French, US claimants join forces over SNCF suit

6th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 6, 2006 (AFP) - French and US Holocaust survivors and victims' families who are suing the French state rail company SNCF for complicity over deportations to Nazi camps during World War II, have been meeting in Paris to press their campaign.

PARIS, Dec 6, 2006 (AFP) - French and US Holocaust survivors and victims' families who are suing the French state rail company SNCF for complicity over deportations to Nazi camps during World War II, have been meeting in Paris to press their campaign.

Around 100 people -- out of more than 1,000 seeking damages from the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF) -- met Monday to review progress in separate lawsuits on both sides of the Atlantic, a lawyer said Tuesday.

In France, an initial 200 families whose relatives were deported by France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime during World War II using the SNCF rail network said in August they were launching a multi-million-euro lawsuit against the firm.

Their claims came in the wake of a landmark ruling in June, in which the French state and the rail company were fined 62,000 euros (80,000 dollars) for their role in the wartime deportation of two Jewish men, the father and uncle of a Greens lawmaker, Alain Lipietz. Both deported men survived the war.

Hundreds more people have since come forward and by October the SNCF said it had received 1,200 claims. Unless each is answered individually within two months, legal proceedings begin automatically.

"We receive around five to 10 new claims every day," said the French lawyer Corinne Hershkovitch, who says she is handling around 500 overall.

The SNCF is appealing the Lipietz verdict -- and the collective claim hinges on the outcome of the appeal trial, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers.

Meanwhile in the United States, Holocaust survivors and victims' families filed suit in March seeking compensation from France for property taken from 75,000 Jews who were deported to Nazi death camps in World War II.

As well as the French government, the lawsuit names the state-run SNCF and the pension manager for French civil servants, CDC.

The SNCF was cited for running the trains that took the Jews to the holding camps, and then on to the death camps.

The suit was filed by 26 individuals, including Mathilde Freund, now a US citizen living in New York, who was deported with her mother and father. Some 400 people have since joined the claim.

"Half are American, but there are also French people, Britons, Venezuelans, Australians," said US lawyer Harriet Tamen, whose colleague Stephen Roidd said the lawsuit concerned "potentially thousands of people."

Both lawsuits have sparked divisions in the French Jewish community, with the Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld saying the SNCF could not be held accountable for following the orders of French prefects, state-appointed regional governors.

Roger Cukierman, the head of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewish groups, has also criticised the lawsuits, stressing the efforts made by the SNCF to be transparent over its wartime past.

The loudest criticism has come from Serge Klarsfeld's son, the lawyer Arno Klarsfeld, who is representing the SNCF in the New York case.

"If the railway workers are guilty, then so are the bakers who sold Germans bread in Paris and elsewhere in France," Klarsfeld was quoted as saying earlier this year. "That means that everyone is guilty, and if everyone is guilty, then no one is guilty. Limits have to be set on this."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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