Alexander Karp watched Monday morning as crews moved a World War II-era boxcar into its new space at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) Zekelman Family Campus in Farmington Hills.
A Holocaust survivor and West Bloomfield resident, Karp said the boxcar is "approximately the same size" as the one that carried him and 20 of his family members to Birkenau concentration camp in 1944. Only he and an uncle survived. While some may want to block from their minds the horrific loss of more than six million Jews and other non-Aryans, Karp said he will not.
"It's something we cannot forget," he said.
The center's executive director Stephen Goldman said while other Holocaust museums have boxcars, the location of the HMC's exhibit, near the building's entrance, makes it different.
"This one, I think, is the only one that's going to be at an embarkation point," he said. "Like the visitor who comes to the Holocaust Memorial Center to embark on a journey of knowledge, education and awareness, the Jews who were loaded into these boxcars ... were beginning a journey, they thought, of relocation, but it was a journey of death."
George Zeff, of Southfield, also survived that journey and traveled in a boxcar with his mother in 1942, when the Germans invaded Paris. It took them just a few hours to get to the labor camp, he said, but even in that short time, some people died en route.
Zeff explained that the Nazis used saltpeter, a phosphate, that came in contact with urine during the trip and emanated foul fumes that made people sick. It was too much for some of the older people.
"They couldn't take it any more," he said. "It was bad, very bad. Let's hope we will never see that again."
The boxcar move was also closely watched by Bloomfield Hills residents Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg. They are funding the exhibit to honor the memory of Henrietta Weisberg's parents, Sara and Israel Gastfrjnd and her brothers, Rubin and Hershel, who all died during the Holocaust.
"I never expected to be able to do something so wonderful," Henrietta Weisberg said during a groundbreaking ceremony on Aug. 29.