Survivor Wants Compensation From Germany for Rail Journeys to the Camps

Craig Bowman
KOEN VAN WEEL/AFP via Getty Images

Salo Muller is following up last year’s successful campaign to get compensation from the Dutch railway for its part in the Holocaust by filing a legal claim against German government over the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s role in the Nazi atrocities.

Muller,84, had both of his parents taken to Auschwitz aboard a train from Amsterdam with a stop in Westerbork, the Dutch transit camp. Both were killed at Auschwitz.

Muller is demanding an apology and financial restitution for around 500 Dutch Holocaust survivors and approximately 5,500 next of kin.

During World War II, the Deutsche Reichsbahn was the German rail authority. They were responsible for the transportation of approximately 107,000 Dutch Jews to the concentration camps.

Victims frequently had to pay for the costs of their travel which earned the German railways an estimated €16m (£14.5m, $18.8m) in today’s money. Adults paid 4 pfennigs per kilometer and children paid 2 pfennigs (children under the age of 4 were not required to pay).

Snow-covered personal effects of those deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp litter the train tracks leading to the camp’s entrance, in an image from around 1945.
Snow-covered personal effects of those deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp litter the train tracks leading to the camp’s entrance, in an image from around 1945.

Muller’s lawyer wrote a letter to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, claiming that the heirs to the German wartime railway have both moral and legal obligations to accept responsibility for the railway’s participation in the suffering and deaths of Jewish, Sinti and Roma people.

Muller said that he blames the railway for knowingly sending the Jews to concentration camps where they were killed in such gruesome ways.

He said that he can’t quit because the pain haunts him everyday and he wants that pain to finally resolve.

Muller, a former physiotherapist for the Ajax football club, was able to get the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) to issue an apology and pay Compensation up to €50m to the survivors, their widows, widowers and children.

Compensation: “The transport through the area of the German Reich was carried out by the German Reichsbahn (Railway). My client thinks it is about time for the Republic of Germany to take responsibility for their injustice.”
Compensation: “The transport through the area of the German Reich was carried out by the German Reichsbahn (Railway). My client thinks it is about time for the Republic of Germany to take responsibility for their injustice.”

Muller published a book in 2017 titled “See You Tonight and Promise to Be a Good Boy.” The title is the last words his mother said to him when she dropped him off at kindergarten on the day she was taken away by the SS.

The Dutch railway had previously expressed regret for their role in the transportation of concentration camp victims but they denied that they were obligated to offer financial restitution until Muller threatened to take legal action with the support of human rights lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld.

There were over 100 transports to concentration camps run by Deutsche Reichsbahn. Lawyer Axel Hagedorn said that since the German government is a 100% shareholder in the railways, their moral obligation remains.

It was the scale and efficiency of the German railways that made it possible for the Holocaust to take place at such an unimaginable scale. Albert Ganzenmüller was the deputy director of the Reichsbahn in 1943. In January of that year, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, wrote Ganzenmüller to request more trains in order to quickly deal with “matters.”

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The German Democratic Republic took over the name of Deutsche Reichsbahn in East Germany after the war. In West Germany, the government ran the Deutsche Bundesbahn. The two merged to form today’s Deutsche Bahn in 1994 after the German reunification.