Sunday, March 25, 2007

More Holocaust Claims Against SNCF

In June 2006, the administrative tribunal of Toulouse found the SNCF (Société nationals des Chemins de Fer, the French railway system) liable, along with the French government, for complicity in crimes against humanity for transporting relatives of European Parliament member Alain Lipietz to the hub near Paris from which Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps. In particular, it was found that the SNCF failed to prove it acted under duress when it packed deportees into cattle cars in conditions "incompatible with human dignity," yet charged them for third-class tickets. Nor when it billed the government for its costs, even after France was liberated. In the meantime, a class action involving more than 100 Americans has been filed in the United States. These cases follow on Holocaust litigation brought in the 1990s under the Alien Tort Claims Act or Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign victims of human rights violations to sue for damages in federal court. Since the landmark 1980 case of Filártiga v. Pena Irala, victims of, inter alia, torture, forced disappearance, and genocide perpetrated by members of defunct regimes have met with a certain amount of success. The Holocaust litigation, however, created a diplomatic flap and ended in negotiated settlements including billion-dollar payouts from Germany and German businesses, and a multimillion-dollar settlement with French banks. France also provides pensions to current and former French residents orphaned by Nazi atrocities and has undertaken efforts to return spoliated property. However, the French Jewish community is deeply divided over litigation, which some consider exploitation of the Holocaust. Paris attorney Arno Klarsfeld, one of several lawyers representing victims or their survivors in the 1999 trial of Maurice Papon for crimes against humanity, defends the SNCF in the cases in the United States, claiming that the convoys were German, not French. He predicts that the Lipietz case will be overruled on appeal. That decision should be released March 27.

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