(photo credit: INGIMAGE/ASAP)
PARIS - France said on Friday it had agreed to put $60 million into a fund managed by the United States to compensate Holocaust victims deported by French state rail firm SNCF to Nazi death camps, a deal that protects it from future US litigation.
About 76,000 Jews were arrested in France during World War Two and transported in appalling conditions in railway boxcars to concentration camps such as Auschwitz, where most died.
In 1995 France's then-president, Jacques Chirac, officially acknowledged for the first time French complicity in the wartime deportations. But it was only in 2009 that France's highest court recognized the state's responsibility.
Several state legislatures in the United States, including Maryland and New York, have previously threatened to pass legislation that would block the SNCF from bidding in rail projects unless it paid compensation to US victims.
The compensation deal, which will be signed in Washington on Dec. 8, is open to people from all countries with the exception of Britain, Poland, Belgium and the Czech Republic, which already have bilateral agreements with France, said Patrizianna Sparacino, who negotiated the accord for Paris.
Several hundred people including survivors and family members have already been identified for compensation, initially from the United States and Israel.
The total number of those compensated will run into the thousands, Sparacino said.
"For now the objective is that those survivors from the deportations would get roughly $100,000 (each)," Sparacino said, adding the United States would manage and allocate the funds.
Washington will also undertake to handle any future Holocaust-era claims against France or any of its entities, meaning that SNCF will no longer be directly targeted or threatened from exclusion in tender processes.
"The US will defend France and its entities as a counterparty to this agreement," Sparacino said.