CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that SNCF has a digital archive listing people it transported during the Holocaust.
(JTA) — An agreement between the United States and France to establish a compensation fund for Holocaust survivors deported to Nazi camps via the French rail system went into effect.
The $60 million compensation fund established last December 2014 opened Sunday. The United States will administer and distribute the funds to eligible Americans, Israelis and other foreigners and their families who were not entitled to make claims under existing French programs.
“This is the fist time a Western ally in World War II has made Holocaust-related payments to survivors in Israel, the U.S. or any foreign country,” said Stuart Eizenstat, the special advisor to the U.S. secretary of state on Holocaust issues, who negotiated the agreement over nearly a year.
In return, the United States will protect France from American lawsuits related to Holocaust deportations of Jews from the country.
“The agreement is another measure of justice to help those who suffered the harms of one of history’s darkest eras, and another example of the close U.S.-France partnership that characterizes our relationship,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement. “This fund will supplement the programs established by France for reparation and compensation of the victims of anti-Semitic persecutions during the Holocaust.
SNCF, the railway which is owned by the French government, transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners from the suburbs of Paris to the German border during the Holocaust from 1942 to 1944, where they were taken to Nazi death camps.
The railway says it has acknowledged the role that its wartime management played in collaborating with the Nazis and offered public apologies. It also has supported memorial efforts and Holocaust research in France.
Several U.S. state governments banned their local transportation services from contracting with SNCF, a major exporter of rail cars, until the reparations issue was resolved.
Non-French survivors of the deportations from France, their spouses and the heirs of the survivors or the spouses are eligible for compensation through the fund. People who have already received French compensation are disqualified. There is no need to prove disability.
Eizenstat estimates payments could be up to $100,000 per person, depending on how many people qualify.
The claims form and other instructions are available on the State Department website. A hotline for questions has been set up at 202-776-8385. Claims will be accepted through May 31, 2016.