Plans to name a high-speed train on Germany’s national railway after Holocaust victim Anne Frank have come under fire because the Nazis used trains to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II.
Frank’s name appears on a shortlist of 25 famous Germans compiled by a jury, after Deutsche Bahn (DB) crowdsourced 19,400 suggestions from the public for its latest batch of trains.
Gisela Mettele, professor of gender history at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, and a member of the jury that helped make the decision, said: “As different as the chosen personalities are, they have one thing in common: they were curious about the world.”
Deportation to the camps
Anne Frank spent two years in hiding with her parents, sister and another Jewish family in a secret alcove at the back of her father’s office in Amsterdam, nicknamed “the Secret Annex.”
During her time in hiding, she documented the rise of the Nazi party and the persecution of Jews in the diary she called “Kitty,” published posthumously as “Diary of a Young Girl.”
The German secret police arrested the occupants of the Annex in August 1944; they were sent by train to a transit camp in Westerbork, then on to Auschwitz. Anne and her sister were later sent to Bergen-Belsen, where they died in February 1945.
Deportees like the Franks were frequently made to purchase one-way tickets from Deutsche Reichsbahn, the state-owned German rail company, a precursor of Deutsche Bahn, which was in charge of managing the transportation of millions of Jews between the camps.
Rosa de Winter-Levy, who was acquainted with the Franks in Auschwitz, recounted her journey to the camp: “After two days, we were exhausted. A man died, and there were old women, crying children, who couldn’t take it anymore.”
‘Misguided, but well-meaning’
Barry Langford, associate dean of the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway University in London, said the plan to name a train after Frank was “well-intentioned, but misguided.”
“[It is] at worst a grotesque lapse of taste and historical judgment. Given the central role in the Holocaust of deportation trains operated by DB’s direct predecessor, the association between Anne and the German railway can only ever be one of murder.”
German Conservative parliamentarian Iris Eberl tweeted: “To name a train ‘Anne Frank’ is disrespectful.”
Others have pointed out that despite the cruel irony, the honor was intended to help keep the young diarist’s memory alive.
“The greater good of keeping the tragedy of Anne Frank’s death outweighs the discomfort on that account. How we remember is never easy, but we must continue to do so,” said Miri Rubin, a professor of history at Queen Mary University in London.
“I also think that having a young woman as a public figure of remembrance is important; young people are some of the most idealistic and active in our politics and ethical movements, and are rarely recognized in our public monuments,” she added.
The Anne Frank Foundation called the selection “a painful connection for the people who have suffered the deportations.” However, it noted that the name of Anne Frank carried a great symbolic power and that using it was well intentioned.
Deutsche Bahn has apologized for any offense caused, and said it had not intended to malign or misrepresent the memory and legacy of Anne Frank.
“Aware of its responsibility toward the past, DB made this decision in order to keep the memory of Anne Frank alive. DB will of course take seriously the concerns that have been raised publicly and act on them in subsequent internal discussions.”
Other names on the shortlist for DB’s new trains are teenagers Hans and Sophie Scholl, of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance group, singer Marlene Dietrich, political philosophers Hannah Arendt and Karl Marx, composer Ludwig van Beethoven and scientist Albert Einstein.