SNCF lawsuits (re Holocaust)
During World War II, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), the French national railroad company, transported 76,000 civilians to Nazi death camps. Holocaust survivors filed three different lawsuits against SNCF seeking to hold it accountable – three US lawsuits and one French lawsuit.
Abrams v. SNCF
On 12 September 2000, twelve Holocaust survivors filed a lawsuit against SNCF in US federal court; this lawsuit is Abrams v. SNCF. The plaintiffs alleged that SNCF committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, by knowingly transporting French and other European civilians to Nazi death camps during World War II. During World War II SCNF was a private company with the French Government as a shareholder. SNCF argued sovereign immunity under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), stating it was an agent of the French state when the alleged crimes were committed. The court dismissed the case in November 2001, and in June 2003 the plaintiffs appealed the decision. They argued that because the alleged crimes were committed between 1942 and 1944, the defendants were not able to rely on the 1976 law, as it did not apply retroactively. On 13 June 2003, the appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered the lower court to explore whether the FSIA could be applied retroactively. SNCF appealed to the Supreme Court in 2004. The Supreme Court issued a decision in an unrelated case affirming that the FSIA applies retroactively, and referred the Abrams case back to the appeals court. The appeals court dismissed the case on 9 November 2004.
Freund v. SNCF
In February 2005, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court again, but it declined to hear the case. Holocaust survivors filed a similar suit, Freund v. SNCF, in March 2006, seeking restitution for property stolen from them on SNCF trains en route to the camps. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to present sufficient facts to take advantage of an exception to the FSIA and dismissed the case. The appeals court in September 2010 upheld this dismissal.
Scalin v. SNCF
In April 2015, Holocaust descendants filed a class action lawsuit against SNCF in Chicago, USA. Plaintiffs claim the company confiscated and sold of personal effects of victims sent to Nazi camps by train.
On 6 September 2001, a similar claim was filed by three French Holocaust survivors with the Administrative Court of Toulouse, France. The plaintiffs sought compensation and joint condemnation of SNCF and the French State for their alleged roles in plaintiffs’ internment and transfer to the Drancy internment camp in Paris. In October 2001, the court dismissed the suit, and in November 2001 the plaintiffs appealed the judgment. On 6 June 2006, the appeals court ruled against the defendants, ordering SNCF to pay €20,000 and the French Government to pay €40,000 in compensation. In March 2007, SNCF appealed this ruling. SNCF argued that it operated the trains as a private enterprise and the administrative court, which can only hear cases about governmental conduct, did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. The plaintiffs argued that the court had jurisdiction to hear the case because SNCF was complicit in crimes committed by the state. On 27 March 2007, the appeals court overturned the lower court’s decision. On 28 November 2007, the plaintiffs appealed the decision before the Cassation Court which referred the case to the High Administrative Court. On 21 December 2007, the High Administrative Court dismissed the suit, ruling that the court of first instance lacked jurisdiction to decide the case.
In November 2010, the chairman of SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, issued a public statement about SNCF’s role in World War II, acknowledging that the company’s trains were used to transport people to Nazi death camps. In December 2014, the French Government agreed to compensate Holocaust victims for SNCF’s role in transporting victims to Nazi camps.
- “Californian TGV hangs on holocaust record”, Ken Pottinger, French News Online, 31 Aug 2010
- “Holocaust Survivors Seek Congress’s Help in Court”, James Barron, New York Times, 3 Nov 2008.
- “French railways win WWII appeal”, BBC, 27 Mar 2007
- “Deportation: Appeal Court overturns condemnation of French railway operator”, EJ Press, 27 Mar 2007
- [PDF]“Holocaust Restitution Litigation in the United States: An Update”, Michael J. Bazyler & Kearston G. Everitt, International Civil Liberties Law Report, New York University Press, 2006
- “Lipietz case: French state and SNCF guilty of collusion in deporting Jews”, Angelique Chrisafis, Guardian [UK], 7 June 2006
- “Second Circuit vacates dismissal of action against French railroad company”, International Law Update, Issue 3, 2003.
- [FR] “Louis Gallois : La SNCF n'est pas responsable de la déportation des Juifs”, Communiqué de le Président-directeur général de la SNCF, Le Figaro, 12 juin 2006
- [FR] Courrier initial au de la SNCF, région Toulouse, 6 octobre 2001
- Coalition for Holocaust Rail Justice: Litigation Against SNCF & Related Legislation
- [PDF] Freund v. SNCF, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 7 Sep 2010 [order upholding dismissal of the case]
- Abrams v. SNCF, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 9 Nov 2004 [order dismissing plaintiffs' complaint]
- Abrams v. SNCF, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Court, 13 June 2003 [order referring case back to district court for further proceedings]
- Abrams v. SNCF, US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, 5 Nov 2001 [SNCF's motion to dismiss]
- [FR] Lipietz v. SNCF, Alain Lipietz [Tous les dossiers] 2001 – present
- Lipietz v. SNCF, Anne Witt, as Revised by Vivian Grosswald Curran, June 2006 [Translation of judgment]