Research literature on the role of Deutsche Reichsbahn during the National Socialist regime comes to a unanimous conclusion: without the railway, and in particular without Deutsche Reichsbahn, the deportation of the European Jews to the extermination camps would not have been possible. For many years, both the Bundesbahn in West Germany and the Reichsbahn in East Germany were unwilling to take a critical look at the role played by Deutsche Reichsbahn in the Nazi crimes against humanity. In 1985, the year that celebrated that 150th anniversary of the railway in Germany, the management boards of the railways in both West and East Germany still found it difficult to even mention this chapter of railway history. Neither of the two German states had a central memorial to the victims of the deportations by the Reichsbahn.
Central memorial at Grunewald station
This became painfully clear when the reunified railways were merged to form Deutsche Bahn AG. No business company can whitewash its history or choose which events in its past it wishes to remember. To keep the memory of the victims of National Socialism alive, the management board decided to erect one central memorial at Grunewald station on behalf of Deutsche Bahn AG, commemorating the deportation transports handled by Deutsche Reichsbahn during the years of the Nazi regime.
Winning design came from the architect team Hirsch, Lorch and Wandel
A competition was held amongst a limited number of entrants. The members of the jury were Ignatz Bubis, Chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Heinz Dürr, Chairman of the Board of Deutsche Bahn AG, Prof. Gottmann, Director of the Museum of Transport and Technology, Jerzy Kanal, Chairman of the Jewish Community in Berlin, and Dr. Salomon Korn, architect in Frankfurt am Main. The jury voted for the design submitted by the team of architects Hirsch, Lorch and Wandel in Saarbrücken and Frankfurt am Main.
The core element of the memorial is composed of 186 cast steel objects arranged in chronological order and set in the ballast next to the platform edge. Each object states the date of a transport, the number of deportees, the point of departure in Berlin and the destination. The vegetation that has developed at Platform 17 over the years has been left to grow between the rails and now forms an integral part of the memorial as a symbol that no more trains will ever depart from this platform.
Inauguration in 1998
Various measures had to be taken to create the footpath around Platform 17, such as securing the severely dilapidated platform walls and reconstructing the approx. 160-metre long platform, which had been demolished in the meantime. The memorial was inaugurated on 27 January 1998 and is closely linked with the monument designed by Karol Broniatowski and erected by the Federal Land of Berlin in 1991, which deals with the journey leading up to the deportees' arrival on the platform.
Memorial is open to the public
Deutsche Bahn AG hopes that the memorial will help to ensure that the crimes committed during the National Socialist regime will never be forgotten. The memorial commemorates the victims, is a warning to future generations, and a place of remembrance and. Platform17 is open to the public and can be reached from Berlin Grunewald S-Bahn station.
The architects Nikolaus Hirsch, Wolfgang Lorch and Andrea Wandel have produced a book with further information about the memorial entitled "Gleis 17" (ISBN 978-1-933128 60-3; € 19, published by Sternberg Verlag, in German). Amongst other things, the book contains articles by Alfred Gottwald, Diana Schulle and Harald Welzer.