French Rail Company Pays Reparationsto Holocaust Survivors for Transporting 76,000 Jews to Concentration Camps

Arriving at Auschwitz
Arriving at Auschwitz

The Société Nationale des Chemins de FerFrançais (SNCF) is seeking a 6.5 billion dollar contract with the state of Maryland, but it has a problem on its hand. It has failed to make reparations to Jewish victims of the holocaust who were transported to concentration camps by their rail line. Of the 76,000 Jews who were sent to the camps, only 3,000 would survive.

SNCF’s defense remains that they were coerced by Nazi occupiers into cooperation. Though the firm issued an apology in 2011, it has repeatedly avoided paying monetary reparations to Holocaust survivors. This however, has caused a bit of a stir among Maryland residents.

Leo Bretholz, aged 92, survived the Holocaust and now lives in Maryland. When he heard about the potential windfall to SNCF’s bottom line, he became incensed. Maryland tax dollars, he contends, should not go towards SNCF or its subsidiaries. He’s managed to secure more than 150,000 signatures of people who agree with him. His movement has created some embarrassment for the firm, which has moved to finally pay up in order to avoid further embarrassment.

Bretholz’s pain is intensified by the fact that he just managed to escape being sent to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, when he got away from an SNCF train that was carrying him there. He says SNCF was never coerced, and that the company had in fact pursued payment for the wartime deportations after Paris had been liberated – with interest. The Maryland state legislature has been moved to action in the face of these allegations, the Mail Online reports.

The Holocaust Rail Justice Act, a bill which the state legislature is considering, would bar contracts from being awarded to firms which collaborated with the Nazis. By paying victims, if the law were passed, SNCF could manage to avoid any further scandal caused by their neglecting the matter previously.

This isn’t the first time that SNCF has been in hot water for its wartime collaboration. The French rail firm was induced to issue an apology after the issue flared up in Florida, while the company attempted to secure a project connecting Tampa and Orlando. United States Senator Chuck Schumer also introduced a bill that would allow for compensation suits to be heard in U.S. courts. SNCF continues to say that it remains immune due to the provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Whatever the outcome, strong feelings continue to dog the French rail company, and a resolution to many of their troubles doesn’t appear to be in sight.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE