French Railway Launches Sensitive Website to Address Its Nazi Past

Before and after.
Before and after.

The state-owned French railway company that hopes to supply Florida with high-speed trains launched a publicity campaign recently to help combat criticisms of its Nazi past. The campaign includes a web page titled "Heritage" that claims to detail the Societe Nationale des Chamins de fer Francais' connection with the Nazis.

But the page does little to explain what exactly the company did for the Adolf Hitler-approved Vichy government that ran parts of France during World War II. It also glosses over the company's connection to the trains it ran that transported some 70,000 Jews to

their deaths.

"Because we are new to America, many people are not yet familiar with SNCF," the site reads. "It is understandable that they may have questions about us and our history. In particular, questions have been raised recently about the company during the World War II era, when Nazi Germany invaded and occupied France.

"By August 1944, 76,000 Jewish men, women, and children had been sent by train to the Jewish border." Not "were sent," and certainly not "we sent."

Unmentioned is the price per Jewish head paid to the railroad by the German government. Instead, we learn of the 2,000 rail workers who met their deaths because of their resistance of the Nazi regime. (The fact that the executioners were often fellow rail workers goes unmentioned too.)

Predictably, some Floridians were upset by the news that a company with so much blood on its tracks might do business in their state. Two months ago, outgoing Congressman Ron Klein launched a brief and pointless fight against the company's doing business in Florida.

Ever since the NCSF began making inroads into America -- last year, in California -- the word reparation has been in the air, uttered recently and most emotionally by Rosette Goldstein of Boca Raton, whose father rode an NCSF train to his death. NCSF has never offered reparations for the Holocaust, arguing that, as a part of the French government, its reparations are inseparable from those of France itself. Which is as sensible as it is convenient. 

NCSF's trains are arguably the world's best. They are faster, cleaner, and safer than anyone else's -- in more than 30 years of high-speed railing, they have recorded not a single fatal accident. Their railroading expertise has been retained by governments all over the world -- by Taiwan, by the U.K., by South Korea, by Spain. And by Israel.

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