Statement By: Guillaume Pepy, Chairman of SNCF, Regarding SNCF's Role in World War II (WWII)

Nov 04, 2010, 16:28 ET from SNCF

PALO ALTO, Calif., Nov. 4, 2010 /PRNewswire/ --  Below is the statement issued today by Guillaume Pepy, Chairman of SNCF (Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais) – the French National Railway.  This statement addresses concerns raised by Americans about SNCF's role in World War II (WWII) and the commitments by SNCF to achieve transparency, educate future generations and engage in acts of Remembrance.

"SNCF is the national railway company of France.  We are a world leader in high speed rail development and have brought our skills, technology and experience to more than 120 countries around the globe, including countries of such varied location, geography and culture as Australia, Taiwan, Israel and India.  SNCF seeks to bring this experience to the United States as part of the emerging high speed rail systems proposed in several states.

SNCF's mission is to promote a society with greater mobility, mutual respect and solidarity by delivering transportation services that create linked communities.  Connectivity promotes growth, prosperity and a greater appreciation of our diversity.

We believe it is important to engage fully with the communities in which we work.  This is how we have worked with our partners around the world, and we certainly plan to do the same here in America.

As a French company relatively new to America, we understand there will be questions about us, and we intend to answer these questions.  The first one we need to address is the concern raised by a number of Americans, including the American Jewish community, about SNCF and its role in World War II (WWII) and the Holocaust.  

When Nazi Germany attacked and occupied France, one of its first acts was to requisition SNCF trains for their continuing war effort.  Tragically, this included the use of SNCF's equipment and staff to transport 76,000 French and other European Jews to Germany, where they were then sent on the Nazi death camps.  Few returned.

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.  SNCF was part of this plan – it carried the trains of deportees to the French border with Germany.

In 1995, the President of France, Jacques Chirac recognized the responsibility of France by stating, "Those dark hours tarnish forever our history, and are an insult to our past and our traditions.  Yes, the criminal madness of the occupier was seconded by French people, by the French State."

As an arm of the French State, SNCF fully embraces these words and the sorrow they reflect for the victims, survivors, and their families who suffered as a result of our role during the war.

But we know that words of sorrow and regret cannot erase the past.

So we continue to work in partnership with those most deeply affected – to ensure such unspeakable horrors never occur again.  That is why SNCF has made a long-term commitment to transparency, education of younger generations, and acts of Remembrance.

Indeed, a considerable amount of work has been done – and is still being done – regarding the Holocaust.  Much of what has been done is not known in the United States.  Therefore, just as we have done for decades at home in France, we have begun to reach out across America to Jewish community leaders and others to reflect the full story of what happened during World War II and what the French government and SNCF have done since about the losses of that tragic period.  These contacts and communications will continue and expand over the coming weeks and months.

One of the key points we have made during our outreach, is that SNCF is wholly-owned by the French government which has established extensive reparations programs that date back to 1948.  We hope to aid the remaining American citizens and residents who are entitled to receive these reparations but who have not yet received them.  To this end, we are in the process of establishing a service to work one-on-one with individuals to help them process their claims and receive their reparations from these existing State programs.

 This service is well underway and will be fully implemented before the end of this year – reaching out directly to those most deeply affected in America.

Another key point SNCF has made during its meetings with community leaders and elected officials is that it has and will continue to respond to concerns regarding transparency.  SNCF America has launched a website that contains extensive information regarding SNCF and its history, especially under German occupation during WWII:  The website is entirely in English so that the largest possible audience can access our information.

In 1992, SNCF commissioned an independent study by a respected historian and team of academics to report on SNCF's war time actions.  That 900-page report was made public upon its completion in 1996.  This report resulted in an historical conference in June 2000 at the National Assembly: "A state-owned company during the war: SNCF 1939-1945".  This report contains important information, and we are now in the process of translating the extensive report into English.

The year 1996 also marked the time when SNCF made its vast archives at Le Mans available to the general public, scholars and researchers.  Transparency is one of SNCF's key commitments – both in France and here in America.

In addition, in California, we supported legislation that would have required all rail companies from around the world to report on any activities that involved transporting people to concentration camps, prisoner of war camps and other deadly locations during World War II. Despite the veto of that bill by the California Governor, we have voluntarily agreed to meet the letter and spirit of that law in making public a full record of the war time deportations.

The final point we have made during our outreach is about Remembrance.  In France, SNCF has supported for many years and is still supporting today, Holocaust remembrance memorials, education programs and museums, including, most recently, the Shoah Memorial.  SNCF has also, for example, joined with French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld to present the multi-year exhibit "French Children of the Holocaust," which has been displayed at SNCF headquarters and major train stations throughout France.  This poignant exhibition inspired a similar program that traveled throughout Germany.

These acts of Remembrance, this openness to historians and researchers, are a sign of the involvement of today's directors of SNCF.  The railroads were requisitioned by the Nazis for their deadly work.  The railway workers who actively resisted are an honor to our company – in the same way that anonymous acts of resistance are the honor to the conscience of all people. It is in this willingness to understand everything from this tragic era that SNCF looks at its past and turns to every deportee and to every child of a deportee – to bring witness and commitment.  Witness to the madness that seized mankind; commitment to never forget.

This is just the beginning of our dialogue with Americans about SNCF.  We will learn much in our discussions over the coming weeks and months.  By listening and then working with Americans we will be able to identify new ways to enhance transparency and Remembrance.  A critical part of this dialogue is SNCF's wish to convey its profound sorrow and regret for the consequences of its acts.  Today we renew our commitment to never forget – a commitment that is collective, ongoing and never-ending."

For more information on SNCF and the Florida high-speed rail project, visit

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