The name Radegast Station might not be familiar to most people. But for those who were in the Lodz Ghetto during the war, it was a place that brought chills to the bones. It was at the Radegast train station where newcomers arrived from all over Europe when they were sent to the overcrowded Lodz Ghetto. And it was from there that they were sent to their final destination, Chelmno or Auschwitz – from which there was no return. By the end of August 1944, more then 150,000 Jews were sent to their deaths from this small depot on the outskirts of the ghetto.
A few years ago, I reported that the actual building that had been used by the Nazis to hold the Jews awaiting transport had been found. When I visited the site, it was owned by a local non-Jewish Pole and was being used as a woodshop by day and a hangout by night. The building was covered with graffiti, and there was no sign of its former use other than its location alongside active train tracks.
When I recently visited the site three weeks ago, I saw there had been a tremendous transformation. Gone is the graffiti, the empty vodka bottles and the garbage. In their place is a memorial befitting the honor due the victims who passed through the site. The original building has been cleaned up and the inside is left a stark white, with pictures hanging from the ceilings showing life in the ghetto.
The Radegast Station as it appears today.
Outside sit two railroad cars similar to those in which victims were transported to the death camps. One of the cars is left open, so that one may enter the car to experience what it was like inside, even for a brief moment. Often people come out in a hurry with a sense of horror from the claustrophobic conditions, not being able to imagine what it must have been like for the victims who often had to spend days confined in such cars.
On the perimeter of the site is a monument showing the places of origin of the victims, as well as an explanation of what occurred there.
For many people, the most moving part of the memorial is the long tunnel to nowhere. The designers of the memorial continued the track where the railcars are sitting in a long dark tunnel. This is where lights that are lit up by sensors reveal lists of the people who were transported to their deaths 60 years ago.
Also very moving is the list of children’s names. It was on September 4, 1942, that Chaim Ruminkowski, “the king of the ghetto,” delivered his famous speech asking that the Jews give up their children so that they may live. Most resisted, but the roundups were persistent and continued for nine days.
After the roundup, nearly 6,000 children and 10,000 adults unable to work were sent from the Radegast Station to their deaths at Chelmno. Embedded with the lists of people are small items found during the building of the memorial. Small buttons, a piece of broken pottery, an eyeglass frame; the only remains of the thousands of children who passed through.
At the end of the tunnel is a memorial flame at the bottom of a chimney, whose walls are engraved with the names of the cities and towns from where the victims came. The chimney is a chilling reminder of how most of the victims’ remains were destroyed by fire.
It is both touching and disturbing when a train whistle sounds during a ceremony at the Radegast Station and a modern cargo train passes by.
The city of Lodz has further plans for the site, including a learning center for the study of what took place at the Radegast Station and in the Lodz Ghetto.
Shmuel Ben Eliezer