Holocaust victim families ask NMBS for reparations

Summary

Descendants of Jewish people transported from Mechelen to Auschwitz during the Second World War are asking rail authority NMBS, which arranged the passage, for compensation

Archives missing

Relatives of victims transported from Belgium to Auschwitz during the Second World War are asking rail authority NMBS for compensation for their role in the process.

In 2014, France paid €50 million to victims who had been transported to death camps by SNCF trains during the Holocaust. The Netherlands followed suit in 2018, acknowledging its state-owned rail company’s role in delivering thousands of Jews to their deaths. 

Now, many are pushing for NMBS to do the same. In 2012, the railway apologised for its role, but many feel an apology is not enough. 

Faced with economic losses and supply problems, NMBS co-operated with the Germans in occupied Belgium. Between 1942 and 1944, NMBS chartered 28 convoys, sending nearly 26,000 Jews from Mechelen to the Auschwitz concentration camps.

Establishing responsibility

Narcisse Rulot, the director of NMBS at the time, was considered anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi. Campaigners say his complacency in allowing the German military to transport Jews via his authority greatly aided in the suffering and deaths of thousands of people.

Now descendants of these victims are pressing the railway to compensate them for its part in the deportations. However, they are having trouble establishing the NMBS’s responsibility. 

According to Ghent history professor Nico Wouters, also director of the Brussels-based Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society, the archives that would prove the railway’s part in the deportations are missing, most likely having been destroyed. 

NMBS says claims for compensation are a matter for federal mobility minister, François Bellot. He is due to meet representatives from the Jewish community in Belgium shortly.

Photo: The Dossin barracks in Mechelen, a holding centre for Jews being transported to Auschwitz, in 1942
©Courtesy Fonds Kummer