Monday, 22 Jul 2019 - 19 of Tammuz, 5779

Belgium’s railway role in the deportation of Jews during the Holocaust: relatives of victims seek compensation

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Between 4 August 1942 and 31 July 1944, 25,628 Jews and Gypsies from Belgium were deported from the Dossin barracks in Mechelen to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. 28 convoys were chartered by the SCNB, making the Dossin barracks the antechamber of the death camps.

BRUSSELS—Descendants of Holocaust victims in Belgium are pressing the country’s railway company SNCB to compensate them for its role in the deportations of Jews during the Holocaust   and follow the examples of France and the Netherlands.  

Between 4 August 1942 and 31 July 1944, 25,628 Jews and Gypsies from Belgium were deported from the Dossin barracks in Mechelen to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. 28 convoys were chartered by the SCNB, making the Dossin barracks the antechamber of the death camps.

Narcisse Rulot, the director of SNCB at the time, was considered anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi. Campaigners say his complacency in allowing the Germans  to transport Jews via SNCB greatly aided in the suffering and deaths of thousands of people. “I carry everything that comes, he said, I do not look what is in the closed cars”.

The Belgian railway apologised in 2012 for its wartime role but for many relatives of victims this was not enough.

According to Nico Wouters, a historian and expert on the topic, the archives that would prove the railway’s part in the deportations are missing, most likely having been destroyed. ‘’Legally, we are in limbo, we do not know precisely the procedure set up by the Germans for the execution of deportations by the SNCB,’’ he added.

The Dossin barracks, between Brussels and Antwerp, the antechamber of the death camps.

Those who have looked into this issue agree that the directors of the time did nothing to prevent the deportation of Jews from Belgium.

SNCB said claims for compensation are a matter for the Belgian Minister in charge of  mobility,  François Bellot. He is due to meet representatives from the country’s Jewish community shortly to discuss the issue.

In 2014, France paid €50 million ($57 million) to victims who had been transported to death camps by the national railway SNCF trains during the Holocaust. The Netherlands made the same move in 2018, acknowledging its state-owned rail company’s role in delivering thousands of Jews to their deaths.

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