TOULOUSE, France - A French politician and his sister sued France's state-run SNCF railway on Tuesday for transporting their father and three relatives to a wartime transit camp that sent Jews off to Nazi concentration camps.
Alain Lipietz, a Greens European Parliament deputy, and his sister Helene accused the SNCF of organising the transport of French Jews to the Drancy transit camp near Paris and billing the wartime government for its services.
A lawyer for the railway argued the statute of limitations had run out for the deportation of Jews, which stopped with the end of the four-year German occupation in 1944, and that the SNCF had been run by the collaborationist Vichy government.
"The SNCF was quite autonomous when it came to earning money, so it has to assume its responsibility for its choices in how it treated the Jews," said Alain Lipietz.
The judge in the administrative court case said he would take three weeks to reach his decision. A similar suit in 2003 failed when a Paris court ruled it could not establish that the SNCF was responsible for transporting Jews.
Of the 330,000 Jews living in France in 1940, 75,721 were deported to death camps and only about 2,500 returned alive.
Alain and Helene Lipietz told the court their father Georges had been sent by train in mid-1944 from Toulouse in southwestern France to Drancy, usually the last stop for French Jews before they were put on trains to the death camps.
He was freed from Drancy on August 18, only days before Paris was liberated by Allied forces. The SNCF billed the state for that transport which came two months after Allied forced had landed in Normandy, the two plaintiffs said.
"The SNCF charged for third class tickets for people who were crammed 200 at a time in freight cars meant to transport 60 horses," Helene Lipietz said.
"These were cars without water, food or toilets and they were able to pass through Allied lines even as French territory was being liberated and someone could have stopped these convoys," Alain Lipietz added.
The SNCF's lawyer, Yves Baudelot, said the railway could not be held responsible for the transports because it had no choice but to cooperate with German occupying forces during the war.
"The transport director of the Wehrmacht (Germany army) sent a letter to the head of the SNCF reminding him that any railway employee who did not follow orders would be shot," he said.
The two plaintiffs told reporters after the hearing that they were "satisfied that French justice was now trying to deal with these issues."
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