PARIS – Thousands of Holocaust survivors and family members in the United States and elsewhere will be entitled to compensation from a $60 million French-U.S. fund announced Friday, as reparations to those deported by France's state rail company SNCF during the Nazi occupation.
As part of the deal, the U.S. government will work to end lawsuits and other compensation claims in U.S. courts against the SNCF, which is bidding for lucrative high-speed rail and other contracts in U.S. markets. State legislators in Maryland, New York, Florida and California have tried to punish SNCF for its Holocaust-era actions.
"This is another measure of justice for the harms of one of history's darkest eras," said U.S. Special Adviser on Holocaust Issues Stuart Eizenstat, who spent three years working with French officials on the agreement.
The French Foreign Ministry and U.S. State Department announced an accord Friday for the compensation fund, which will be financed by the French government and managed by the United States. The agreement will be signed on Monday in Washington, but for the money to be authorized it still must get approval from the French Parliament, which could take months.
The French government has already paid more than $6 billion in reparations -- but only to French citizens and certain deportees. The new deal will allow compensation for Americans, Israelis and some others who were not eligible for other French reparations programs.
There are around 250 people in the U.S. who are eligible under the new fund as direct survivors or spouses, according to an advocacy group, but several thousand may be eligible as heirs to survivors or spouses who died between 1948 and today.
The money should break down to about $100,000 each for survivors, and tens of thousands of dollars for spouses, Eizenstat said.
SNCF transported about 76,000 French Jews to Nazi concentration camps, though experts disagree on its degree of guilt. SNCF has expressed regret for what happened, but argues that it had no effective control over operations during the Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1944.
Although SNCF is not a party to the agreement, the company will contribute $4 million over the next five years to fund Holocaust memorials and museums in the U.S., Israel and France, according to Eizenstat.
The French government pledged to encourage French lawmakers to approve the deal, Eizenstat said.
"The objective today was to be able to provide reparations -- even 70 years later -- that they could claim, given the trauma, the barbarity and the horror that the deportation represented for them," said Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay, a French ambassador for human rights and spoliation, who was a key negotiator and architect of the deal.
Amid the legal challenges to SNCF, