The United States and France have reached a historic agreement for substantial compensation in connection with deportations from France during the Holocaust. I signed on
behalf of the U.S. government on Dec. 8. This is another measure of justice for the harm caused during one of history’s darkest eras. There are a number of novel aspects to this agreement.
The centerpiece of the agreement is a $60 million lump sum payment by France to the United States. This will not be limited to U.S. citizens, but will cover Americans, Israelis and others who were deported from France during the Holocaust and who have not been able to gain access to the French pension program created soon after World War II. In exchange, the United States will administer the claims process and undertake an international obligation to recognize and affirmatively protect the immunity of France and its instrumentalities with regard to Holocaust deportation claims in the United States, and to act as necessary to ensure an
enduring legal peace.
On Feb. 6, I led the U.S. negotiating team in Paris for the first official negotiation round. We had seven negotiating sessions. The lead French negotiator, Ambassador Sparacino-Thiellay, has been a remarkable, dedicated and talented partner.
We believe the agreement will result in up to several thousand citizens from the United States and other countries receiving substantial payments. Three categories will be covered under the agreement.
First, those who survived deportation from France and are nationals of a country other than France (with the exception of those from countries covered by bilateral agreements with France) will be eligible to apply.
Second, spouses of those who were deported from France and are nationals of a country other than France will be eligible to apply.
Third, an innovative aspect of this agreement is that estates “standing in the shoes” of survivors or spouses who died after the end of World War II will be eligible to apply for compensation on their behalf. This would extend back as far as 1948, when the French pension program was created.
This will create a measure of fairness for those who would have been eligible but passed away in the ensuing 70 years, so that the heirs of people like Leo Bretholz of Maryland, who died
recently at the age of 93 and did so much to elevate the deportation issue, may be compensated. These estates will need to show that the deported survivor or the surviving spouse was a national of a country other than France.
Another creative feature is that the French government has delegated to the U.S. the responsibility for distributing the lump sum. No medical disability will be required. Depending on how many people apply and are found eligible, we expect that survivors could receive a payment of more than $100,000. Spouses could receive a payment of tens of thousands of dollars. The amount of payments to the estates of survivors and spouses would depend upon the year when the survivor or spouse died.
While not part of the agreement, France started a program in 2000 for orphans of any nationality, under which individuals who were minors at the time of the deportation and lost a parent who was deported and died during the Holocaust are eligible for a pension or lump sum payment. We understand more than 1,000 orphans in both the United States and in Israel are already receiving or have received such payments. We understand that more than $60 million has been paid to
individuals eligible under the orphan program in the United States.
We expect that with broader publicity thanks to this agreement, additional orphans will come forward with potential claims.
During the course of these negotiations, my talented State and Justice department team briefed the offices of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and the staff of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Their leadership helped bring to the world’s attention the plight of people deported from France during World War II who because of their nationality today, have not benefitted from France’s programs. We
believe this agreement provides more relief to more worthy people around the world than uncertain, lengthy and costly litigation.
We also met and conferred on multiple occasions with counsel for claimants in the United States, France and Israel, who provided useful information to assist our negotiation of the lump sum amount.
The French parliament will need to ratify the agreement before any payments can be made.
Following French approval, the United States will publish the information needed for the filing of claims in the Federal Register. There is a hotline number for information (202-776-8358).
SNCF North America, the U.S.division of the French state railroad, independently announced a voluntary $4 million contribution during the next five years for Holocaust museums, memorials, education and other programs of remembrance. Half of those funds are directed to U.S. programs, with the remaining half to be divided between programs in Israel and France.
In a recent meeting, its president Alain Leray reiterated previous statements of “SNCF’s deep sorrow and regret for the consequences of the acts of the SNCF of that era.”
We can never do complete justice for those 75,000 Jews and others who perished after the deportation from France, nor for everyone touched by the deportations. But we have taken an
important step to cover up to several thousand worthy people around the world who would never have recovered otherwise.
Ambassador Eizenstat is special adviser to the secretary of state for Holocaust Issues, and during the Clinton administration – while serving as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Undersecretary at Commerce, undersecretary of state, and deputy secretary of the Treasury – negotiated more than $8 billion in recoveries for Holocaust survivors and families of victims, leading negotiations with the Swiss, Germans, Austrians, French and a number of Central European countries, as special representative of the president and secretary of state on Holocaust issues.