During the Holocaust, French state rail company SNCF transported approximately 76,000 French Jews to Nazi concentration camps around Europe. Families of the victims and survivors have called on the company to pay reparations, however the company executives insisted that the company had no control over rail operations during the Nazi occupation of France.
After years of seeking reparations from the railway, the United States negotiated a deal with the French government in 2014 to create a $60 million fund to compensate the victims and families of those deported to Nazi death camps on French trains.
France’s decision to sign the agreement was prompted in part by the efforts of survivors to sue SNCF and to block efforts by a company in which it holds a majority stake from being awarded contracts for state and federal rail projects. In exchange for the French paying reparations, the United States agreed to ask courts to dismiss lawsuits against SNCF.
The French government has paid out more than $6 billion in compensation to French citizens over the years, but the money in this fund is reserved for U.S. citizens and Israelis. The U.S. State Department estimated that several hundred Holocaust survivors in the United States are eligible for this compensation, as well as thousands of families, spouses, and heirs.
The money is available to survivors of the deportations, as well as spouses or family members of deportees who died during or after the war. Initially, 29 Holocaust deportees received $204,000 each, while 11 spouses of those who died in camps or before 1948 received $51,000 each. Spouses of Holocaust victims who died in or after 1948 were eligible to receive $750 for each year that the survivor lived after 1948.
Individuals had until May 31, 2016 to apply for these reparations. In September, the State Department announced that they had paid or approved payment for 90 reparation claims, to the tune of $11 million. These payments were the first French compensation payments ever made to Holocaust survivors who settled in the United States, Israel, Canada, and other countries who do not have formal reparation agreements with France.
A second round of applications was opened on September 14, 2016, with a cut-off date of January 20, 2017. Ultimately, the State Department approved 386 of the 687 applications that were filed and, in 2019, revealed that 49 survivors were given $402,000 each and 32 spouses of deportees who died after the war $100,500 each. Among the recipients were Israelis and non-Jewish Canadian and American airmen who were deported after being caught behind enemy lines. Early recipients received additional money because the State Department had pledge to use up the entire $60 million the French government paid to the United States in November 2016.
Not everyone was satisfied with the agreement because many survivors and their families did not qualify for compensation under the terms of the agreement.
Sources: Charlton, Angela. “French state rail company to compensate Holocaust deportees,” Times of Israel (November 3, 2015);
Katherine Shaver, “U.S. begins paying out reparations from France to Holocaust survivors and their heirs,” Washington Post, (September 15, 2016);
Katherine Shaver, “Holocaust survivors receive reparations for deportations on French trains,” Washington Post, (February 6, 2019).