Montzen Gare: Freight Station
Montzen Gare is an old freight railway station in the district of Plombières on Belgium’s eastern border with Germany. A station and shunting tracks were first built here for the German army by Russian prisoners of war in 1915. It saw its heyday in the 1930s, when transportation of goods from the east to Belgian seaports made it an important hub in the railway network. It was originally a very aesthetic piece of infrastructure (conveying passengers on the Aachen line from 1919) and even won an architecture prize in 1938 for being the most beautiful station in the country. The Second World War, however, took its toll on Montzen and the concrete structure you see today is merely what was constructed after the original was annihilated in a bombing raid.
Due to its location on Germany’s border, Montzen was a key link in the dark chains of the Holocaust. From 1942, countless numbers of Belgian Jews passed through the station as prisoners aboard deportation trains that were bound for concentration camps. The line began at Mechelen and ran over 600 miles towards Auschwitz-Birkenau. If any of the unfortunate passengers could somehow manage to escape the nightmarishly cramped carriages and make a bid for freedom, this was one of their last chances to do so: during the brief period of time that it took for operators to couple the trains with a new locomotive before crossing the border.
In the early hours of 28th April 1944 came The Montzen Raid: a large-scale Allied attack that turned night into day; dropping 315 bombs across the area in preparation for the invasion of occupied France. The attack sadly razed over a hundred innocent residential houses in the vicinity (as well as an ancient castle) but bombers were successful in their goal of damaging the railway facilities.
When the dust settled following the war, a new concrete station was rebuilt here amid reconstruction efforts during 1948. For a few years, it ran a passenger service to nearby cities but this was given up in 1957 and the building became used for delivering goods instead. The station was officially closed in 1998 after being rendered obsolete by the newer high speed rail lines and easing of borders under the European Union. It still lies on active shunting track, although most of the lines are no longer in use.