The Holocaust could not have been implemented in its entirety without the web of railways that crisscrossed Europe. Jews from as far away as Greece and as close as Poland were transported to Nazi extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor and Treblinka.
They were built on the express premise that national railroad companies would deport Jews to their collective deaths in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Given this lamentable fact, the news that Holland’s railway company, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, known as NS, will compensate Dutch Holocaust survivors and their direct descendants for what it described as a “black page in the history of the company” is long overdue but certainly appreciated.
NS’ belated announcement comes on the heels of a decision by the French railway company, SNCF, to apologize for its role in shipping Jews to Nazi extermination camps. Following the apology, France created a $60 million fund to compensate survivors.
In the wake of Germany’s occupation of Holland in 1940, approximately 107,000 of Holland’s 140,000 Jews were taken to the Westerbork transit camp and deported to death camps in Poland. Only 5,000 survived. Among those transported to Westerbork was Ann Frank, the diarist who was arrested by the Gestapo in the summer of 1944. She and her sister died in Bergen-Belsen in 1945.
NS trains also deported thousands of Roma and Sinti to Dutch transit camps, such as Vaught and Amersfoort, en route to extermination camps. NS, having billed Germany for its work in uprooting Jews, Roma and Sinti, earned millions of dollars in profits.
Fourteen years ago, NS formally apologized for its criminal role in the Holocaust, but it was only last November that it established a special commission to ascertain the company’s historical responsibility and what compensation should be offered.
In a recent statement, NS disclosed it will set aside tens of millions of euros for the pain and anguish it caused the victims. They will receive payouts of 5,000 euros to 15,000 euros in what NS called a “moral gesture.” About 5,000 to 6,000 people will be eligible for the payments.
To its credit, NS noted that “there is no reasonable or appropriate amount of money that can compensate in any way for the suffering inflicted on the persons covered by the scheme.” And in a refreshingly frank admission, NS acknowledged it had been “an essential link” in transporting Jews, Roma and Sinti to transit and extermination camps.
NS’ mea culpa, in all probability, would not have materialized without the tireless efforts of a Dutch Jewish Holocaust survivor named Salo Muller, whose parents perished in Nazi camps. A former Ajax football club physiotherapist, he initiated the campaign to hold NS accountable for its part in the Holocaust.
Thanks to Muller, NS has belatedly agreed to do the right thing.
Railway companies everywhere else in Europe should follow suit.