A state-owned French railway company is trying to clear its tarnished reputation, marked for delivering thousands of Jews into the hands of the Nazis.
Guillaume Pepy, president of the SNCF national railway, officially ceded a former industrial train station and patch of muddy rail lines to the northern Paris suburb of Bobigny, so the area can be made into a memorial for the 22,407 Jews who were deported to Nazi concentration camps from there.
The gesture is one of many similar efforts recently by the company—and at least one government diplomat—since it has been under increased scrutiny following a bid last year for two multibillion-dollar contracts to build high-speed trains in Florida and California.
SNCF has had to face threats from some American lawmakers and groups apparently unhappy with the railway’s past and who have pushed to block a deal without further explanation, and possibly an apology, from the company.
In response, Pepy has met with Jewish groups and politicians in the United States to express his “regret” and “pain” on behalf of SNCF. The company says those statements fall short of an apology but express its feelings of sorrow.
Between 1942 and 1944, the company sent trains loaded with French and foreign Jews from all over the country to Drancy and then to Bobigny, which are now low-income suburbs north of Paris. German trains made the final trip from both places to Auschwitz and other death camps. Some 75,720 Jews from France were deported; approximately 2,500 survived the Holocaust.
Though the SNCF has initiated seminars and historical research on the company’s actions during the war, many claim the group never apologized or recognized the extent of its cooperation with Nazi rulers. The company traditionally has defended itself by saying its employees were under the occupier’s control.