Alumnus Holocaust Diorama

Over the course of almost two years, Redeemer alumnus and history enthusiast, David Lean (2010), built a large diorama which has now been accepted by the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies to be displayed at the Queensland Holocaust Museum and Education Centre when it opens.  

"The skills I learnt during Technology Studies at Redeemer were essential in helping me create the model which consists of over 2,000 individual parts that needed to be assembled and painted, many of the were scratch built. Please see below the piece that I wrote for the museum and images of the diorama. It includes some history about Treblinka and information about what inspired me to do the build. The model is the first piece to be acquired by the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies with the specific intention of displaying in the museum."

     During the Summer of 1942, transport trains carrying as many as 6,000 Jews began moving through the countryside in eastern Poland. Up to 120 men, women and children were locked within a single closed cattle wagon with no food, insufficient water, poor ventilation and only a bucket for sanitary use which often doubled as a drinking water container at brief stops. As a result of these appalling conditions, many people died before reaching the end of the line. After a harrowing journey that sometimes took over three days to complete, the transports passed through a tiny hamlet who's name remains infamous today, Treblinka. Four kilometres south east of this village, the trains came to a stop at a clearing in a forest. Here, those who survived the trip were ordered out of the cattle cars and were told by an SS Officer that they had arrived at a transit camp and needed to take a shower to disinfect before being sent on to work further in the East.

The prisoners were forced to surrender their belongings and the men were separated from the women and children. Everyone was then instructed to undress before being lead up a path the Germans called Der Himmelstrasse, 'The Road to Heaven.' At the end of the path, the prisoners were herded into a building adorned with a Star of David above the entry. Once inside, they were locked in sealed rooms and gassed to death with exhaust fumes from a large engine. Under threat of execution, the Sonderkommando (work units comprised of prisoners selected from incoming transports) were then forced to remove the bodies from the gas chamber and dispose of them by burning on open air cremation pyres. During the 15 months that Treblinka II was operational, 925,000 innocent men, women and children were sent there; just 67 of them survived. Next to Auschwitz, it was the second most murderous camp in the Nazi state. In their war against European Jewry, the German government committed resources and gave priority to the massive logistical undertaking of transporting Jews to camps like Treblinka all over the Nazi occupied territory even if it came at the expense of Germany's war against the Allies.

I decided to embark on this project after watching a film called 'Denial' (2016) which stars Rachel Weisz. I simply could not, and still to this day cannot fathom that people can deny that the Holocaust occurred, or say that the numbers of those who were murdered are exaggerated so I wanted to contribute something that can be used to help educate people, primarily younger generations about the atrocities that were committed by the Third Reich and its collaborators.

Research for the build began in late 2017 and I eventually started work to construct the model on 20 February 20, 2019. After assembling and painting nearly 2,000 individual components, the build was finally completed nearly two years later on 4 November, 2020. The diorama depicts one of the transports discussed above en route to the camp. I chose this as my subject for several reasons, mainly because the vast majority of Holocaust dioramas show scenes from within a camp and I've never seen one of a transport in motion. It provides a valuable opportunity to explore and highlight the horrific conditions people were forced to endure on the trains for days at a time with no reprieve.

The locomotive used is a BR-52 Kriegslok; it is accompanied by two G10 Covered Güterwagens. These were chosen as they were widely used throughout the Holocaust and have become an iconic symbol of the persecution of Europe's Jews during World War II. Within the open car (which features a removable roof allowing viewers to look inside) there are a number of suitcases that bear the names of actual people who were sent to Treblinka II. The German and Trawniki (Ukrainian) guards frequently encouraged the victims to mark their luggage as part of the elaborate ruse to make them feel like they were travelling somewhere safe where they would need what they had brought with them. Those suitcases with names memorialise Regina Kudish from Vienna, Austria, Mozek and Nacha Lipinski from Warsaw, Poland, Frimet Kramarski and her three sons from Tarzen, Poland, Alexi Lauszkin from Warsaw, Eva Fuchs from Breslau, present day Wrocław, Poland, Janusz Korczak from Warsaw and Chaim and Hela Sztajer of Częstochowa, Poland who were sent to Treblinka with their two and half year old daughter Blima. Hela was pregnant at the time she was deported and miscarried owing to the stress of the journey. I have included figures of the Sztajers, and where possible figures representing each individual listed above. One suitcase remains blank to honour the countless unidentified Jews who were brutally murdered by the Germans and their co-conspirators preceding and during the Second World War. On the cattle car's floor lies a red coat belonging to a young girl, a nod to Schindler's List which was where my journey into Holocaust studies began 10 years ago. The driver leaning out of the engine's cab represents Henryk Gawkowski who drove the trains into the camp. Gawkowski features on the cover used for Claude Lanzmann's 'Shoah' (1985) which is one of the most valuable compilations of testimony ever assembled on film and I have tried to replicate that cover image here.

When I first started this build, I did not intend on including any trees on the base but after reading the account of Treblinka survivor Samuel Willenberg, I felt they were an important addition. Willenberg stated that as the transport approached the camp, the pine trees were so close to the wagons that people could reach through the barbed wire covering the openings and touch the branches. Scattered around the diorama are a number of butterflies resting on the purple and yellow flowers that grow all around where the railway line to the extermination centre use to run. These stand as a memorial to the children who's lives were cut short, and as a reminder that hope existed even during one of, if not, the darkest chapter in human history after which the victims of the Holocaust, the survivors would return to life. Never forget.

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