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April 19: Stopping a Convoy to Auschwitz

April 19, 2014
220px-Youra_Livchitz_(1917-1944)A train of Transport 20, bound from Belgium for Auschwitz with 1,631 Jewish men, women, and children, as well as a Sonderwagen with 19 resistance members and escapees from previous transports (who were marked a cross painted in red, indicating that they should be executed immediately at Auschwitz), was stopped on the tracks in Belgium on this date in 1943 by Youra Livchitz, a young Jewish doctor and resistance fighter, and two non-Jewish comrades, Robert Maistriau and Jean Franklemon, who carried only one pistol and a red lantern among them. They successfully signaled the train to a halt, then opened one rail car and liberated 17 people while firing on the guards to create an impression of being a large attack group. Soon they themselves were driven off by gunfire, but because the train driver, Albert Dumon, deliberately drove very slowly and stopped frequently to allow people to jump without being injured or killed, 236 in all escaped, 115 without being killed or recaptured. Dr. Livchitz was arrested by the Gestapo one month later, but managed to overpower his guard and escape; he was rearrested in June and executed by firing squad the following year. His two compatriots in the train rescue survived the war. The entire Transport 20 delivered 25,257 Jews and 352 Roma to Auschwitz, of whom only 1,205 returned home alive. 1466130407220651g“We were lying in the thicket. Thumping hearts. The grinding of brakes. It was unreal. The train rode through a signal; that I could see from my position. We looked at each other. Suddenly, the realization. It stopped. It stopped! I think that deep in our hearts we hadn’t considered that possibility. It was more a case of: we’ll put the lamp there and see what happens. Jean stayed seated, Youra fiddled with the pistol. There was the train, in the dark. Seconds, minutes — I no longer remember — went by. Nothing happened. No noise, nothing. I sat on the verge. I thought, ‘this will be the death of me’. I stood up and brought out my pincers. I hesitated. Too long perhaps. But I took my torch and walked to the last carriage.” -Robert Maistriau