Victim, Perpetrator, Hero: The French National Railways’ Idealized War Identities

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Book Chapter

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Peace and Conflict Studies


This chapter uses as a case study of the French National Railways (SNCF) and its multiple identities in German occupied France during World War II. During the war and the eight decades that followed, the SNCF has been storied multiple ways. The company perceived itself as a victim during the occupation, but for the first fifty years after the war was storied as a national hero because of the role some railway workers played in the resistance. Then, in the 1990s, the company found itself storied as a perpetrator for its role in transporting over 75,000 deportees crammed in merchandise cars towards concentration camps. Which identity is true? All of these positions can be argued without contorting history. Rather than trying to find the true story, this study considers these identity transformations as reflective of societal power shifts. Until we make the narrative framework behind the role ascription visible, we remain bound to cycles of intolerance and violence. The efforts of peacebuilding then involve increasing our comfort with overlapping roles.


Federman, S. 'Victim, Perpetrator, Hero: The French National Railways’ Idealized War Identities', pp 52-77, from Federman, S., & Niezen, R. (Eds.). (2022). Narratives of Mass Atrocity: Victims and Perpetrators in the Aftermath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781009110693