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The 2nd statue created to remember the resistance action against the 20th Jew transport in Belgium. Location: railway station Boortmeerbeek, Belgium. Date picture: 29.08.2005.
Date picture: 29.08.2005.

Transport 20 (XXth convoy) was a Jewish prisoner transport in Belgium organized by the Nazi Germany during World War II. Members of the Belgian Resistance freed Jewish and Gypsy civilians who were being transported by train from the Dossin Barracks located in Mechelen, Belgium to the Auschwitz concentration camp. This rescue of Jews being transported was unique in the European history of the Holocaust.

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Background

In 1940, nearly 70,000 Jews were living in Belgium. Of these, 46 percent were deported from the Dossin army base in Mechelen, while a further 5,034 people were deported via the Drancy internment camp (close to Paris). The Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) in Berlin was responsible for organizing the transport and the chief of the Dossin Barracks (sammellager) prepared the paper convoy list in triplicate. One copy was for the police officer in charge of security during the transport, the second for the sammellager in Mechelen and the third for the BSD-department located in Brussels. Because all the copies for the Dossin Barracks were preserved, historians have been able to trace and map all the German transports of Belgian Jews to the concentration camps. From the summer of 1942 until 1944, twenty-eight transports left Belgium to bring 25,257 Jews and 351 Roma (gypsies) to eastern Europe. Their destination was often Auschwitz. On April 19, 1943, the twentieth transport left with 1631 Jewish men, women and children, heading for Germany.

The rescue

Three young students and members of the Belgian resistance a Jewish doctor, Youra Livschitz and his two non-Jewish friends Robert Maistriau and Jean Franklemon, armed with one pistol, a lantern and red paper to create a makeshift red lantern (to use as a danger signal), were able to stop the train on the track Mechelen-Leuven, between the municipalities of Boortmeerbeek and Haacht. The twentieth convoy was guarded by one officer and fifteen men from the Sicherheitspolizei, who came from Germany. Despite this security measure, Maistriau was able to open one wagon and liberate 231 people: 90 Jews who were recaptured and put on another convoy, 26 others who were killed, and 115 who succeeded in escaping. The youngest (Simon Gronowski) was only 11 years old. Regine Krochmal, an eighteen-year-old nurse with the resistance, also escaped after she cut the wooden bars put in front of the train air inlet with a breadknife and jumped from the train near Haacht. Both survived World War II.

Direction Auschwitz

On April 22, 1943, the train arrived at Auschwitz. During the selection, only 521 ID numbers are assigned. Of these 521, only 150 people survived the war. The remaining 1,031 people disappeared in the Holocaust. Based on a telegram dated April 29, 1943 from Reichssicherheitshauptamt to E. Ehlers, SS-Obersturmbannführer and Chief of the Belgian Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo-SD), historians assume that at the time of the arrival of the twentieth convoy at Auschwitz, some problems existed. The rumours of the Endlösung created some revolt against the Germans.

Aftermath

The twentieth convoy was an exceptionally large convoy and was the first transport to use freight cars with doors fenced with barbed-wire. The previous transports used 3rd class wagons on which it was easy to escape through the windows. After the twentieth convoy, each convoy was reinforced with a German reserve company (based in Brussels) until it reached the German border.

In remembrance of the action of the resistance, a statue was inaugurated in 1993 near the train station of Boortmeerbeek. It remembers the Holocaust and the transport of 25,257 Jews, (including 5,093 children) and 352 Roma over the railway track Mechelen-Leuven to the concentration camps. Only 1,205 persons returned home alive.

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