The German national railway provider has courted widespread controversy over its plan to name a new generation passenger train after the famous diarist Anne Frank. A Holocaust victim, Frank was taken to the Auschwitz extermination camp by train.
Critics say that the way the Deutsche Bahn (DB) has chosen to commemorate Frank is at least controversial and insensitive, given the story of the girl diarist’s life and death. Frank was arrested along with her family in Amsterdam, occupied by the Nazis at the time, and deported by train from the Netherlands to the infamous Auschwitz death camp in 1944. She died months later in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February or March 1945, aged just 15.
The unfortunate role which trains played in the fate of the world-famous Jewish teenager makes the naming distasteful and creates unnecessary parallels with Germany’s Nazi past, the Amsterdam-based Anne Frank foundation said in a statement.
“A combination of Anne Frank and a train conjures up the image of persecution of Jews and deportations during World War II,” it said, as cited by AFP.
“This association is painful for people who experienced the deportations and leads to new pain for people who have to live with the consequences of persecution,” the foundation noted, adding that it does not believe that the German railway company harbored ill motives when it came up with the idea.
“We also understand that initiatives like this are normally carried out with good intentions,” it said. DB for its part defended the move, saying that the company wanted to honor Frank’s memory by naming one their new ICE-4 trains after her.
Rejecting any speculation that it intended to deliberately harm the diarist’s legacy, the company said that “rather DB, conscious of its historical responsibility, decided to keep the name of Anne Frank alive.”
Responding to the barrage of criticism directed at it by customers, the Anne Frank foundation and Jewish organizations alike, the German railway issued a statement, saying that it “profusely apologizes if anybody’s feelings were hurt.”
It pledged to pay due attention to the concerns voiced by the public over its naming choice and “hold internal discussions, with the blessing of Jewish organizations.”
Anne Frank’s name was among some 19,000 suggestions sent to the DB in response to its appeal to the public for ideas. Among other candidates to grace the trains were former German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer, members of the White Rose resistance movement against the Nazi regime Hans and Sophie Scholl, and famous children’s writer and poet, Erich Kästner.
The new trains are expected to begin regular circulation from Hamburg to Munich and from Hamburg to Stuttgart in December.
In 2008 DB acknowledged the instrumental role its predecessor, Deutsche Reichsbahn, played in exterminating millions of Jews during the Holocaust, staging an exhibition titled “Special Trains to Death.”
“Without the Reichsbahn the industrial murder of millions of people would not have been possible,” Susanne Kill, DB’s own historian, admitted at the time, as cited by the Guardian.