Some 7,000 Holocaust survivors submitted a claim Thursday against the German rail company Deutsche Bahn in what appears to be a last attempt to win compensation from the successor of the wartime Nazi rail company Reichsbahn.
The claimants, all pensioners and survivors of the concentration camps, are demanding that Deutsche Bahn help pay their medical bills from the profits made from the company's expansion. Since the beginning of January, Europe's rail system was deregulated, enabling the German company to renew its activities in Poland.
Deutsche Bahn, which is owned by the German government, was created from the ruins of the Reichsbahn, which carried millions of Jews to the death camps, including Auschwitz in southern Poland. Their call for compensation is supported by Train of Commemoration, a German organization dedicated to preserving the memory of those deported by the Nazis.
“If Deutsche Bahn wants to profit in our country,” Stanislaw Zalewski said to the German press agency DPA, “We want them to pay for assisting former prisoners and forced laborers.” Zalewski, 85, is head of the Polish Association of Former Political Prisoners of Hitler’s Prisons and Concentration Camps and a former inmate of Auschwitz.
"Reichsbahn was a Nazi company, and every deportation was carried out by them," Zalewski noted. "This is Deutsche Bahn’s heritage and its obligation.”
Herbert Shenkman, who was deported in his youth, added, "This is not just a matter of material compensation, but of taking moral responsibility."
It is estimated that Reichsbahn made €445 million ($645 million) in today's terms from the money it charged its forced passengers. The successor company Deutsche Bahn has so far refused to pay compensation directly, claiming that it supports the foundation set up by German industry to assist forced labor victims.
A company spokesman said that "Deutsche Bahn is not the legal successor of Reichsbahn. Nevertheless, Deutsche Bahn is fully aware of its historical responsibility. For that reason, it supports several projects within the ‘Remembrance, Responsibility and Future’ foundation and is also involved in other projects."
The company's website makes no attempt to hide the fact that it was founded as successor to the Nazi rail company, stating, "Deutsche Reichsbahn was involved directly in the Holocaust because it handled the deportation of numerous people."