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Société Nationale des Chemis de Fer Francais v. Georges Lipietz and A

Court Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux, France
Case number 06BX01570
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 27 March 2007
  • National Railway Company of France
  • Georges Lipietz
  • A (Guideon Lipietz)
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords deportation
Other countries involved
  • Germany
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Georges Lipietz and his half-brother were arrested in southern France in 1944 on account of their Jewish descent. They were deported to an internment camp at Drancy via Toulouse and Paris.

Although the internment camp was liberated in August 1944 and the Lipietz brothers were freed, they sued the French state and the French National Railway Company (SNCF) for complicity in their deportation, as they had been transported by French rail and detained at the authority of the Home Secretary. Having initially won their case before the Administrative Court of Toulouse and having been awarded 61 000 Euros in damages, the decision was reversed on appeal by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux. In the present decision, the Court held that the SNCF were acting under the command of the German authorities and could not therefore be held responsible.

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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.

By a decision of 6 June 2006, the Administrative Tribunal of Toulouse held the State and the SNCF responsible for complicity in the deportation of the claimants. Theyw ere fined 61 000 Euros.

On 24 July 2006, the SNCF appealed to the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux.

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Related developments

The Lipietz relatives filed an appeal before the Council of State, the highest court in the French administrative order.

On 21 December 2007, the Council of State (Conseil d'Etat), 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

  • Can the SNCF escape responsibility by virtue of the fact that they were acting on the orders of the Vichy government?

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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).

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Court's holding and analysis

Between 1940 and 1944, the SNCF was under the authority of the German forces who had occupied France. It was at the behest of and under the authority of the German forces that the deportation of Jewish persons was organised and their transportation from the train stations nearest to their detention centres to the train stations that would eventually connect them to the concentration camps was assured.

Even thought officers of the SNCF participated in meetings which had the purpose of coordinating the transport of Jewish persons, the conditions within which such transport was realised, notably the composition of th trains, the types of carriages used, their interior furnishing and the treatment accorded to the Jewish persons were determined by the German authorities. Furthermore, representatives of the German state exercised command and control over the convoys by means of armed officials.

It results from the above that the SNCF cannot be considered to have been in charge of the service it provided nor exercised its public authority with the effect that the SNCF cannot be held responsible, only the French State can (p. 6).

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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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