As It Happens

Holocaust survivor wins compensation for Jews transported by Dutch railway company

The Dutch state-run railway Nedelandse Spoorwegen has said it will pay millions of dollars in compensation to Holocaust victims and their families, after accepting culpability in transporting 107,000 Dutch Jews to a Nazi transit camp during WWII.

State-owned railway Nederlandse Spoorwegen transported over 100,000 Jews to Nazi camps during the Holocaust

A Rabbi puts a rose on the railroad tracks at former concentration camp Westerbork, the Netherlands, remembering more than a 100,000 Jews who were transported from Westerbork to Nazi death camps. (Peter Dejong/Associated Press)
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During the Second World War, the Dutch state-run rail company Nedelandse Spoorwegen (NS) was given orders by the Nazis.

It built a new rail line and over time transported more than 100,000 Dutch Jews to Nazi concentration camps. NS apologized years ago for what it's called "a black page in the history of the company."

But now, the railway says it will pay over $74 million in compensation to surviving Holocaust victims and their families.

Salo Muller has been campaigning for the reparations for years. His parents were transported from Amsterdam to the Dutch transit camp Westerbork, before being taken to Auschwitz.

As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner spoke to Muller about his effort to get compensation from NS. Here is part of their conversation.

Mr. Muller, in 2005, the rail company NS apologized for its role in transporting Dutch Jews to concentration camps. You weren't satisfied with that apology. Why not?

All the Jewish people lost their families, lost their children, the wives, the husbands.

So they are not interested, at that moment, in an apology. And years later, they said to the railway, "You have to apologize again, and better, and louder, and clear.

They said, "No. No. We did it and we did so much more. We sent money to Westerbork, the camp. We opened a museum. We have statues at several places. So be satisfied." 

The Jewish people said, "No. We are not satisfied. And then the whole story stopped, til four years ago.

Salo Muller, left, chairman of a commission that proposed reparations Job Cohen, centre, and NS president director Roger van Boxtel, right, attend a press conference to announce compensation for Jews transported to Nazi death camps. (Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images)

What happened four years ago? 

For years I was thinking about the railway because the people who were sent to the camps had to pay their own tickets.

The railway sent bills to the Germans and the Germans stole from the Jewish bank.

From that money, and all that jewlery and gold, they paid the Dutch railway. It was much, much more than you think.

And four years ago, I read an article in the paper about the French railway. They gave a compensation to the French Jews in America. And so I said, "If the French railway company will pay why not the Dutch railway?"

And then, I start writing letters about my story, about the story of my wife, about the story of several Jewish people in Holland. That was the start.

Mr. Muller, what was the extent of NS's responsibility? Did management know the passengers they were transporting would be killed?

Yeah, I'm sure. And Mr. Roger van Boxtel, the president director, said, "Yeah, we knew it."

In that time, there are letters from people who wrote to the Dutch railway [asking] do you know what happened with the Jewish people? And [they] said, "We can't stop it. We can't stop it. The Germans kill the people. We don't do it but we transport it."

And the rail company profited from that?

Absolutely.

During your fight with the company to get compensation, you told them the story of your family. Can you tell us the story of what happened to your family? What do you remember of your parents being seized and then taken from Amsterdam by train?

For me, the war starts when I was six, in '42.

My mother brought me to school and she said, "See you tonight and be a good boy." That's the title of my book in English.

And she left the school and my father and my mother were working at the same company. When they arrived, in front of the door was a German truck and all the Jewish employees were taken. They were sent to the Dutch theatre.

The same night, I was back with my uncle and with my aunt. There was a knock on the door and there were two German soldiers and a policeman.

The German soldiers round up and took all the Jewish people out of the houses and from the streets.

And then they took me with a lot of the Jewish people with the German truck to the [theatre]. And I saw my father and mother standing on the stage.

You saw your parents.

Yeah, I run to my mother. I took her hand and at that moment a soldier and a nurse came to me and took be away.

I was crying and yelling for my father and mother for four days and nights and my father and mother were taken with other Jewish people to Westerbork. And after nine weeks, they were sent to Auschwitz.

Mr. Muller, I am so sorry. I am so sorry for what happened to you and your family.

Yeah. At the age of 12 we received a letter from the Red Cross and they were stating in the letter that my parents died in Auschwitz.

I hoped and I was praying all the time that they were not killed. But they were killed immediately when they arrived in Auschwitz.

An unidentified man walks past the last piece of railway used by Nazis to deport Dutch Jews as he commemorates the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Westerbork camp by Canadian troops in 1945. (Reuters)

What have you heard now from survivors about the amount of compensation? Are people telling you that that compensation is appropriate?

I received hundreds of mail from Jewish people, survivors and children of the survivors. They were very satisfied.

So, the first thing, I wanted an apology, a clear apology, and not especially the money. But now, the money is OK.

I understand you didn't seek financial compensation. But it evolved that way and you think that has made a difference?

Absolutely.

Written by Ashley Mak and John McGill. Interview produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A edited for length and clarity.