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WWII-Era Boxcar Arrives Ahead of Auschwitz Exhibit Premiere

The freight car is a key artifact in “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” a traveling exhibition that will be making its West Coast premiere at the Simi Valley-based Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in the spring.

On a chilly Thursday morning, a German-made World War II-era freight car, one that could have been used to transport victims of the Holocaust to Auschwitz, arrived at the Reagan Library.

Towed by an 18-wheeler, the freight car arrived at 9:15 a.m., trailed by a helicopter as well as a motorcade of 50 motorcycles featuring leather-clad riders, Simi Valley Police Department officers and U.S. veterans.

The freight car is a key artifact in “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” a traveling exhibition that will be making its West Coast premiere at the Simi Valley-based Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in the spring.

The boxcar, which arrived at the Reagan Library on Nov. 10, is one of 700 artifacts of historic and human interest that will be displayed in the upcoming exhibition, which was created by Spanish traveling exhibit company Musealia in partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.

“The museum in Auschwitz decided it was not only time to bring people to Auschwitz but to bring Auschwitz to people.” -Michael Berenbaum

“The museum in Auschwitz decided it was not only time to bring people to Auschwitz but to bring Auschwitz to people,” Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University and the curator of the exhibition, said.

Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University and exhibition curator. Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute

Last week, Berenbaum was one of a handful of community leaders on-site for the boxcar’s West Coast arrival. He spoke at the Reagan Library along with Valley Beth Shalom Senior Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz; Auschwitz survivors David Lenga and Joe Alexander; and former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. 

They appeared before a small crowd of journalists, Reagan Library staff and members of Patriot Guard Riders and Rolling Thunder CA-1, national nonprofits dedicated to celebrating fallen U.S. military service members that participated in the boxcar’s motorcycle escort. 

The program fell on the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht.  As the mammoth truck hauled the boxcar up the windy Presidential Drive to the library’s entrance, John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, explained the truck had brought the freight car to Simi Valley from Kansas City, which last year became the second location in the U.S. to host the exhibition. 

The boxcar is being installed in the Reagan Library’s main courtyard. 

On Thursday, the speakers discussed the symbolism of the boxcar at a time when antisemitism is on the rise.

Valley Beth Shalom Senior Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz appeared at a ceremony at the Reagan Library marking the boxcar’s arrival. Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute

“When we look at a boxcar like this, we remember the consequences of hate left unchecked,” Lebovitz said. “We realize that history now looks to us to stand up.”

Lebovitz also praised President Ronald Reagan’s close ties with Israel. The 40th U.S. president, the VBS rabbi said, “stood as one of those great friends of the Jewish people here and around the world. President Reagan was one of those great friends of the State of Israel.”

Providing a human face for tragedies experienced during the Holocaust, both Lenga and Alexander — who were just boys in Poland when the Nazis began targeting Jews — shared stories of their survival.

From left: Auschwitz survivors Joe Alexander and David Lenga. Photo by Ryan Torok

Imprisoned in Auschwitz when he was 14 or 15, Lenga snuck into a group of prisoners that were being transported from the camp. He’d not been chosen for this group, but he went anyway, thinking a safer fate awaited them than those left behind. As the train pulled away, a man, still outside, yelled that he’d been selected but overlooked. Lenga, without knowing, had taken his fellow inmate’s place on the train. But at that time, under those extreme circumstances, Lenga did not have the capacity to feel anything, he told the crowd assembled at the library. 

Decades later, the 95-year-old has committed himself to remembrance.

“We all owe it to the Holocaust victims — both those who lost their lives and those who were fortunate to survive — to show our respect,” he said. “We must remember them with dignity and gratitude and recognize the horror they endured.”


“Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away” opens March 24, 2023 at the Reagan Library. For tickets and additional information, visit reaganlibrary.com/Auschwitz.

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