Cattle Car Exhibit in Harvard Yard Commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day


In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Harvard students, administrators, and Cambridge residents gathered in front of Widener Library for the opening ceremony of a “Hate Ends Now” cattle car exhibit on Monday.

The exhibit, which took place in Harvard Yard on Monday and Tuesday, enabled visitors to view a 20-minute immersive video presentation about the history of the Holocaust. It was hosted by Harvard Hillel in collaboration with the University.

Cattle cars were commonly used in Nazi Germany to forcibly transport up to 150 Jewish men, women, and children per car to concentration and extermination camps, according to ShadowLight, a Holocaust education organization. The reconstructed cattle car exhibit was part of the Hate Ends Now tour, a national exhibit organized by ShadowLight and Southern NCSY, a Jewish youth organization.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and University Provost Alan M. Garber spoke at the ceremony, while Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow conveyed his thoughts through a prepared statement read by his chief of staff, Patricia S. “Patti” Bellinger ’83.


“For many of you, this cattle car is a reminder of the consequences of hatred and bigotry,” Bellinger said on behalf of Bacow. “For me, it is far more. On September 14, 1942, my mother Ruth was packed into a cattle car like this one with her family and the other Jews from her hometown of Londorf, Germany.”

“Many of them died en route, the living and the dead jammed together,” Bacow’s statement continued.

Hillel Executive Director and Harvard Chaplain Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg said Monday’s exhibit is a “deeply tangible” reminder of what survivors of the Holocaust experienced.

“The living memory of the Holocaust is passing away,” Steinberg said. “Those survivors who remain in the world alive today are largely in their mid-90s. As their living stories pass away from the world, we have to figure out how we remind ourselves when we can’t hold their hands, look into their eyes, listen to what they went through.”


Garber, in his speech, reminded attendees of another, more permanent Holocaust memorial in the Yard — a linden tree planted to honor past Harvard student activists who helped 16 refugees escape Nazi persecution in 1939.

“Like the cattle car, the linden tree is a symbol — but not of death, of life,” Garber said. “And, it is a symbol that the work of preserving life and protecting others remains with us today at Harvard.”

Todd Cohn, the executive director of Southern NCSY and the Hate Ends Now exhibit, said in his remarks that the Holocaust “did not start with the cattle cars.”

“What it started with was everyday people — like you and I, like everybody here — that didn’t stand up to antisemitism, that didn’t stand up to hate in all its forms,” Cohn said. “That is why we’re here — to make sure that the world knows it’ll never happen again.”

Roanne Sragow-Licht, the former first justice of the Cambridge District Court, learned about the opening ceremony through Hillel and said it is vital to educate students about the Holocaust.

“It is very jarring to see a cattle car in front of Widener Library in Harvard Yard, and I’m just sorry there aren’t more people here to see it,” Licht said.

“With the generation of survivors dying, my fear is that history will be lost. I think it’s incumbent upon everybody to remember, to teach it, and to do everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” she added.

Correction: April 26, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow was originally slated to speak at the “Hate Ends Now” exhibit. In fact, Bacow’s statement was planned to be read in his absence.

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @nia_orakwue.