George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Aller Simple (One-Way Ticket): Corporate Accountability for Mass Atrocity-The French National Railroad

Sarah Federman | Conflict Analysis and Resolution, PhD

Dissertation Director: Leslie Dwyer

Committee Members: , ,

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July 27, 2015  |  Arlington: Vernon Smith Hall, 5183


Transitional justice employs a variety of mechanisms, including compensation, apologies, trials, commemoration, and truth seeking, to guide societies through violations and to more inclusively protect the rights of all people. This dissertation argues that including market actors and embracing open-ended processes enhances this post-conflict work.

This research examines this intersection of corporate accountability and transitional justice through the battle between the SNCF (French National Railroad) and a group arguing the company made insufficient amends for transporting over 75,000 deportees, in horrific conditions, from France towards Auschwitz during WWII. The group voices its discontent through lawsuits and proposed legislation. The company responded with apologies and commemorative efforts—not direct compensation. As of 2015, the conflict continues in various locations.

Archival work, site visits and over 120 interviews with senior officials, religious leaders, railway executives, historians, lawyers, ambassadors, survivors, and others make visible the contours of this multi-decade debate. The dissertation considers the SNCF’s role in the transport of deportees and the post-war engagement with transitional justice practices.

The case study reveals the importance of including corporate actors in post-conflict work and addressing the conundrums raised by their participation. Complicit corporations, like the SNCF, benefit from legal lacunae but can also be caught in blame cycles and double binds that make their productive participation challenging. Politics and semiotics can amplify these challenges especially in this case which involves a company whose business – rail transport – resides at the symbolic heart of the atrocity.

The interviews provide access to the wide-range of responses both in the United States and France; reasons victims offered for holding on or letting go to the company’s responsibility suggested that open-ended approaches create the best environment in which to address power dynamics, changing victim needs, and locality differences. Approaches seeking closure only found themselves upended and often further harmed victims. The dissertation concludes by considering non-legal discursive spaces that may be useful for including corporate actors in ways that speak to victim needs.


Dissertation on MARS: Aller Simple (One-Way Ticket): Corporate Accountability for Mass Atrocity-The French National Railroad

Number of pages: 677