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SNCF lawsuits (re Holocaust)

Pour la version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

SNCF rail  Holocaust via http://cwrsjournal.wordpress.com/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.

United States

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 JuifsCommuniqué 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]

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Author: AFP

« Etats-Unis: des familles de victimes de la Shoah attaquent la SNCF », 17 avril 2015

Des descendants de victimes de l'Holocauste ont lancé jeudi une action de groupe aux Etats-Unis contre les chemins de fer français (SNCF) pour avoir "saisi et, de concert avec les nazis, aidé, encouragé et conspiré" à saisir les biens de dizaines de milliers de personnes transportées vers les camps nazis, selon des documents du tribunal de Chicago…"Agissant en toute connaissance de cause, la SNCF a été complice du génocide", ajoutent les documents…Sollicitée en France et aux Etats-Unis, la SNCF a indiqué qu'elle ne faisait "aucun commentaire sur cette plainte aux Etats-Unis et n'a pas d'élément supplémentaire à fournir"…Cette action en justice intervient quatre mois après un accord conclu entre les Etats-Unis et la France portant sur la création d'un fonds d'indemnisation de 60 millions de dollars versés aux autorités américaines…

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20 April 2015

Holocaust descendants file class action lawsuit against SNCF in USA over company’s role in transportation of victims

Author: Olivia Hampton, AFP

“French railway Holocaust lawsuit aims to fill gaps: lawyer,” 17 Apr 2015

…The class-action suit seeks compensation for the confiscation and sale of personal property and for…train fares billed to the Nazis even though the victims were packed into cattle cars. It comes four months after France agreed to pay $60 million to…be shared among Americans and foreign nationals deported to Nazi death camps on French trains during World War II…"We are trying to hold SNCF accountable for its actions, and (the December agreement) does not do that..."..."…SNCF was complicit in the commission of genocide." In a statement…SNCF said it "has no comment on the complaint…and has no additional information to provide."…The plaintiffs say the US federal court has jurisdiction over the matter because the claims arise under international law enforceable in the Chicago court as federal law. The suit…claims that the statute of limitations has not expired…because…SNCF only opened some of its archives…in 2012.

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5 December 2014

France to compensate American survivors of Holocaust

Author: Karen DeYoung, Washington Post (USA)

France has agreed to pay reparations to American…Holocaust [survivors] who were deported to Nazi…camps in French trains, after a year of negotiations...[It] closes a loophole that has prevented some [US] citizens…from receiving French compensation…SNCF officials have formally expressed regret on a number of occasions for the company’s role...But SNCF has consistently denied cooperating voluntarily with the Nazis, noting that it was placed under German command in 1940...Holocaust survivors in [the USA]…had pursued compensation via class-action lawsuits for more than a decade. After those cases were dismissed on the basis of sovereign immunity for government-owned companies, survivors…pressed for legislation banning SNCF and its subsidiaries from receiving contracts in the United States…Anyone who applies for the compensation program will have to sign a waiver agreeing not to pursue any lawsuit…As part of the accord…the United States agrees to support French sovereign immunity in any future lawsuit.

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21 February 2014

U.S.-France Holocaust-reparation talks renew focus on firm planning bid on Purple Line job

Author: Katherine Shaver, Washington Post

The French government has begun negotiating with the State Department over paying reparations to America’s Holocaust survivors who were deported to Nazi death camps in French trains — a decades-old controversy now surrounding a French company bidding on Maryland’s $2.2 billion light-rail Purple Line project…Historians say Keolis’s parent company, known as SNCF — Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français — transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners to Nazi death camps…On Thursday, a spokesman for SNCF referred calls to the French Embassy…“The negotiations underway with the American authorities are meant to find ways to open the compensation procedures to those who were denied compensation because of nationality criteria,” [the embassy spokesperson]…wrote in an e-mail…SNCF officials have said that under French law, only the government, not the railway, can pay reparations for deportations that occurred under the Nazi-backed Vichy government...

