French Railway Faces Holocaust Class Action

      CHICAGO (CN) – France’s national railway must pay up for looting the Holocaust victims Nazis loaded onto cattle cars destined for death camps, a federal class action says.
     “The victims were on their way to the death camps, but even as they were being sent to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, their property was confiscated by the same train company that shoved them into cattle cars and then got paid,” the April 16 complaint begins.
     Karen Scalin, Josiane Piquard and Roland Cherrier, all of whom lost relatives at Auschwitz, filed brought the class action against Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF).
     SNCF, the French national railway wholly owned by the French government, allegedly operated the trains that deported 75,000 Jews and tens of thousands of other “undesirables” from France to Nazi death camps where less than 3 percent survived.
     Scalin is a U.S. citizen, while Piquard and Cherrier are French citizens. All three plaintiffs’ grandparents were deported on SNCF trains.
     “SNCF billed the Nazis per head, per kilometer at standard, third class rates,” the complaint states. “However, SNCF provided, literally, cattle-car service, stuffing the victims into rail cars that were normally used to transport cattle.
     “The deportees were generally allowed to bring one suitcase or parcel with them when they were herded onto the SNCF trains. Those packages contained the most dear, and the most valuable, possessions of the victims. Once the victims were on the trains, SNCF confiscated the suitcases and other valuables, telling the Plaintiffs that the property would be returned, yet knowing full well that it would not be. Instead, SNCF either converted the property to its own benefit, or turned it over to the Nazis in exchange for other property.
     “Thus was a mutually beneficial relationship established between SNCF and the Nazis. The Nazis received the human fodder for their Final Solution, as well as the victims’ Property, all through the collaboration of SNCF,” the complaint states.
     The rail company’s collaboration with the Nazis allowed SNCF to profit handsomely during the war, keep its corporate structure intact, and survive the war with a healthy operating capital, largely gained by the sale of stolen Jews’ property, plaintiffs claim.
     Plaintiffs say U.S. courts properly have jurisdiction over SNCF’s violations of international law because claims brought against SNCF in France have been dismissed by the country’s highest court, foreclosing all actions against SNCF for the restitution of property or payment of reparations.
     France has established public benefit programs for Holocaust victims, but none of these programs compensate the victims’ heirs for property taken on the trains, according to the complaint.
     The complaint also asserts that its claims are timely because information about SNCF’s participation in the deportation of the Jews has come to light only recently when the company agreed in 2012 to open some of its archives to the public.
     Plaintiffs seek punitive damages for violations of international law, conversion, and unjust enrichment.
     They are represented by Steven Blonder with Much Shelist.
     The firm noted in a statement that it filed the complaint on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
     “My grandparents were transported in SNCF cattle cars to their deaths at Auschwitz in 1942, and their belongings were seized by railroad officials,” plaintiff Scalin said, according to Much Shelist’s release. “No compensation has ever been made to my family and the thousands of other victims of these coercive acts.”
     While attorney Blonder noted that “restitution is long overdue,” co-counsel Harriet Tamen called it “a travesty that the SNCF continues to operate profitably – including selling rail tickets in the United States – without being forced to compensate these families for their irreparable losses.”

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