The archives and library are essential to the mission of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance as they preserve tangible remnants of the Holocaust for both exhibition and educational purposes.
For anyone who’s braved a weekend of garage sales, it’s well known that they are hit or miss - usually less hit than miss. But one local Richardson woman came across a great find in an unlikely place. The daughter of a lifelong railroad technician, she spotted an old railcar lantern, and purchased it to show her father.
At first glance, the lantern looked simply like an early-to-mid 20th-century era carbide lamp. Two of the sides had clear glass, while the third had a piece of red glass, commonly used to signal between trains. The lantern worked by mixing calcium carbide and water to produce acetylene gas, which when burned, creates a bright concentrated light.
It wasn’t long after she brought it home that a closer inspection revealed the lantern’s connection to a darker time in history: the Holocaust.
On the back of the lantern the German eagle and swastika were embossed, winged by the initials ‘D’ and ‘R’, common initials for Deutshce Reichsbahn or the German Railroad. Recognizing its significance, the woman donated the lantern to the Museum.
During the Holocaust, trains transported millions of victims to their deaths across Europe. Boxcars were packed to the brim with people until there was no longer room to sit or lay down. Jews and other victims were forced to endure these harsh journeys only to be unloaded at a Nazi death camp. Many died on the journey. Lanterns like this one were used by train conductors and technicians to signal each other and other trains.
A deeper search into the lantern’s origin revealed that its manufacturer, Helmholz & Pauli, based in Frankfurt, Germany, is still in business today. According to the company website, they specialize in mainland railway, metro and tram exterior and interior lights. The lantern was once a standard product sold in gross units to railways across Europe and was last produced in the 1950s.
Artifacts like these are what allow the Museum to teach our mission. We are always on the look out for more artifacts that will help us preserve the memory of the Holocaust and educate the public about the importance of tolerance and moral responsibility. Do you have any artifacts, photographs or papers that can contribute to these important goals? If so, contact the Museum to find out how you can donate artifacts, like the railcar lantern, to our archives for scholarly research and possible future exhibition.
The archives contain more than 3,000 cataloged artifacts, photographs, papers, oral histories, and publications. The oral history collection includes more than 200 testimonies of both Holocaust survivors and liberators from the North Texas area. Pictured below are just a few of the items from the Museum’s archives.