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France Compensates Americans Deported on French Trains

During World War II, the state-owned French railway, SNCF, was paid to transport 76,000 Jews and other prisoners, usually in stifling boxcars with no food and only a bucket for a toilet, to Nazi concentration camps. All but about 2,000 were killed.

SNCF officials have apologized to Holocaust victims, but claimed the railway was forced to transport prisoners after Nazi Germany occupied France and took control of the railroads in 1940. The company also rebuffed survivors who called on the French government to compensate them and the heirs of victims, although it has paid more than $6 billion in Holocaust reparations since 1948 to French citizens and those of four countries that had bilateral agreements with France.

The French government finally relented after U.S. Holocaust survivors and their families began protesting SNCF’s pursuit of high-speed rail projects in California and Florida. Survivors also sued the government and the company. Under a 2014 agreement between the United States and France, the French government pledged a total $60 million to compensate American citizens who were deported by SNCF in exchange for the U.S. government agreeing to seek the dismissal of the lawsuits.

More than 700 claims were submitted and, as of September 2016, the State Department had paid or approved 90 claims for a total of $11 million. At that time, 29 Holocaust deportees had received $204,000 each and 11 spouses of those who died in Nazi concentration camps, or before 1948, were awarded $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. The entire $60 million will be paid out, according to the State Department. If there are not enough claimants, those who already received payments would receive more.

According to Stuart Eizenstat, the State Department’s special adviser for Holocaust issues, among the recipients were non-Jewish Canadian and American airmen who were deported after being caught behind enemy lines.

Source: Katherine Shaver, “U.S. begins paying out reparations from France to Holocaust survivors and their heirs,” Washington Post, (September 15, 2016).