Holocaust-era rail car goes on display in Chandler

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

CHANDLER, Ariz.-- An extremely rare Holocaust-era rail car went on display in Chandler on Tuesday.

The rail car, like the ones used by the Nazis to transport their victims to concentration camps, traveled 11,000 miles from Macedonia to Chandler as part of a project that has been years in the making.

It is believed to be one of just six left in the world, and will eventually be a cornerstone of the Holocaust and Tolerance Museum when the structure is built.

"It's an actual piece of history. People can walk into it and experience what it was like to travel for many days without food or water, cramped in a tight location with other human beings treated like cattle," said Ben Benedict, chairman of the museum's steering committee.

The rail car, 11 tons and 33 feet long, traveled 11,000 miles from Macedonia where it had been sitting in a junkyard, Benedict said.

The Museum steering committee purchased the artifact from the Macedonian government for $3,500 and then paid for its overseas transport.

"We hope we can take a horrific artifact like this and use it for something positive to educate people about the horrors and hate and bigotry," Benedict said.

The rail car went on display to the public for just an hour and a half on Tuesday, to coincide with Yom Hashoa, Holocaust remembrance day.

Thousands of visitors took advantage of the chance to walk through the car and touch the walls.

"It was important for me to get inside and see what it was like, as soon as I saw it I got emotional," said Jeanne Bollinger of Paradise Valley, who was moved to tears by the exhibit.

Late Tuesday the rail car was moved to an undisclosed location where it will be kept until the museum is ready to house it permanently.

As part of the commemorative event, World War II veteran Colonel Ed Shames spoke to a sold-out crowd of 1,500 at the Chandler Arts Center.

Shames was part of a unit that helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp at the end of the war. His unit, Easy Company, was made famous in the HBO show "Band of Brothers." Shames said he is still haunted by what he saw in the camps, but decided to travel from Virginia to speak so that history is not repeated.