san francisco chronicle

French railroad sued over Holocaust
U.S. survivors join Paris lawsuit over transport links to Nazi death camps

PDT Paris — Ernest Hirsch was a scared 9-year-old in a French children’s home the last time he heard from his mother.

The boy had been rescued from the French internment camp Rivesaltes in 1941, but his parents were still trapped there when his mother, Lisa Kirchheimer, wrote that they were about to be moved.

“She said not to worry; that we would see each other again. She said she loved me,” recalled Hirsch, a retired operations research analyst who lives in Orinda.

Shortly after Hirsch got that letter, his parents were forced onto a train headed for death. When they arrived at Auschwitz, “they were marched directly to the gas chambers and killed,” he said.

Hirsch, 75, is one of more than 100 Americans who have joined a groundbreaking legal action here against the French railway Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF), which transported thousands of Jews during World War II to transit hubs on their way to their deaths. It’s the same state-owned train system that now carries commuters to their jobs. Some 76,000 Jews in France were transported to Nazi death camps; only 2,500 of them survived.