Dutch rail firm to compensate Holocaust survivors and families

Posted at 8:13 AM, Nov 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-28 10:13:46-05

The Dutch state-owned railway company has said it will pay compensation to Holocaust survivors and relatives of victims who were transported on its trains toward Nazi death camps during World War II.

A special commission will be set up to work out how payments will be made to individuals, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) said Tuesday.

“It was a black page in our country’s history and also for our own company. It’s a past which we cannot ignore,” a company news release said, according to an AFP translation.

NS earned large sums to transport Jewish families to death camps via the Westerbork transit camp, the NOS national broadcaster reported.

The rail firm, which formally apologized for its wartime actions in 2005 and funds a number of Holocaust memorial projects, has not previously compensated individuals. It cited discussions with 82-year-old Holocaust survivor Salo Muller as a factor in its decision.

Muller, a former Ajax football club physiotherapist, has been fighting since mid-2017 for individual compensation, AFP said.

Muller’s parents were taken to Westerbork in 1941, when he was 5 years old, according to his own website. From there, they were taken on to Auschwitz, where they were killed. Muller’s mother had been picked up in a raid shortly after she dropped him off at kindergarten; he survived the rest of the war in hiding.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Dutch government set up the camp at Westerbork, in the country’s northeast, in 1939 to hold Jewish refugees who had entered the Netherlands illegally, many from Germany.

Following the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Westerbork served from 1942 to 1944 as a transit camp for Dutch Jews before they were deported to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland.

Between July 1942 and September 3, 1944, the Germans deported 97,776 Jews from Westerbork, nearly 55,000 of them to Auschwitz and more than 34,000 to Sobibor, according to the USHMM. Most of them were killed on arrival.

The decision by NS is not without precedent.

In 2014, France signed an agreement with US authorities to pay $60 million to Holocaust survivors transported by rail to concentration camps.

The fund was set up following intense pressure from inside the United States, including efforts by American lawmakers to bar French national rail company SNCF from bidding in US markets until the issue was resolved.