The New York Daily News is reporting that a coalition of Holocaust survivors and their families are making progress in holding the French rail company Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer Francais (SNCF) responsible for their role in transporting some 76,000 Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Of the people they transported, it is believed that only approximately 3,000 survived the concentration camps.
The company’s American subsidiary, Keolis America recently won a bid for a $6.5 million contract in Maryland, but some people are taking issue with this due to SNCF’s role in the Holocaust. Survivor Leo Bretholz completed a petition containing 150,000 signatures. Also, New York Representative Carolyn Maloney has created a bill called The Holocaust Rail Justice Act in an effort to allow Holocaust victims to hold the company responsible for their role by having to pay reparations to survivors. Bretholz and his supporters feel that the company has to pay for what they have done before being allowed to make money off of taxpayers who were also victims of the Holocaust.
The French government has apparently started negotiations with State Department representatives, and Bretholz and his attorney are waiting for an offer. SNCF is defending their role by stating that they were simply following the orders of the Nazi regime. However, survivor Manuel Feingold, who lost is father at Auschwitz, does not feel as though that is justification enough for the company to now be able to go on without having to pay for the pain and suffering they helped facilitate.
Survivor Lucie Davis, whose parents were loaded up by French authorities and later died at Auschwitz, says that she is not hopeful about reparations actually ever being paid by SNCF. She also does not believe that SNCF did not have a choice about participating in Nazi activities. She states, “The French knocked on doors, loaded Jews in the trucks, forced them on trains. No ifs or buts.”
Other companies who participated in the Holocaust by using slave labor from concentration camps have already voluntary paid reparations in some cases. It will be interesting to see how this continues to play out.
Financial Juneteenth lessons from this story:
1) The black community has a great deal in common with Jews. The same way they were taken away from their families and put into concentration camps, our families were split up and forced to work on plantations. Even today, black American families have been destroyed as people are taken to a modern day concentration camp called The Prison Industrial Complex. Many of these individuals are being falsely accused, over charged, racially profiled and over-sentenced in ways that are just as devastating as what happened during World War II. The only difference is that the Jewish holocaust occurred over a few years, while the mass incarceration epidemic has last for the last three to four decades.
2) The reason that Jewish groups are gaining traction in their fight for reparations is because they are demanding them. Black people are accustomed to waiting and hoping that white people will decide to do the right thing. But here’s a fact about money: People don’t usuall give it away voluntarily and they don’t usually give you very much when you ask politely. The dirty game of politics means that you must wrestle resources away.