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American Holocaust victims to get $60M from France

| Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The State Department began accepting applications Tuesday from Holocaust survivors, their spouses and heirs seeking compensation from the French government for the deportations of Jews and prisoners to Nazi death camps aboard French trains.

Under an agreement reached between American and French officials in December, the State Department will dole out $60 million paid by the French government. Holocaust survivors could receive more than $100,000 each, while spouses of deceased survivors could receive in the “tens of thousands,” depending on the number of claims filed, said Stuart Eizenstat, the State Department's special assistant on Holocaust issues.

The amount paid to the estates of deceased survivors and their spouses will depend on how long the survivor lived after 1948, when France began paying World War II reparations to its citizens, officials said.

In exchange, the government agreed to ensure “legal peace” for the French government against American lawsuits related to World War II deportations.

“We consider this a very important day,” Eizenstat said.

The payments will be the first paid by the French government to Holocaust deportees who settled in the United States, Israel, Canada and countries that have not had a reparations agreement with France.

The agreement represents a victory for American Holocaust survivors and their families, who have protested a French railroad's attempts to secure lucrative government rail contracts through a subsidiary. Keolis, the subsidiary of the government-owned railway known as SNCF, operates Virginia Railway Express commuter trains and the Massachusetts commuter rail system.

Eizenstat credited the advocacy of the late Leo Bretholz, a Holocaust survivor who lived in Baltimore County and protested Keolis rail bids in Maryland until he died last year at 93. Bretholz's book, “Leap Into Darkness,” described his harrowing escape from a packed SNCF cattle car bound for Auschwitz in 1942, when he was 21.

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