Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Misguided Approach to Remembrance: The Holocaust Rail Justice Act



"Holocaust-Era Claims in the 21st Century" will examine, in part, the Holocaust Rail Justice Act (S.634), legislation created to give Holocaust survivors a forum for claims against the French Railway, SNCF.

Leading Jewish remembrance, research and advocacy organizations believe HRJA is ill-conceived legislation. The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) states that the bill "does not respect three basic principles": it removes French state responsibility, it unfairly targets one state-owned company, SNCF, and it pits one class of survivors against another.

Mechanisms are already in place for Holocaust survivors. Starting in 1944, France began an extensive compensation and restitution program on behalf of all entities of the French State. These programs are still available (Shoah Memorial).

SNCF has dedicated itself to taking a leadership role to honor the victims of the Holocaust by partnering with agencies in America, France and Israel to fund the documentation, research and education most requested by Holocaust remembrance organizations. From opening its vast archives to the public in 1996, which detail SNCF's role during WWII, to partnerships with Association of the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France and Yad Vashem, SNCF is committed to ensuring that future generations do not forget this heinous travesty. SNCF is proud to sponsor the renowned exhibit on the Holocaust, "Courage To Remember" of the Museum of Tolerance, the educational wing of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in several venues around the U.S.

Subsequent to the German invasion of France, the Franco-German Armistice Agreement in 1940 stated that all French railways fell under Germany's direct dictate; SNCF was forced to take these actions by Nazi edict during the occupation. The Nazi orders concerning the deportation of Jews from France were very explicit. On July 24, 1940 Nazi Colonel Werner Goeritz ordered, "All SNCF civil servants, staff and workers are therefore subject to German laws of war." In almost every case they stipulate that the death penalty will be imposed on any SNCF violators.

Nazi SS Officer Theodor Dannecker, a deputy of Adolf Eichmann, issued detailed orders. To ensure that SNCF and others complied, Dannecker ordered that forty Nazi military police "accompany each train up to the border with the Reich."

Even in light of these threats, there were many resistors within SNCF. "We must also not forget the role of the SNCF as a resistance organization. The acts carried out by railroad workers beginning in 1942, causing many of them to be shot and more than a thousand of them to be deported represented a crucial contribution to the Resistance, as all historians acknowledge." (Richard Prasquier, President of CRIF)

Examples of SNCF's Commitment to Transparency and Corporate Responsibility
In 1992, SNCF commissioned noted historian Christian Bachelier and a team of independent academics to prepare an exhaustive historical study on SNCF's WWII history, culminating in a 914-page report made available to the public.

In 1995, SNCF opened its archives in Le Mans, which maintains one of the most extensive collections of railway history in the world. Additionally, SNCF mandated that all of their available documents from 1939-1945 be digitized (1.3 million documents) and made accessible for public scrutiny.

In 2011, SNCF put the land surrounding the railway station in Bobigny, France at the disposal of the city for a place of remembrance. The railway station was the departure point for deportees interned at Drancy who were sent to the Nazi death camps starting in the summer of 1943.

Most recently, SNCF has entered into a partnership with Yad Vashem to further the research of deportations of Jews from France during the Holocaust as part of "Transports to Extinction: Shoah Deportation Database."

Courts in both Europe and the U.S. have ruled that French reparations programs are sufficient. In Freund v. the Republic of France (2008), the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, found "that in their present form, these [French alternative] fora (sic) are appropriate and adequate alternative fora for the pursuit of the eligible Plaintiff's claims". The programs have been deemed adequate by the European Court of Human Rights.

Since 1956, The Shoah Memorial has been assisting the Jews of France with their application for reparations and compensation programs. The Shoah Memorial has partnered with SNCF to make these same services available to U.S. citizens who were victims of racial and anti-Semitic persecutions enforced by the Vichy government during WWII. Information is available in English, Hebrew and French here.

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