Since its opening in 1901 for the World Fair, “Le Train Bleu” symbolized a shrine for Parisian and foreign visitors.
Placed within the Gare de Lyon, the terminus for all trains heading South, it was frequented during the German occupation by Nazi officers, Vichy collaborators, the Resistance underground and Jews attempting to flee deportation by hiding around Lyons, Marseilles and Nice under Italian control.
The “Blue Train Restaurant” became a rendezvous in post-war “Gay Paree” and a pilgrimage site for many American army veterans of the Normandy landings.
Last week, a photo hit the press featuring the contemporary staff of “Le Train Bleu,” extending their arm in a “quenelle” – an inverted Hitler salute.
The gourmet world and its admirers were shocked as a new threshold in hate was violated.
The ‘quenelle’ was said to have been created by reportedly declared antisemite, Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, to express Jew-hatred, while circumventing litigation and penalties for the full Hitler salute.
This event is now sparking a wave of antisemitic conspiracy theories on social media and has “blackened” the image of the Blue Train itself.
There are known watering-holes for neo-Nazis around Paris, but the Blue Train is not one of them.
The London-based management team has expressed a commitment to investigating and dismissing those responsible.
It would, however, also be appropriate to invoke French hate-crime jurisprudence, rendering the display of Sieg Heil salutes (arguably,based on intent – even when convoluted – as in the ‘quenelle’), Swastika memorabilia and incitement to Jew hatred as “antisemitism,” which under French law creates an aggravated penalty for the perpetrator.
Till now, most judges have been loath to impose an aggravated sentence, relying on long-term psychiatric examination detention, then allowing the antisemites’ early release back into society.
The Train Bleu staff’s solidarity with Nazism represents a pogromist intent.
They must be judged accordingly and the Wiesenthal Centre will be closely monitoring the judicial process.