Empty tram rolls in Warsaw as Holocaust memorial



[Photo at website]

An empty tramcar bearing the Star of David instead of a number rolled silently through the streets of the Polish capital Thursday to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.

The tram is identical to one that in the 1940s travelled through the Warsaw ghetto, once a thriving Jewish community that was annihilated by Poland's Nazi occupiers during World War II.

"No-one will climb aboard the tram and no-one will get off. It aims to serve as a reminder of the Jewish people who disappeared" during the Holocaust, said Golda Tencer, director of the Polish-American Shalom foundation, which came up with the idea of the passengerless tram.

The project is part of events marking the first international commemoration day for victims of the Holocaust.

The UN General Assembly last November adopted a landmark resolution that stipulated the annual commemoration day would be January 27, the date the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in southern Poland was liberated in 1945.

The Warsaw tram made only one, symbolic stop: at Umschlagplatz in the centre the capital, a square from which Nazis began sending Jews to death camps in 1942.

"It's the same model of tram that ran through the ghetto during World War II," said Wojciech Szydlowski, a spokesman for Warsaw's municipal tram company. "It's now operated by volunteers."

Warsaw ghetto memory

The Warsaw ghetto, set up by Poland's Nazi occupiers to isolate the thriving Jewish community in the capital, originally contained over 450,000 people.

But by January 1943, deportations, summary executions, starvation and disease had reduced it to just several tens of thousands.

After crushing an April 1943 uprising in the ghetto, the Nazis razed the area to the ground.

Other Holocaust commemorations were to take place Friday at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp which has become the foremost symbol of the Holocaust.

The Nazis killed six million Jews during WWII.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest concentration camp built by the Nazis and historians estimate that around 1.1 million men, women and children, most of them Jews from Germany and Nazi-occupied countries, died there between 1940 and 1945.

The Shalom foundation has also called on Poles to light candles in their windows to remember the Holocaust victims.

Catholic Chruch joins in

The country's powerful Roman Catholic Church joined in the appeal.

"I ask everyone to join this project of lighting a candle in the window of their home on January 27" at 5:00 pm, Poland's most prominent churchman, Primate Jozef Glemp, said in a letter to priests in the Warsaw diocese.

Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow in southern Poland, issued a similar call. "By this sign we want to remember the tragic fate of so many people" he said.