German rail chief bans exhibition on Holocaust transport trains

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Plans for a major German exhibition documenting the way the Nazis used trains to send thousands of Jewish children to the gas chambers have been blocked by the head of the state-owned rail network. That has provoked a furious row with Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

The exhibition, "11,000 Jewish children - with the Reichsbahn to death", was conceived by the German Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld. It has already been shown at railway stations through France where its display of identity cards and other items belonging to child Holocaust victims received wide acclaim.

But plans to mount the exhibition at railway stations in Germany next year to coincide with the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp have been rejected by Hartmut Mehdorn, chief executive of Deutsche Bahn, the successor organisation to the Reichsbahn rail company. He is said to have cited "technical, organisational and financial reasons" for his refusal, despite the government's insistence that the exhibition must be shown at German railway stations.

Last month, there was an angry shouting match between Mr Mehdorn and Wolfgang Tiefensee, the German Transport Minister, which ended with Mr Tiefensee storming out of the meeting. Mr Tiefensee was also said to be furious that Deutsche Bahn had refused to send any representatives to government briefings on the exhibition.

Mr Mehdorn said he would be happy to see the exhibition staged in a museum although not in his company's railway stations. "The subject is far too serious for people to engage in while munching a sandwich and rushing to catch train," he said.

In Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung, Mr Tiefensee said the exhibition had to be shown in railway stations. "National Socialism was a dictatorship that was played out in everyday life, in those same places, in the train stations," he added.

Mrs Klarsfeld said she was astounded by a German government minister apparently allowing "one of his employees to run circles around him". The German government has commissioned Jan Phillip Reemtsma, a wealthy tobacco company heir, to develop the original display.

Mr Reemtsma won international acclaim and criticism in the mid-1990s after staging exhibitions on the role of the Germany army during the Holocaust. But he refuses to work on the new project unless it is shown at German railway stations.

Chancellor Merkel's government is struggling to cope with a 20 per cent increase in far-right violence this year, and the rise of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party in Germany's unemployment-racked east.

Charlotte Knobloch, the head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, has compared the present situation in Germany to 1933, the year in which Hitler's Nazis gained power.