Sponsors of Holocaust Rail Justice Act encouraged by State Department SNCF discussions
WASHINGTON – Encouraged by news of State Department negotiations with French Rail Company Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) this week wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry to stress the urgency of delivering fair and reasonable reparations to Holocaust survivors and their families.
“We are hopeful that these negotiations could represent a breakthrough in the decades-long struggle that SNCF’s victims have faced in their pursuit of justice,” wrote Maloney and Ros-Lehtinen. “SNCF has skirted accountability for its horrific Holocaust-era actions for far too long, with its victims still awaiting justice now in the winter of their lives. These survivors who continue to fight—their numbers ever-dwindling—and the loved ones of those who could not live to see SNCF finally do the right thing deserve fair and reasonable reparations.”
The letter follows news of the death of Leo Bretholz who has for many years spearheaded the effort to secure reparations from SNCF. The 93-year-old Holocaust survivor escaped through the window of a SNCF train. Bretholz died two days before he was set to testify at a hearing in the Maryland State House of Delegates on legislation that would bar SNCF affiliate Keolis America from securing government contracts in the State until the reparations issue is resolved.
Maloney and Ros-Lehtinen are closely monitoring the State Department negotiations but say they’ll continue working to pass the Holocaust Rail Justice Act (H.R. 1505), which provides plaintiffs the right to seek damages against SNCF in U.S. Federal Court for its transportation of French and other Jews, as well as thousands of others, toward such death camps as Auschwitz and Buchenwald. SNCF claims immunity from legal action due to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, yet the FSIA was passed 30 years after the action causing the damages for which the plaintiffs seek. The bill allows the plaintiffs to sue regardless of the strictures of the FSIA.
The letter to Secretary Kerry follows:
March 11, 2014
The Honorable John F. Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry,
We write in response to recent reports that the State Department has begun high level negotiations with the French Government regarding the long-overdue payment of reparations to those deported during the Holocaust toward Nazi death camps by the French national railroad, Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF). We are hopeful that these negotiations could represent a breakthrough in the decades-long struggle that SNCF’s victims have faced in their pursuit of justice. However, it is critical that these discussions facilitate adequate compensation for our constituents and their families around the world. SNCF has skirted accountability for its horrific Holocaust-era actions for far too long, with its victims still awaiting justice now in the winter of their lives. These survivors who continue to fight—their numbers ever-dwindling—and the loved ones of those who could not live to see SNCF finally do the right thing deserve fair and reasonable reparations.
As a cosponsor of the Holocaust Rail Justice Act while in the Senate, we know you share our fundamental goal of realizing justice for these survivors and their loved ones, and we trust that your efforts will seek to ensure that SNCF is not rewarded for continuing to run out the clock on the company’s elderly victims. In the coming months, we will continue to closely follow these negotiations in the hope that a settlement acceptable to the victims and their families can be reached. In the event such a resolution is not attained, we will remain dedicated to pursuing legislative solutions that seek redress for the victims and ensure that SNCF and its affiliates will not profit on U.S. shores, consistent with past and present initiatives in Congress and in states such as Maryland.
Thank you for your efforts and your continued dedication to these elderly survivors and their families.
Carolyn B. Maloney Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Cc: Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat