France Agrees To Pay Reparations To Holocaust Survivors And Heirs

In an agreement between France and the U.S. government to be signed on Monday, France has agreed to pay reparations to American Holocaust survivors who were deported to Nazi death camps in French trains.

The agreement, which took more than a year of negotiations between the French government and the Obama administration, includes a lump sum payment of $60 million. That money will be distributed to eligible Holocaust survivors, their spouses, and, when applicable, to their heirs. Although Stuart Eizenstat, the State Department’s special adviser for Holocaust issues, says it is uncertain as to how many survivors would apply, estimates show that survivors “could receive payment well over $100,000” with spouses of those who died in the camps or since World War II receiving tens of thousands of dollars as well.

Reparations will be paid to those who were transported to the Nazi death camps by France’s state rail company SNCF. The United States has made previous attempts to bar SNCF from rail contracts due to their actions during World War II, when the rail company moved a total of 76,000 Jewish people to the camps during the Holocaust.

Only an estimated 3,000 of those people survived.

The French rail company is currently bidding on United States rail contracts, including rail contracts in the state of Maryland, where lawmakers have pushed hard for reparations to be paid to the remaining survivors and their families. As part of the agreement between France and the United States, the U.S. government will attempt to stop the lawsuits and other claims against the French rail company that have been made not only in Maryland, but in New York, Florida, and California as well.

According to the Star, the compensation deal is open to people from all countries with the exception of Britain, Poland, Belgium, and the Czech Republic. Those countries already have bilateral agreements with France, said Patrizianna Sparacino, who negotiated the accord for Paris. Most of those survivors already identified as being eligible are currently living in the United States, Canada, and Israel.

SNCF, as well as some historians, have argued that SNCF was forced by the occupying German army to assist in the deportations of the 76,000 Jewish people. In 2010, the SNCF chief executive expressed “profound sorrow and regret” for the consequences of the company’s actions. Although SNCF did acknowledge guilt for their part, it also claims it was a “cog in the Nazi extermination machine,” and forced to obey the orders of the government and the German occupiers.

Senator Charles Schumer, who authored the legislation that helped bring France to the negotiating table with the U.S. State Department, said, “The survivors and family members of those who perished in the Holocaust have long attempted to hold SNCF accountable for its active role in that evil, and this deal will finally bring them a measure of relief and closure.”

For more on Holocaust survivors, read Inge Auerbacher’s account of what it was like to survive a Nazi death camp as a child here.

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