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U.S.-France Agreement Brings $60 Million Compensation Fund to Ho

2014-12-05

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Holocaust survivors, their families, and advocates today welcomed the announcement of a binding agreement between the U.S. and French governments under which the French government will provide a $60 million compensation fund to numerous survivors and their heirs, in recognition of the horrific Holocaust-era actions perpetrated by the French national rail company, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF).   The agreement, coming almost 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, finally brings a measure of justice to at least some of those victims and represents the culmination of roughly 14 years of work by Holocaust survivors, their families, state and federal legislators, and those who have advocated on behalf of the survivors. 

During World War II, SNCF provided the trains, cars, and manpower necessary to deport approximately 76,000 Jews and thousands of other “undesirables” from France toward Nazi death camps.  SNCF was paid per head, per kilometer to transport Jews as well as U.S. and Canadian airmen shot down over France.  Since the war, SNCF has refused to take responsibility for its actions or to provide the surviving victims and the families of those who perished with any justice or reparations. 

“While no settlement can ever adequately address the horrors of the Holocaust, this agreement represents an important admission by SNCF and the French Government that they were complicit in the atrocities of the Holocaust.  It is also a testament to the unwavering fight for justice waged by survivors and the families of those who were transported on SNCF trains in barbaric conditions to Auschwitz and other death camps,” said Raphael Prober, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, which represents the survivors and their families on a pro bono basis.  However, “work still remains, and we are saddened that this agreement does not include many who were transported on the trains, or every family member of those who died on the trains or in the camps, and we hope that they too will find justice,” noted attorney Harriet Tamen, who—with attorney Stephen Rodd and his law firm Abbey Spanier, LLP—began the fight for justice in 2000 and have been representing SNCF’s victims in litigation and legislative initiatives since then.

For more than a decade, a coalition of supporters has worked tirelessly to compel SNCF to take moral responsibility for the role it played in transporting countless Jews—men, women, children and infants alike—toward their deaths.  Key to these efforts has been the unwavering support of many champions in Congress who have fought tirelessly for justice, including Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), and former Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), all of whom co-sponsored legislation that would give SNCF’s victims their day in court. 

The Congressional efforts paralleled the actions of numerous state legislators, including Delegate Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg  (D-MD), Delegate Pete Hammen (D-MD), Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-MD), Senator Joan Carter-Conway (D-MD), Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs (D-NY), Assemblyman Chuck Lavine (D-NY), and Assemblyman David Weprin (D-NY).  "Along with supporters at the federal level, these state legislators all lent their considerable time and effort to supporting SNCF’s victims and blocking the company and its American affiliates from seeking lucrative contracts in the U.S. before accepting responsibility for its Holocaust-era atrocities and, on behalf of the survivors, we are truly appreciative of their time and conviction," said Aaron J. Greenfield, Principal at Greenfield & Kress, PA, who represents the victims pro bono at the state level.

While there have been many along the lengthy path to this ultimate agreement who have told the story of SNCF’s atrocities and advocated for justice, Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz deserves specific mention.   Mr. Bretholtz’s harrowing story sparked an outpouring of support for SNCF’s victims and a Change.org petition that has attracted more than 165,000 signatures.   “Leo’s daring escape from an SNCF train bound for Auschwitz, and his subsequent dedication over so many decades to tell this story and to tirelessly pursue justice, is such a big part of why this agreement happened, we owe so much to Leo,” said Rosette Goldstein.  Mrs. Goldstein, herself a Holocaust survivor whose father was deported toward his death on an SNCF train noted that “Leo is no longer with us, but his spirit, determination and his belief that there should be accountability for the horrors of the Holocaust continue to inspire us all.”

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