French gov’t to announce Holocaust rail reparations


The French government is expected to announce this summer how much it will pay in reparations to Holocaust survivors now living in America who were deported to Nazi death camps in French trains, according to Stuart Eizenstat, a special adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry on Holocaust Issues.

Eizenstat, a D.C. lawyer, said there have been about four “informal discussions” between the French and American governments. As of the fall of last year, the French government took over negotiations on behalf of the rail company Society Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF).

The French government changed the conversation from a unilateral gesture on its part into bilateral talks between itself and the United States, Eizenstat said.

SNCF transported 76,000 Jews and thousands of others to the death camps, according to Baltimore resident Leo Bretholz, who as a young man was forced onto one of these transports. The trains traveled from the suburbs of Paris to Nazi concentration camps from 1942 and 1944.

“We are not looking into issues of guilt. They admitted they did the wrong thing,” Eizenstat said of the French government. There has not been any talk about actual amounts of money, he said, adding French Holocaust survivors who rode the trains as well as their spouses have been paid a “really quite considerable” amount.

Keolis America, a U.S. affiliate of SNCF, has been invited to submit a bid to operate Maryland’s proposed Purple Line rail project, but has come under scrutiny over the reparations issue.

Under a bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly, a public entity would not be considered a qualified bidder unless it disclosed its involvement in transporting Nazi prisoners and paid them or their families’ reparations.

The Coalition for Holocaust Justice, which spoken out for reparations for years, said in a statement, “We welcome this news with cautious optimism, and we wholeheartedly support any negotiations that would provide fair and reasonable compensation to the victims and their families.”

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