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Lipietz et al v. Prefect of Haute-Garonne and the Sociètè Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français

Court Second Chamber, Administrative Tribunal for Toulouse, France
Case number 0104248
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 6 June 2006
  • Georges Lipietz et al
  • Prefect of Haute-Garonne
  • Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer francais (SNCF) National Railway Company of France
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords deportation
Other countries involved
  • Germany
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The decision is the first of its kind in France to hold accountable the French State and the national railway company, the SNCF, for complicity in the deportation of Jewish individuals during World War II. The case was brought by the Lipietz family who sought damages for the prejudice they suffered as a result of being deported from the city of Pau in southern France to the internment camp at Drancy, near Paris in 1944. They argued that the State and the SNCF were responsible because their deportation was conducted with the assistance of the SNCF and with the approval of the Home Secretary.

The Administrative Tribunal of Toulouse held that both the French state and the SNCF were complicit in the deportation of the claimants, having committed egregious errors and were accordingly fined a total of 62,000 Euros. 

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Procedural history

On 14 November 2001, counsel for Georges Lipietz and his half-brother filed an action before the Administrative Tribunal for Toulouse against the State and the Sociètè nationale des chemins de fer francais (SNCF), the French national railway company for damages. The claimants allege that the State and the SNCF are responsible for the prejudice suffered by them for (a) their detention in Toulouse pursuant to their arrest by the Gestapo, (b) their transfer to Paris by train and (c) their internment at Drancy in 1944.

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Related developments

Since the decision, the SNCF has received 1800 compensation requests.

The SNCF appealed the decision.

On 27 March 2007, the Administrative Court of Appeal for Bordeaux reversed the decision on the grounds that the SNCF had acted pursuant to the orders of the administrative police, for which only the French state can be held responsible. Since the French state had not appealed the decision at first instance, the condemnation by the Administrative Court of Appeal was irreversible.

The Lipietz relatives filed an appeal.

On 21 December 2007, the Council of State, the highest court in the French administrative order, ruled that the complaint was inadmissible because the SNCF was, at the time of the relevant facts, a private corporation. The complaint should therefore be brought before a judicial court.

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Legally relevant facts

Georges Lipietz and his half brother were arrested in Pau, occupied France, by the Gestapo on 8 May 1944 because of their Jewish descent.

That same day, they were tranaferred under the supervision of the German military to Toulouse, who left them under the authority of the Prefect of Haute-Garonne. They were subsequently interned for two days in the administrative prison and transported by train to Paris on the 10 and 11 May 1944. They were further transported to Drancy where they were interned until 17 August 1944 before being liberated (p. 6).

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Core legal questions

  • Is either the French state or the French National Railway Company responsible for the prejudice suffered by the claimants?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Decree of 31 August 1937 affirming the convention of the same date establishing the Société nationale des chemins de fer francais (SNCF).
  • Ordinance of 9 August 1944 relative to the re-establishment of the legality of the Republic on the territory.
  • Decree of 24 August 1961 publishing the agreement concluded between France and Germany in relation to the reparations for French nationals having been subject to persecution by the national-socialists.

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Court's holding and analysis

With regards to the responsibility of the French state, the Tribunal held that the State had committed a fault in the operation of its service susceptible to engage the responsibility of the State. The claimants were interned in Toulouse under the authority of the French state, without any attempt to negotiate with the German authorities for their freedom considering that such negotiations were not totally devoid of success as the claimants possessed false baptism certificates and Georges Lipietz was not circumsized. The claimants were then transported to Paris by means of the French railway company and at the orders of the Home Secretary (minister de l’intèrieur). Consequently, the French administration permitted and facilitated the transfer of the claimants, an operation that was the prelude to deportation to concentration camps (p. 9).

Similarly, the French National Railway Company (SNCF) made no objections or challenges to the execution of the transports of Jewish persons at the request of the Home Secretary. Furthermore, they derived a benefit from the operation of such transport by billing the French state for third class tickets for the passengers when in fact they were transported in cattle wagons without water, food and in poor hygienic conditions. There being no justification for the faulty behaviour, the SNCF is responsible (p. 9).

The Tribunal awarded Georges Lipietz and his relatives damages to the sum of 41 000 Euros payable by the French state, and 21 000 Euros payable by the SNCF (p. 10).

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials

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