UPDATE: It is with deep sorrow that I wish to inform you of the passing of my dear friend, Leo Bretholz, on March 8th, 2014. Leo’s passion and tireless work for justice for Holocaust survivors was an inspiration to thousands of people, including me and my own family. As a childhood Holocaust survivor myself whose own father was deported toward Auschwitz on an SNCF train, Leo’s fight for reparations for Holocaust survivors was deeply personal for me. As Leo’s friend and partner in this work for justice, thank you for supporting this petition. During this week, Holocaust Remembrance week, let us together carry Leo’s work and pursuit of justice for Holocaust survivors forward, and redouble our efforts to hold SNCF accountable. – Rosette Goldstein
My name is Leo Bretholz, and I am a Holocaust survivor.
I grew up in Vienna, where I lived until the German annexation of Austria in 1938. For seven years thereafter, I ran from the Nazis. In October 1942, I was put in an internment camp outside of Paris—a waiting room for trains bound for the death camp at Auschwitz. I was there for only two weeks before the order came to gather our belongings for our deportation.
My deportation train to Auschwitz was owned and operated by SNCF, a company which still exists today. And despite the fact that SNCF has refused to pay reparations in the roughly 70 years since its first deportation train ran during the Holocaust, this company is now looking to expand its business in the United States, with projects funded by my tax dollars.
Enough is enough. It is time for SNCF to be held accountable for its active role in the Holocaust. Tell SNCF and its American subsidiary, Keolis, that as they seek to expand their business in the United States – with many projects funded by the tax dollars of the very survivors who were deported toward the death camps on SNCF trains – they must pay reparations to these Holocaust survivors and their families. It is simply unconscionable that SNCF’s American subsidiary is now competing to build and operate the light-rail Purple Line in my home state of Maryland – valued at more than $6 billion and one of the single biggest contracts in state history – while refusing to be held accountable.
SNCF willingly collaborated with the Nazis. They were paid by the Nazis per head and per kilometer to transport innocent victims across France and ultimately toward death camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Had the company resisted, even to a small degree, the number of those killed from France would have been greatly reduced. Had SNCF not imposed horrific conditions on its trains, many additional lives could have been saved.
In the end, SNCF transported 76,000 Jews and thousands of others, including U.S. pilots shot down over France, toward the death camps. This included over 11,000 children. Of the 76,000 Jews deported on SNCF trains, only 2,000 would survive. I was one of the lucky few who managed to escape.
SNCF has gone so far as to tell a member of the California Assembly that “SNCF will never pay the survivors anything.” Instead, the company has spent millions of dollars on a lobbying and public relations campaign to rewrite history and avoid accountability for its pivotal role in one of history's greatest atrocities.
SNCF did not even publicly apologize for its role in the Holocaust until three years ago, not coincidentally at the very same time that SNCF was pursuing lucrative high-speed rail contracts in the United States. As it was during the Holocaust for SNCF, so it is now—all about money.
Please help us hold SNCF accountable and support justice for myself and hundreds of similarly-situated Holocaust survivors. This means demanding that SNCF finally pay reparations and also reaching out to your Senators and Congressmen and asking them to support to Holocaust Rail Justice Act (S. 1393 / H.R. 1505), legislation that would finally grant me and my fellow survivors our day in court.
I am almost 93 years old and we don't have much time left to act. Please, help me and my fellow survivors see justice from SNCF within our lifetimes.
To learn more about SNCF’s role in the Holocaust and the efforts to seek justice for its victims, please visit www.holocaustrailvictims.org.
SNCF transported more than 76,000 Jews and thousands of other “undesirables,” including American pilots shot down over France, toward Nazi death camps. This included 11,000 children. All but 2,000 of these victims died there. SNCF operated the trains as a commercial venture in collaboration with the Nazis and were paid per head, per kilometer to deliver thousands toward their ultimate deaths. SNCF billed quarterly for the transports and continued to send invoices even after the liberation of Paris. The company even charged interest for late payments. SNCF was not coerced into using cattle cars. It was not coerced into sending bills to the DeGaulle government after the war. It was not coerced into refusing to provide water on the trains. And it was not coerced into accepting payment for its role in the death of so many thousands of innocents.
The existing French reparation and restitution programs do not specifically cover these deportations, do not provide reparations to a majority of SNCF's victims, and SNCF has no connection with these programs. Other companies that aided the Nazis have done the right thing.
More than 6,000 German companies have accepted responsibility for their actions and paid into reparations funds established as a result of post-war treaties. Swiss and Austrian companies have also paid reparations. Following a lawsuit in the United States, French banks have made restitution. SNCF regrettably stands apart in its refusal to take responsibility and pay reparations.
It is time for SNCF to meaningfully address the victims of its willing and deliberate participation in the Holocaust, and to finally pay reparations. We cannot wait much longer for SNCF to finally do the just and appropriate thing - but until that happens, and especially as SNCF seeks to do business in the United States, we will not forget and we will not be silent.