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French court rules out reparations for Jewish deportees

Published on 17/02/2009

Paris -- France's top administrative court on Monday dashed the hopes of French Jews seeking damages for deportation during World War II when it ruled that the state had done enough to address their claims.

The State Council rendered a decision in the case of 75-year-old Madeleine Hoffman-Glemane, who was seeking 200,000 euros (256,000 dollars) in damages to compensate her father and 80,000 in reparations for her own suffering.

Arrested in Paris in May 1941, Hoffman-Glemane’s father was deported to the Nazi concentration camp in Poland’s Auschwitz through the Drancy transit camp, run by the collaborationist Vichy regime in France.

The court said France was "responsible for damages caused by actions which did not result from the occupiers’ direct orders, but facilitated deportation from France of people who were victims of anti-Semitic persecution."

But it added the state had, since the Second World War, taken a "gradual approach" that had already "allowed as much compensation as possible."

Some 75,000 Jews were deported during the Nazi occupation of France between 1939 and 1944, most of whom died in extermination camps in Germany. Only 2,500 returned to France after the war.

It was the first time that a French court recognized that the state had some share of responsibility for the deportations of Jews, after former president Jacques Chirac did so as a political gesture in 1995.

Representing Hoffman-Glemane, lawyer Anne-Laure Archambault said she was disappointed by the ruling and would seek a ruling from the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

The State Council was asked by a lower court to rule in the case of the French Jewish deportee in April last year and to specifically address whether the statute of limitations on lawsuits against the state had run out.

During a hearing on Friday, government lawyer Frederic Lenica argued that the deportees’ claims had all been addressed and that "it was time to end individual actions" to seek compensation.

Some 400 deportees or their descendants have launched lawsuits seeking damages from the state.

"France has taken 42 separate legal measures over the past 60 years to address all of the prejudices," said Lenica. "It seems to us that this compensation is as complete as possible."

"It’s false to say that the system put in place compensates for all claims," said lawyer Avi Bitton, representing 600 deportees and plaintiffs. "We are simply asking to be treated like any other citizen who is a victim of asbestos poisoning or a road accident. When you suffer damage, you should be able to seek recourse.”

The State Council ruled that the compensation paid out to French Jews was in line with European rights conventions and was comparable to those offered by other European governments.