Partnering with non-profits

Alongside our work with major organizations, SNCF supports a range of activities run by smaller non-profits such as exhibitions, seminars and visits to camp memorial sites. We also back educational programs that incorporate acting workshops and plays to share stories of deportations with students.

Le Train de la Mémoire

In 1995, a group of French teachers and historians began arranging trips to the Auschwitz concentration camp complex in Poland for secondary-school students aged 16-17. The idea behind the initiative was to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to instill a sense of civic duty in the young people who took part. In 2013, they formalized the program by founding a non-profit, Le Train de la Mémoire.

The trips, which take place every two years with SNCF’s support, are open to 400 high-school students and 100 adults from around a dozen institutions, who spend several months reading background materials, visiting sites of interest, attending lectures and hearing witness accounts in readiness for the trip. The organizers chose to make the journey by train not because they wanted to mimic the experience of deportees, but because they saw the travel time as an opportunity to get participants thinking about their upcoming experience and reflecting on what the Holocaust means to them—through round-table discussions, debates and other activities. A similarly packed program of talks and visits awaits the young people during their time in Poland. Back in France, participants write up a report, which is published on the organization’s website.

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Convoy 77: the last convoy to Auschwitz

On July 31, 1944, the last large convoy left Drancy transit camp bound for Auschwitz, carrying 986 adults and 324 children.

Of the 1,310 people on board, 836 were taken straight to the gas chambers on arrival. By the time the war ended in May 1945, there were just 250 survivors—157 women and 93 men.

Friends and relatives came together to honor the memory of the deportees, to reconstruct their personal stories, and to support wider Holocaust-related education and research. They founded Convoi 77, a non-profit bearing the name of the convoy, with the aim of collating original documents and records and making them available to family members, researchers and the general public.

The organization has reconstructed the biographies of hundreds of deportees from personal documents, photographs and first-hand accounts. But little is known about the lives of hundreds of others—in part because the convoy carried men, women and children from 37 countries, and in part because entire families were wiped out, leaving no descendants to keep their memory alive. The good news is that Convoi 77 holds basic information about every deportee—their full names (including the maiden names of married women), and their dates and places of birth.

Scouring Europe for clues

The organization has launched the European project “Convoi 77” in an effort to piece together these lost stories, recruiting secondary school and sixth-form students in each country of origin to scour their local community for clues about those who were born or lived nearby—people who may have been contemporaries of their own grandparents or great-grandparents.

Under the watchful eye of their teachers, these budding investigators start by digging into local archives and municipal records before heading to the places where the deportee grew up, studied and worked to gather first-hand accounts and build a more complete picture of the person’s life. The students then work with their classmates to write up their findings in the form of a biography, which is published on the organization’s website.

Since the initial pilot programs in early 2016—spanning France, Germany and Belgium—thousands of young people from across Europe have taken part, gaining a better understanding of the Holocaust and the Second World War in the process.

The French arm of the project, which is set to run for between three and five years, was launched at a ceremony held at the Ministry of Education—one of the official partners—on January 27, 2017. Other partners include SNCF, the Ministry of Defence, Paris City Council, the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, Sciences Po and the European Union.

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The Beit Project: a pop-up urban school

The Beit Project, founded in 2011 by French architect David Stoleru, is about connecting young people from different walks of life through local history.

The project uses the city and its past as an anchor point for wider debate on contemporary issues and discussions on a shared vision of the future, inviting young people to appreciate the value of difference and diversity as they learn about sites of historical significance—places linked to distant and more recent events that have shaped their community. One flagship initiative, which has been run in 14 cities throughout Europe since 2010, involves students from different backgrounds and educational settings—public and private, suburban and inner-city, faith and non-denominational—coming together to build their own pop-up school with a focus on civic education. During the small-group sessions, which are spread over two days, participants work in pairs to explore the traces of the past that are still etched into the cityscape. They then head out to talk to local residents about how these artefacts relate to modern-day life. Over the course of the exercise, the students come to view difference as a strength, not a threat, and learn to use diversity as a source of inspiration. 

SNCF has supported The Beit Project since 2017, hosting pop-up schools at various stations throughout France, including at Paris-Est in 2018.

