France has struck a deal with the US, agreeing to create a $60 million Holocaust victims fund to compensate WWII deportees taken by French state railway company SNCF to death camps.
Under the agreement, which has been in the works since early this year, survivors and family members are entitled to compensation, with officials saying there could be thousands of eligible recipients. Between 1942 and 1944, SNCF transported some 76,000 Jews to Nazi death camps such as Auschwitz. Fewer than 3 percent of those deported survived.
Stuart Eizenstat, the US State Department’s Holocaust issues adviser, who negotiated the deal, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying that some survivors “could receive payment well over $100,000,” while spouses of those who perished would be eligible for “tens of thousands of dollars.”
Under the agreement, the US will be in charge of distributing the funds, which are to be provided by the French government.
In 2011, SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy agreed that although the company had no control over operations during the Vichy regime under German occupation, the company served as “a cog in the Nazi machine of extermination.”
However, Lawyers for French families say the railway acted out of greed. Evidence they cite show that SNCF charged French authorities the price of a third-class rail ticket for each person it transported.
The previous year Pepy expressed “profound sorrow and regret” for the consequences of Nazi collaboration. The preceding French Holocaust reparations program has already paid out over $6 billion, primarily to French citizens.
Though not directly involved in the bilateral agreement, state-owned SNCF has agreed to donate $4 million to Holocaust museums, memorials and education programs over the next five years, according to the Washington Post.
Earlier this year state legislatures in New York and Maryland attempted to pass laws stopping SNCF from bidding on rail contracts unless the company compensated deportees. The new deal is expected to halt that legislation.
The US brokered similar deals with Germany and other European countries during the Clinton administration.
As a result of US efforts, Germany agreed to allocate around 10 billion marks in reparations to Nazi-era forced laborers in 1999. 65 major German firms, including Siemens and Volkswagen, launched the fund. In return, the US promised to protect the companies from future litigation involving their Nazi past.