Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) have introduced the Holocaust Rail Justice Act, which would provide Holocaust survivors their day in court against SNCF, the French rail company that transported more than 75,000 Jews and thousands of others-- including U.S. air pilots--to concentration camps during World War II. Earlier this week people across the world recognized Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, in memory of those murdered by the Nazis.
"In the almost 70 years since the end of World War II, SNCF has never been held accountable for its actions, it has never paid reparations to its victims, and its victims have never had their day in court," said Rep. Maloney. "SNCF's refusal to fully acknowledge their culpability or take steps to make amends to their victims is a failure of morality. By hiding behind a veil of foreign sovereign immunity, SNCF's ability to evade legal accountability it is also a failure of justice. The Holocaust Rail Justice Act will allow survivors to seek redress in U.S. Courts, providing a measure of relief."
"I thank my colleague Congresswoman Maloney, with whom I have worked with on this issue for many years, for reintroducing the Holocaust Rail Justice Act," said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. "This important bill isn't just about justice; it's also about accountability. For too long the SNCF has avoided paying recompense to the thousands of Jews and other Holocaust victims who they transported to Nazi camps during World War II. It's time for these victims of the Holocaust to be afforded their legal rights and to have the opportunity to hold SNCF accountable for its role in sending thousands to their deaths. This bill will allow the survivors and their families an opportunity to serve justice that is long overdue and I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill and finally grant these victims their day in court."
On Monday, April 8, 2013, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rep. Maloney and the Coalition for Railroad Justice held a briefing providing background information on the bill. The briefing included testimony from two Holocaust survivors who were transported on SNCF trains: Leo Bretholz, who escaped a SNCF train bound for Aushwitz, and Donald Shearer, a U.S. pilot shot down in France during World War II and then transported on an SNCF train to Buchenwald.
At the briefing, Bretholz said, "I hope that my experience, like the experience of thousands of others who were transported toward Nazi camps onboard SNCF trains, will inspire our elected officials to ensure we receive the justice we deserve."
"I want them to own up to the fact that they caused me 10 months of misery. Because if the trains hadn't taken us, four days later we would have been liberated in Paris," Shearer said.
The bill provides plaintiffs the right to seek damages against the French National Railway (Société Nationale Des Chemins De Fer Francais, or 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.