Dutch Rail Company Announces Reparations

dutch rail

What do you do when your brand is directly associated with unimaginable horror? Some wounds don’t heal, and some stigmas are not easy to wash away, but, sometimes, it’s still the moral thing to do to make an effort to take responsibility. This scenario was illustrated recently when the Dutch national railway company announced it would be setting up a commission to “investigate how to pay individual reparations” related to the railway’s role in deporting Jews during World War II. The company released a public statement calling its role in the mass deportation, ordered by the Nazi occupation force, “a black page in the history of our country and our company…”

Speaking for the company, Erik Kroeze said it was “important to put care ahead of speed” in its announced effort to “make payments to Dutch Holocaust survivors and direct family members who died. Kroeze said one of the challenges was determining exactly the number of people who may be eligible. More than 100,000 Dutch Jews did not survive the war, many deported by Dutch rail to concentration camps. The rail system has previously apologized for its role in the deportations. That apology, made in 2005, focused attention on an era of history that brought public shame on the Netherlands, igniting a movement calling for more than an apology.

For many years, the reparations message in the Netherlands was led by Salo Muller, who once worked as a physiotherapist with the Amsterdam soccer club Ajax. Muller’s parents died at Auschwitz. They had been transported from the Netherlands. After pushing long and hard for reparations, Muller took his message to the masses via Dutch current affairs program Nieuwsuur. Muller’s message on that program was direct. To him, “(reparations) mean that the NS sees the suffering is not over… that very many Jews are still suffering… That is why I am so happy that they now see, on moral grounds… that reparations will be paid…”

There is precedent for this action as a way for European railway systems to distance themselves from the horrors of the past. The French rail company SNCF “acknowledged that SNCF’s equipment and staff were used to transport (thousands) of Jews to Germany…” While SNCF argued repeatedly that the company has “no effective control” over these operations during the four years of Nazi occupation, the French government has paid more than $6 billion to French citizens and deportees as a form of reparations.

The efforts, say those in favor of reparations, are not about erasing history, but more about taking responsibility and investing in the future. That’s the message both the French rail system and Dutch rail system appear to be advancing. To those, like Muller, who see this step as a moral responsibility, the message has been a long time coming.

-5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian and David Beckham

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian and David Beckham

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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