Now 8 decades later the photographer Jo Struyven has taken a series of black and white photographs of the places where those abord the train were able to escape. These haunting images are now on display, at the Jewish Museum in Brussels along with work by painter Luc Tuymans.
During World War II, some 25,000 Jews and 350 Roma were sent by train from the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen to Nazi concentration and extermination camps in Eastern Europe. A total of 28 rail convoys left, of which the 20th, better known by the Roman numerals XX, was the first in which the deportees were transported in closed cattle wagons. This made escape particularly challenging. On 19 April 1,631 Jewish people were put onto the train that made up the XXth convoy. The train was to take them from Mechelen to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Jo Struyven searched and found the exact locations between Boortmeerbeek (Flemish Brabant) and the German border, where 236 of them escaped after the resistance managed to sabotage the convoy.
As a result, the train had to stop in Boortmeerbeek, Flemish Brabant. There, and at other places between Boortmeerbeek and the German border, the 236 people managed to jump out of the stationary or slow-moving train.
Around half of them were not recaptured. The other half were either recaptured or shot. 115 survived World War II.
The 236 Land (Es)capes from the 20th Convoy exhibition featuring photos by Jo Struyven and paintings by Luc Tuymans runs until 14 August at the Jewish Museum in Brussels until 14th.