The Dutch state-owned rail company has said it will pay compensation to survivors and relatives of those transported by their trains to the Nazi death camps during the second world war after receiving a threat of litigation.
The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) earned £2.2m in today’s money for delivering 102,000 Jews to concentration camps across Europe. In 2005, the company’s then chief executive, Aad Veenman, offered “apologies from the bottom of his heart and in all modesty”.
The belated decision to pay compensation followed talks with Salo Muller, 82, a former physiotherapist at Ajax football club, whose parents were transported by train from Amsterdam to the Dutch transit camp, Westerbork, from where they taken to Auschwitz and gassed.
Muller wrote a book in 2017 called See You Tonight and Promise to Be a Good Boy, in memory of the last words his mother had said to him as she dropped him off at kindergarten, before she was picked up that day by the SS.
Muller said his initial plan, supported by prominent Dutch human-rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, to take legal action against NS was on hold after the “historic” decision.
“I have explained how much suffering there is among the Jewish people. You can not say it is 75 years later, forget it; the suffering is still there for all those people,” he told RTL Nederland radio of his three meetings with the railways president-director, Roger van Boxtel.
“I said: you have received money, or the Jews have had to pay for it themselves, or it was stolen Jewish capital, which I have been able to show.”
The NS carried out a large number of transports of Jews, Dutch prisoners of war and labourers for the SS. The last train left on 13 September 1944, shortly before a large part of the NS staff went on strike in an attempt to hasten the end of the Nazi occupation.
Westerbork, whose inhabitants included Anne Frank before she was moved to Auschwitz, had been established by the Dutch government in 1939 as a refugee camp for Jews fleeing occupied Europe but it was taken over by the SS following the country’s invasion.
Muller said: “I am proud of myself. I have had sleepless nights. I have committed myself, despite the fact that people have said: ‘Do not flog a dead horse, you are mad, you have passed 80, go and enjoy, let that affair rest.’ I have also received support from some good people.”
A committee has been set up to decide how much compensation will be paid on a case-by-case basis.
In 2014, under pressure from US politicians who were threatening to block its contracts in America, the French railways operator, SNCF, agreed to pay £40m in compensation for its role in moving approximately 76,000 Jews to Nazi camps during the Holocaust. Only about 3,000 of those transported survived.