French Railways and the Holocaust

During World War II, the French National Railway Corporation (SNCF) transported nearly 77,000 Jews from France to Nazi camps in filthy, crowded boxcars. The SNCF has claimed they were operating under the orders of the occupying German forces.

However, the SNCF did not protest against the deportations during the war, nor did they show any sort of regret in the aftermath of the war. Indeed, the SNCF continued to bill the government for payment overdue on these “services”.

However, California Bill AB 619 will force the SNCF to disclose their activities during World War II if they wish win a contract with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The SNCF has promised to fully comply with the bill and continues to pursue a bid on this 800-mile line with a projected cost in excess of $43 billion.


The French national railway promised Wednesday to disclose its role in transporting Nazi victims to World War II death camps if California passes a bill that requires companies seeking state business to reveal any involvement in the camps.

“It’s our intention to fully comply with the bill,” said Peter Kelly, an attorney for SNCF, which is working on a bid to win a contract with the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The bill by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, would require companies that want to help build or operate California’s $45 billion high-speed rail system to reveal whether they transported victims to work, concentration, prisoner of war or extermination camps.

As part of their bid, companies would have to provide records of their involvement and whether they took remedial steps for their action or paid restitution to victims. (Read more:… )

Two Republican assembly men oppose this bill:

The bill is not entirely without critics, among them are two Republican assemblymen.

Bill Berryhill (Ceres) said California had no business penalizing companies for actions taken under different leadership in an earlier era.

“It’s crazy, just as it would be crazy to judge me on slavery when I had nothing to do with it,” Berryhill told the Sacramento Bee.

A second assemblyman, Roger Niello (Fair Oaks) warned the assembly that it was embarking on a slippery moral slope.

For instance, it raises the question of whether American railroad companies should be punished for transporting U.S. citizens of Japanese descent to World War II internment camps, he said. ( )

In the past the SNCF has resisted taking responsibility for these transports. In 2006, a member of the European Parliment Alain Lipietz sued the SNCF for transporting member of his family to the Drancy deportation camp. The administrative court of Toulouse found the SNCF guilty of crimes against humanity and fined them 64,000 Euros. Despite the SNCF’s claims, the court found that the SNCF

“made no attempt to negotiate with the Germans authority for the liberation of the detainees, even though such an attempt could have be fruitful since the interested parties had false baptism certificates (with the exception of Mr. X)….

The SNCF never objected or protested making these transports and systematically billed them as “3rd class transportation services” for the Interior Ministry, and continued to demand payment for these services even after the liberation.

For this purpose, the SNCF used wagons normally used only to transport animals or merchandise. SNCF workers locked the people being transported into these wagons without water, food or the minimal necessities of hygiene although there was no constraint on them to do so. ( )

The SNCF successfully appealed arguing that it was acting under the terms of the 1940 armistice with Germany and that the Deutsche Reichsbahn oversaw major facilities and operations.  


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