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18 September 2013

[PDF] Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin – Issue 10, Sep 2013

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Welcome to the 10th issue of the Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin. To assist all those following corporate legal accountability issues, we send this bulletin to highlight key developments, new cases profiled on our site, updates to existing profiles, and other news. Our Corporate Legal Accountability Portal is an online information hub providing resources for non-lawyers as well as lawyers – including victims, advocates, NGOs, businesspeople, lawyers bringing lawsuits against companies and lawyers defending companies. The portal provides impartial, concise information about lawsuits against companies in which human rights abuses are alleged – its aim is to demystify these lawsuits. Each case profile includes materials from both the plaintiffs and defendants, to the extent they are available…This bulletin is now available in Spanish and French. [Refers to African Barrick Gold, Alstom, BP, CACI, Chevron, Coca-Cola, COMILOG (part of ERAMET), Daimler, Danzer, Dow Chemical, Drummond, ERAMET, Ford, HudBay Minerals, IBM, KBR, Ledesma, Mercedes-Benz (part of Daimler), Monterrico Metals, Nestlé, PA Child Care, Qosmos, Rio Tinto, Shell, Sinter Metal, SNCF, Texaco (part of Chevron), Thomson Safaris, Total, Union Carbide (part of Dow), Vedanta Resources, Veolia (part of Veolia Environnement), Veolia Environnement, Walmart]

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14 April 2013

Black workers 'banned from Gare du Nord during Israeli president visit' [France]

Author: Nabila Ramdani, Telegraph [UK]

The alleged discrimination took place as Shimon Peres arrived at the station…on March 8, to discuss the Middle East peace process. It is now the subject of an official complaint by the SUD-Rail transport union which says everything was done to ensure there were "no Muslim employees to welcome the Head of the State of Israel"…The previous day…a site manager told all workers at the station about the ban on black staff, and those of North African descent, because they might be Muslim…SNCF initially blamed the discrimination on "security protocol" advised by the French Interior Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Paris, but this has been emphatically denied by both. Instead, the order came from SNCF management, with a spokesman for the state-run company pledging "a full investigation"…[Also refers to Itiremia]

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29 October 2012

[PDF] Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin - Issue 7

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

[Full text of October 2012 issue of the Corporate Legal Accountability Quarterly Bulletin. Refers to lawsuits against adidas, Amesys (part of Bull), Anadarko, Anglo Platinum (part of Anglo American), Areva, Blackwater, BP, CACI, Cameron International, Chevron, Copper Mesa Mining, Curacao Drydock, DynCorp, Esmor Correctional Services (part of Correctional Services Corporation), Ford, Global Horizons, Halliburton, L-3, PA Child Care, Paladin, Shell, SNCF, Texaco (part of Chevron), Transocean.]

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12 November 2010

France: National Railway Apologizes for Its Role in Deporting Jews in War

Author: Maia de la Baume, New York Times

France’s national railway, the S.N.C.F., has issued its first public apology for its involvement in the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II. Guillaume Pepy…, the railway’s director, expressed the company’s “profound sorrow and regret for the consequences of its acts” in a statement released last week but first reported Friday. “The Nazis and their French (Vichy) collaborators directed these terrible actions, determining the composition of the trains, the types of wagons and even the train schedules,” Mr. Pepy said. The statement, published in English, came after lawmakers in California and Florida moved to block the S.N.C.F. from winning contracts for high-speed rail projects in their states if it did not recognize its role in the Holocaust.

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Author: AP, dans Le Nouvel Observateur [France]

La cour administrative d'appel de Bordeaux a annulé mardi matin le jugement du tribunal administratif de Toulouse qui avait condamné la SNCF pour le transport de quatre membres de la famille Lipietz dans des wagons à bestiaux...les 10 et 11 mai 1944... Les magistrats bordelais ont estimé que la juridiction administrative n'est pas compétente en la matière... Pour l'eurodéputé Vert Alain Lipietz, cette décision "est un formidable renversement de toute la jurisprudence de l'Etat français"... [La Cour] reprend donc ainsi les arguments de la SNCF, qui affirmait avoir agi par contrainte et sur réquisition.

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7 June 2006

French state and SNCF guilty of collusion in deporting Jews [France]

Author: Angelique Chrisafis, Guardian [UK]

In a historic judgment, the French state and the state railway company SNCF were found guilty yesterday of colluding in the deportation of Jews during the second world war and ordered to pay compensation to the family of two victims...The judges found that the SNCF railway company never voiced "any objection" about transporting such prisoners. The journeys were classified as "third class tariffs" despite prisoners being transported in cattle trucks and SNCF continued to ask for payment of the bills after France was liberated from the Nazis...The lawyer for the SNCF said yesterday that the company would appeal against the ruling. He said the railway could not be held responsible for the transportation because it had been forced to cooperate with German occupying forces.

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