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An appeals court on Tuesday overturned a ruling that France's state railway network should compensate the family of World War II deportees.
The original ruling last June had been the first of its kind. The administrative court in Toulouse had ordered the state and the SNCF rail authority to pay â‚¬62,000 (US$82,000) for their role in World War II deportations.
The SNCF appealed the decision. The state did not. The appeals court in Bordeaux sided with the railway company, annulling the first ruling against the SNCF on grounds that the case did not fall within the Toulouse court's jurisdiction.
The appeals court retained the SNCF's arguments that it was not responsible because it was acting under requisition orders. It was an important victory for the SNCF because at least 1,200 other families and groups had asked for similar compensation following the original ruling.
"The makeup of the trains, their fitting out and the way in which the wagons were closed were determined by the occupier and put into practice by the authority of the state," the Bordeaux appeals court ruled.
European Green Party lawmaker Alain Lipietz, his sister, Helene, and other family members brought the 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.
Lipietz said he would petition France's highest administrative body against the appeal ruling.
The first court in Toulouse had said that the SNCF was "informed of the nature and the destination of the convoys" but raised no objections.
It said the company billed the state the equivalent of a third-class ticket - asking for payment even after France was liberated in 1944 - but used cargo or cattle wagons "without providing water, food or minimum hygiene to the people being transported."
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.
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