Reporters on the Job
• National Conscience: Correspondent Susan Sachs says that a case finding that France's national railroad was liable in deporting Jews during World War II has struck a chord.Skip to next paragraph
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"Most people, I think, would agree with what President Chirac said in 1995, that France and the French bear responsibility for the anti-Jewish actions during the Occupation, and that the French state is accountable as the successor to the Vichy regime," she says. "But when you start to put your finger on something like the railway, which was a brighter spot for France in terms of the Resistance, it's more difficult.
Many French Jews who lived through that period, who saw their parents and other relatives disappear, cannot forgive the SNCF or other state institutions, Susan notes. "When reporting this story, I heard those survivors say, with great emotion: 'Why did they do nothing?' "
In 1996, the SNCF opened up its archives to historians and produced a report that said it was neither a collaborator nor a resistance organization, Susan says. After the report, the president of the railroad gave money to the Memorial of the Unknown Jew in Paris, and contributed funds for orphans of deportees.
"The SNCF was active in resisting, and did blow up trains that had Germans on them – though it did nothing to the trains that carried Jews to the death camps. By the end of the war, there were hundreds of daily disruptions to the train schedules from acts of sabotage on the tracks or on the train cars themselves," Susan says.
But while there were people inside the SNCF who aided Resistance efforts, the railroad was found to have been efficient to a fault in deportation efforts. "The point of this case is the argument that the railways were crueler than they had to be," Susan says. "They exceeded the requirements of the Nazis."
– Amelia Newcomb