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Remembering the past through theater

In France, children learn about the Second World War, the Deportation, the Holocaust and collective memory at three points in their school lives: at the end of primary school, in middle school and in final years of high school. Content targeting young people can take many forms, including performances. SNCF supports education programs that incorporate acting workshops and plays to share stories of deportations with pupils and students: working closely with teachers, theater groups use performances and discussions as a new way of delivering relevant curriculum content.

Qui rapportera ces paroles ? (Who Will Carry the Word?)

To commemorate Charlotte Delbo’s 100th birthday, theater group OeilduDo put on a special performance of her play Qui rapportera ces paroles ? (Who Will Carry the Word?) for middle school and high school students in Angers, western France, on March 8, 2013.

A member of the Politzer Resistance group during the Second World War, the author played an active role in publishing Lettres Françaises, an underground journal. Both Delbo and her husband were arrested on March 2, 1942. He was executed by firing squad at Fort Mont-Valérien, while she was deported to Auschwitz on January 24, 1943 along with 229 other women, most of whom were fellow members of the Resistance. Delbo was moved to Ravensbrück in January 1944, from where she was freed by the Red Cross in April 1945. Only 49 of her fellow deportees survived the war.

The play, written in 1966, opens with 23 female characters representing the 230 women living in the hell of the camp. When the curtain falls, only two remain to “carry the word”.

The OeilduDo performance, directed by Virginie Brochard, shared stories from concentration camp survivors with school students—narratives that describe not only the horrors experienced in the camps, but also the courage and solidarity of the deportees. The troupe also enacted a stage reading of Ondine, à deux voix humaines (Ondine: In Two Human Voices), a farewell letter by Delbo to her husband.

SNCF provided support for both the performance and the educational program accompanying it.

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Haïm, à la lumière d’un violon (Haïm: Under the Light of a Violin)

Theater company C(h)aracteres produced Haïm, à la lumière d’un violon (Haïm: Under the Light of a Violin), a play about a Polish Jew born to a working-class family in Lodz in 1922. Haïm Lipsky was spared death at Auschwitz due to his prowess as a violinist. He moved to Israel after the war, where he renounced all music—although his children and grandchildren reconnected with it.

Written and directed by Gérald Garutti, who heads the C(h)aracteres group, the play is performed by a narrator and musicians including one of Lipsky’s grandsons on violin.

Garutti and his team have used the play to develop educational programs for schools in Aubervilliers, a north-eastern suburb of Paris where the theater company is based. To date, the director and actors/musicians have visited around a dozen secondary schools and sixth-form colleges, as well as working with teachers in four classes at local schools and inviting pupils and students to attend a performance.

SNCF provided support for performances in December 2012 and January 2013 in the Salle Gaveau concert hall in Paris, as well as for related educational programs.

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Une petite fille privilégiée (A Privileged Little Girl)

In July 1942, eight-year-old Francine Christophe and her mother were arrested for being Jewish. After stints in several French internment camps, they were deported on May 2, 1944 along with other wives and children of Jewish prisoners of war held in Oflags—POW camps for officers—in Germany. Their status meant they were spared the horrors of Auschwitz. Instead they were held at Bergen-Belsen for use a bargaining chips by the Nazis.

Following her release, Christophe wrote an account of her time in the camp, referring to herself ironically as a “privileged little girl”. In 1996, some 50 years later, she published her memoirs under the title Une petite fille privilégiée : une enfant dans le monde des camps 1942–1945 (English translation: From a World Apart: A Little Girl in the Concentration Camps).

Theater company T.R.A.C. adapted Christophe’s text for the stage. The play, entitled Une petite fille privilégiée (A Privileged Little Girl) and directed by Philippe Pottier, was performed in 2014 at Perpignan’s Palace of the Kings of Majorca in south-western France at events to mark the deportation, reaching over 900 secondary school and sixth-form students. The Lucernaire Theater in Paris hosted 40 performances of the play in April and May 2014.

T.R.A.C. also developed a program built around the play for school and college students in southern France and the Paris region, as well as a series of special events for schoolchildren.

SNCF partnered with T.R.A.C. to provide support for both the performances and the student workshops.

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