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Senate considering bill to allow Holocaust survivors to sue French railway

(JTA) — The U.S. Senate is considering a bill to allow Holocaust survivors to sue a French railway for damages for deporting Jews to Nazi death camps.

The measure, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.), would allow Holocaust survivors who were transported by the French national railway, SNCF, to Nazi death camps during the German occupation of France to sue in American courts.

“Survivors and family members of those who perished have long attempted to hold SNCF accountable for its active role during the Holocaust, but so far the company has succeeded in cloaking itself in foreign sovereign immunity, evading jurisdiction in United States courts,” Schumer said Wednesday in a statement. “The Holocaust Rail Justice Act would finally enable survivors and family members to hold this French rail company accountable in a court of law for sending thousands to their death during World War II, and allow survivors and family members an opportunity for justice.”

Since the company is owned by the French government, federal permission is required to engage in legal action against it.

The bill, which garnered strong bipartisan support in the last Congress and was the subject of both Senate and House hearings, was reintroduced Wednesday by Schumer (D-N.Y), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and 11 additional cosponsors.  A companion bill, H.R. 1505, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 11, 2013.

SNCF trains transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners from the suburbs of Paris to the German border from 1942 to 1944. The company was paid per head per kilometer, according to reports.

The company, owned by the French government, says it has acknowledged the role that its wartime management played in collaborating with the Nazis and given public apologies. It also has supported French Holocaust memorial efforts and research.

In recent years, SNCF and its American subsidiaries have sought taxpayer-funded rail contracts in the United States.

In September, Keolis Rail Services America, a subsidiary of the SNCF, was passed over by the Maryland Department of Transportation for a six-year contract to run two commuter lines.

The reintroduction of the legislation was applauded by The Coalition for Holocaust Rail Justice, a coalition of Holocaust survivors, family members, historians and volunteers.

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