape from the train. But, despite powerful posts with machine guns guarding the trains and firing without warning at the slightest attempt to escape, despite the barred windows and tightly closed doors of the wagons, despite the threat of being chased by guard dogs the guards had with them, the people kept escaping. They fled through holes made in the floor or walls of the wagon, jumped while the train was going, despite the threat of injury or death, the guards’ shots, the prospect of the fugitive traveling naked and hungry through an area, which was intimidated and swarming with the police. Few daredevils were lucky through this risky move. They were nicknamed "jumpers". Usually the "jumpers" fell back into the hands of the executioners during the very first action. There were "jumpers" who repeated this dangerous game three or four times and were pointed at with a certain sporting pleasure and pride.

An image of the standard course of deportation is given in the report of the commander of the police regiment’s 7th company dated September 14, 1942:

The train arrived in Lviv at 11.15. […] After a short stop at the Lviv station, the train was directed to the suburban station of Klepariv, where 9 wagons marked with the letter "L" were unloaded. The Jews from them were sent to the forced labour camp.

[…] After that, about 1,000 Jews were loaded into those wagons. […] At 13.30 the train left for Bełżec.

[…] The growing panic among the Jews, caused by the intense heat, overcrowded carriages and the stench of dead bodies (about 2,000 dead Jews were found on the train during unloading) made it difficult to complete the task.

At 18.45 the train arrived at Bełżec, and at 19.30 it was handed over to the SS Obersturmführer and the camp commandant.

There is a memorial sign at the Klepariv station telling of its being used during the Nazi occupation as a crossroads for the deportation of half a million Jews. The figures on the plaque — 500,000 victims — call for a discussion. The website of the Museum — Memorial Site in Bełżec states that during the camp's existence, about half a million Jews from Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Czechia, Germany and Slovakia were killed there. These figures were taken from the research conducted by Professor Schleffler and Lublin historian Józef Marszalek, as well as from an analysis of a telephone message by Hermann Hoeffle (in January 1943 he reported to Berlin on the number of Jews deported to Bełżec). If we compare this information, the question arises as to how many Jews could actually pass through the Klepariv station. Due to the lack of reliable sources in the early 1990s, these figures were used to indicate the number of victims, which now requires a correction due to new research.


The electric tram in Lviv also was an element of modernization and development of society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first electric tram went through the city streets in 1894. In 1939, due to damage caused by the bombing of the city, the trams did not work for some time. At the beginning of the Nazi occupation, most of the city's tram lines were damaged again. However, already in the 7th issue of the  Ukrainski Shchodenni Visti of July 13, 1941, right on the first page, there was a note telling that, according to the tram network director, engineer Muryn, the workshop workers were working devotedly and had prepared four tram tracks for commissioning.

After the resumption of the tram lines in Lviv, cars "Only for Germans", cars with separate parts for Jews (in the last car without seats), "Only for Jews" under the Jewish Order Service or with trailer cars or, rather, open platforms for transportation of the Janowska camp prisoners to the places of forced labour were running in the city. Thus, trams became a means of isolating and dehumanizing Jews. Yevhen Nakonechny writes as follows:

Soon freight tram platforms came from the city. One of the platforms was already thronged with Jewish men squatting and armed guards standing over them. Those from vul. Kleparivska were driven to a free platform, squatted and taken up vul. Yanivska. The people of Lviv knew that there was a terrible concentration camp there, as well as a sand quarry, where shootings were carried out.

Janina Geschelis, who worked at the Janowska hybrid camp, recalls a tram ride. As a tram passed through the ghetto, she decided to use it to escape, but those to whom she fled drove her away. In desperation, Janina came back to the camp by tram.

Jews were not allowed to use the tram freely for long. Philip Friedman recalls that shortly after the trams began to be used for transportation to the Janowska camp, Jews were forbidden to use them for independent travel.

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The Kleparów Station

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1. "Львів працює: Трамваї", Українські щоденні вісті: Орган Управи міста Львова, 13.07.1941, ч. 7, 1.
2. Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008).
3. Aleksander Krugłow, "Deportacje ludności żydowskiej z dystryktu Galicja do obozu zagłady w Bełżcu w 1942". Biuletyn ŻIH, 1989, nr 3.
4. Rudolf Reder, Bełżec. Verbatim testimony (1946).
5. Dieter Pohl, Nationalsozialistische Judenverfolgung in Ostgalizien 1941-1944. (Munchen, R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1997), 218-219.
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7. Євген Наконечний, "ШОА" у Львові, (Львів, ЛА Піраміда, 2006), 284.
8. Роберт Кувалек, Табір смерті у Белжеці. (Київ, Український центр вивчення історії Голокосту, 2018), 304.
9. Філіп Фрідман, Винищення львівських євреїв (Видання Центральної Єврейської Історичної Комісії при Центральному Комітеті Польських Євреїв № 4)
10. Яніна Гешелес, Очима дванадцятирічної дівчинки (Київ, Дух і літера, 2011), 96.

Cover photo: Tram with prisoners near the Lviv Opera, 1941-1944. Source: Urban Media Archive of the Center for Urban History, collection of the State Archives of Lviv Region.

Olena Andronatiy
Translated by Andriy Masliukh