Hundreds of Jews Escaped Death Camps by Jumping From Trains, Study Finds

At least 764 Jews managed to escape the Holocaust by jumping out of trains, according to study by German historian Tanja von Fransecky.

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Interior of Holocaust train, located in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

New research published in Germany has established that at least 764 Jews managed to escape the Holocaust by jumping out of trains on their way to the death camps from France, Holland and Belgium, the Independent newspaper reports.

One of those who escaped was Leo Bretholz, who died in the United States just a week ago at the age of 93. Bretholz spent the rest of the World War II on the run from the Nazis.

Tanja von Fransecky, a German historian, spent four years conducting interviews and researching archives in Israel and across Europe for her study “Jewish Escapes from Deportation Trains.”

Von Fransecky acknowledged being astounded by the number of people who had managed to escape the Holocaust in this way. “I was amazed that this happened at all,” she said ion an interview. “I had always assumed that the wagons were stuffed full prior to departure and simply opened on arrival and that not much could happen in between.”

Yet the author found out that the opposite was the case. There were dramatic, agonizing and awful scenes as would-be escapers struggled to break free from the Nazi transports with the help of smuggled tools or their bare hands.

Often the escapees faced angry criticism from frightened fellow passengers. “Hadn’t they been told that they would all be shot if someone escaped?” and “who will look after the old, the sick and the tiny children?” they would ask.

Von Fransecky stressed that the escapees faced a deep moral dilemma, particularly if they left someone behind. “It is one of the reasons why many survivors kept silent for years after the war,” she added.