Fifty years ago today, Hugo Princz, a U.S. citizen, was languishing in the Dachau concentration camp and feeling abandoned by the American Government.
On Tuesday, only hours after the Supreme Court ended his legal fight to win reparations from the German government, the 71-year-old survivor said he is “being stabbed in the back” by the same government which, he believes, refused to come to his aid, both then and now.
Without comment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that Princz, a Highland Park, N.J. resident, cannot sue Germany.
In March 1992 Princz filed a lawsuit seeking $17 million from the German government.
Last summer, a federal appeals court ruled that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which limits the rights of U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments, prevents Princz from taking Germany to court.
When the United States declared war against Germany, Princz and seven members of his family, all American citizens, were living in Czechoslovakia, where they were turned over to the Nazis.
Princz, who later spent three years in Auschwitz, is the only member of his immediate family who survived the Holocaust.
Liberated by U.S. forces at the end of the war, he was taken to a U.S. military hospital, thereby bypassing the displaced persons camps. As a result, he was never registered as a Holocaust victim.
Despite Germany’s policy of paying thousands of dollars in reparations to victims of the Nazis, the German government has denied reparations to Princz because, the Germans say he did not meet the requirement that recipients be “stateless.”
Princz blames the U.S. government both for his fate during the war and his lack of compensation today.
“This is a repetition of what happened to my father in 1939,” Princz said, explaining that his father had tried to secure safe passage from Prague for his family, but U.S. officials had been denied the necessary papers.
Today, Princz and his attorney, Bill Marks, say the State Department has “abandoned” them in their legal quest. They say the State Department refused to file a brief on his behalf in the court case.
Furthermore, in papers filed with the Supreme Court, Germany claimed that the State Department “implicitly agreed” with its position that Princz is not entitled to reparations, Marks said.
The State Department’s “silence may well have sent a signal to the court that the German assertion was correct,” Marks said.
“It is a dark chapter in the history of America when our government can not side with an American citizen in a case like this,” Princz said.
President Clinton did raise the matter in a private meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl last year, but no details were revealed at the time.
While the court’s decision ends Princz’s legal quest, two other avenues remain to fight his battle.
One avenue is legal, the other legislative. In addition to filing for legal recourse against Germany, Princz is seeking to sue the four German companies he was forced to work for during the Holocaust.
A series of legal complications and motions have delayed the judge’s decision on whether he has the right to sue. A ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
But Princz’s best hope, according to his attorneys, lies with Capitol Hill.
In the final moments of the last Congress, the Senate ran out of time to vote on a bill that would have allowed Princz to sue the German Government. The House had unanimously approved the same measure, which would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to allow victims of genocide to sue foreign governments.
Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced after the Supreme Court decision that he will reintroduce the bill next week.
“In the interest of fairness and justice to Mr. Princz for the horrors he suffered during the Holocaust, Congress must act quickly and allow him to claim his just reparations,” Schumer said.
Calling the court’s decision “disappointing,” Schumer urged President Clinton to “announce his intention to sign the bill into law” to help garner support on Capitol Hill.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) expects to co-sponsor the legislation in the Senate, but he will not commit until he sees the final language of the bill, an aide to Dole said.
The Anti-Defamation League plans to lobby aggressively for Congress to pass the new legislation.
“We were disappointed that the administration did not intervene. This underscores the need to pass this legislation,” said Jess Hordes, ADL’s Washington director.
Calling the battle for reparations a “game of cat and mouse,” Princz supporters say they hope swift action by Congress and the White House support will prompt the German government to settle the case out of court.
In any case, Princz vowed to “go on fighting as long as I have breath.
“I’m not asking for special treatment,” the survivor said. “I’m asking for what an average German national would get.”