Flüchtlingskinder sitzen auf Stroh

Train to Freedom

On February 5, 1945, 1,200 Jews from the Theresienstadt Ghetto boarded a «Train to Freedom» that rescued them from the Holocaust. The journey took them to St. Gallen (Switzerland) and to what was then the Hadwig school building and now is part of the St. Gallen University of Teacher Education (PHSG).

On the initiative of the PHSG and the Berlin-based Mamlock Foundation and in cooperation with the Freie Universität Berlin and the Charles University in Prague, this research and public history project was launched. In times of rising antisemitism, the project sets an example against forgetting the Holocaust and for fostering tolerance.

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Historical Context

From Theresienstadt to St. Gallen
In the final months of World War II, several successful attempts were made to save a few thousand Jews from systematic murder by Nazi Germany. Among these were some 1,200 former inmates of Theresienstadt concentration camp, who departed the camp by train on February 5, 1945. Most of the passengers were elderly people, but there were also children present. The liberated prisoners came from Germany (including Austria), the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia. They reached Switzerland early in the morning of February 7, 1945, via Kreuzlingen and St. Gallen, where they were quartered for several days in the school building Hadwig, which today is part of the campus of the St. Gallen University of Teacher Education (PHSG).

A rescue operation based on a private initiative
The liberation of the prisoners began as a private initiative of the Swiss couple Recha and Isaac Sternbuch, who, though based in Europe, worked for the North American «Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States of America and Canada» (UOR) and its relief committee «Vaad Ha-Hatzalah». In October 1944 they had gone to the former Swiss Federal Councilor Jean-Marie Musy with their rescue plans. Musy had personal contacts in Nazi circles due to his sympathies for fascism, and he had already succeeded in having individuals released. Plans for the rescue of the Jewish prisoners finally took shape when Musy met several times with Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler in Germany to negotiate the liberation. The negotiations also included discussions of a plan to rescue of 1,200 Jews from concentration camps each week. However, this extension of the rescue operation failed.

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About the Project

Transnational and biographical approaches in research
During the pilot study, the project partners investigated the files on the liberation campaign in their respective countries and partly indexed and digitalized the extensive source material. In the following Research Project, the biographies of the 1,200 rescued Jews form one of the central pillars. The research contributes to a deeper understanding of the effects that persecution and forced migration had on individual life trajectories, biographical narrations, and constructions of identities.

Output in public history and history education
The findings of the research will be facilitated through building a multilingual website on the topic and developing teaching materials adapted to the respective curricula of the participating countries. Permanent exhibitions and/or memorial sites are also planned in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Germany to bring the «Train to Freedom» and its memory into the public sphere.

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St.Gallen University of  Teacher Education
Centre of Democracy Education and Human Rights
Notkerstrasse 27
9000 St.Gallen

Thomas Metzger is Professor of History and Co-Director of the Centre of Democracy Education and Human Rights at the St. Gallen University of  Teacher Education. Project-related research interests include: cultural, social and intellectual history of antisemitism, Swiss refugee history 1933-1945, history of fascism. 

Johannes Gunzenreiner is Professor of History and Political Education and Co-Director of the Centre of Democracy Education and Human Rights at the St. Gallen University of  Teacher Education.

Helen Kaufmann is a graduate secondary school teacher with an additional master's degree in history didactics and public history education. In 2022 she began doctoral studies at the Centre for Democracy Education and Human Rights at the St. Gallen University of  Teacher Education.

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Freie Universität Berlin

Freie Universität Berlin
Prof. Dr. Martin Lücke 
Koserstrasse 20
D-14195 Berlin

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Martin Lücke is Professor at the Friedrich Meinecke Institute of the Freie Universität Berlin as well as Academic Director of the Margherita von Brentano Center for Gender Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. His project-related research interests include: holocaust and historical learning, empirical historical culture research and public history.
Cornelia Chmiel is a research assistant at the Friedrich Meinecke Institute of the Freie Universität Berlin. Her project-related research interests include: historical learning in memorial sites and Holocaust Education.

Charles University in Prague

Charles University in Prague
Faculty of Social Sciences
Institute of International Studies
Department of Russian and East European Studies
Doc. PhDr. Kateřina Králová, M.A. Ph.D.
U Kříže 8
CZE-150 00 Praha 5 - Jinonice

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Kateřina Králová is an Associate Professor of contemporary European history, Deputy Director of the Herzl Center of Israel Studies and the Head of the Research Centre for Memory Studies at Charles University, Prague. From 2019 to 2021 she was the Chair of the Department of Russian and Eastern European Studies. In her research she focuses on reconciliation with the Nazi past, post-conflict societies, the Holocaust, the Greek Civil War and historical migration.

Mamlock Foundation

Mamlock Foundation – von Generation zu Generation – L’Dor Vador – Erinnerungskulturelle Projekte (Deutschland)
Michael Mamlock
Johanna Neumann
Postfach 40314
D-10555 Berlin

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Michael Mamlock is one of the initiators of the project, a relative of a passenger of the «Train to Freedom», and an official project ambassador in Switzerland, Czech Republic and Germany. Michael Mamlock is a self-employed businessman with many years of project development experience. Alongside this he has played a consistently active role in initiating various projects concerning National Socialism and the Holocaust.

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