Some 200 families whose relatives were deported by France’s pro-Nazi Vichy regime during WWII are to sue the national rail operator SNCF for millions of euros in damages, their lawyer said Wednesday.
The families, who include French, Israeli, Belgian, Canadian and American nationals, will launch their legal action in September, according to their lawyer Matthieu Delmas.
He did not specify if all, or any, were Jewish.
"We have about 200 petitions and we are expecting more before a deadline on September 1 which marks the statutory limitation for filing petitions against the SNCF,” Delmas said.
Unprecedented situationThe case follows a ruling last June by an administrative court in Toulouse, which in which the French state and the rail firm were fined 62,000 euros for their role in the wartime deportation of two Jewish men.
The June decision was the first of its kind.
A similar 2003 case against the SNCF in a civil court failed because a 30-year statute of limitations period had passed.
Such a time delay was not applicable in the administrative court.
The SNCF has appealed the conviction.
In that case, Green Party Member of the European Parliament Alain Lipietz, his sister, Helene, and other family members had brought a suit on behalf of four of their relatives taken to a Nazi transit camp at Drancy near Paris in May 1944.
The four were transported in cattle cars by the SNCF from southwest France to Drancy and remained there for several months until the camp was freed in July 1944, according to the lawsuit.
Drancy was a stopover point for Jews deported to Nazi death camps including Auschwitz.
According to the 4 October1940 anti-Jewish law and under German pressure more than 3,000 of Jews were arrested by the Paris police headquarters and imprisoned in two other transit camps, in Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande.
In the past courts have ruled that the SNCF was commandeered during the war by the occupying German army, while the Vichy government was an aberration for which the post-war French state was not responsible.
But jurisprudence had apparently changed since President Jacques Chirac in 1995 recognised France’s role in the oppression of Jews, and the 1997 trial of Vichy official Maurice Papon proved the participation of the government in the deportations.
Reprinted with permission of the European Jewish Press