“Transportation U.S. begins paying out reparations from France to Holocaust survivors and their heirs Add to listBy Katherine Shaver September 15, 2016The State Department has paid or approved 90 claims for a total $11 million in reparations from France to former World War II prisoners who were carried to Nazi death camps in French trains — the first French reparations paid to Holocaust survivors living in the United States, officials said Thursday.
The payments apply to Holocaust survivors who were deported from France to concentration camps on stifling trains operated by the state-owned French railway, SNCF, or, if the survivors have died, to their spouses or heirs. It is the first French compensation to Holocaust survivors who settled in the United States as well as Israel, Canada and other countries that haven’t had a reparations agreement with France.It’s also the first World War II reparations program to include heirs considered to be “standing in the shoes” of people who died before receiving compensation for the atrocities they or their spouses endured, State Department officials said.
“In many ways, this is belated justice for the worst crimes in history,” said Stuart Eizenstat, the State Department’s special adviser for Holocaust issues. “But it also underscores a long relationship with France.”SNCF was paid to transport 76,000 Jews and other prisoners, usually with no food and only a bucket for a toilet, to Nazi camps. All but about 2,000 were killed.[Video: On a French train to Auschwitz, a daring leap for survival]While the French government has paid more than $6 billion in Holocaust reparations since 1948, including to deportees, those payments previously covered only French citizens and those of four countries that had bilateral agreements with France.More than 700 claims have been filed under a 2014 agreement between the United States and France in which the French government pledged a total $60 million for the deportations carried out by SNCF, officials said.
In exchange, the U.S. government agreed to ask courts to dismiss any U.S. lawsuits against SNCF or the French government.U.S. Jewish groups and aging Holocaust survivors have pushed for French reparations since at least 2000, both through class-action lawsuits and state and federal legislation. However, their cause gained political traction in 2010, when survivors began protesting SNCF and a company in which it holds a majority stake, Paris-based Keolis, as they pursued state and federal rail projects.
Survivors said SNCF and Keolis shouldn’t be awarded U.S. contracts supported by their tax dollars until they had been compensated.So far, Eizenstat said, 29 Holocaust deportees have received $204,000 each, while 11 spouses of those who died in Nazi concentration camps or before 1948 are receiving $51,000 each. Spouses of Holocaust victims who died in or after 1948 — the start of France’s own Holocaust reparations fund for French citizens — will receive $750 for each year that the survivor lived after 1948.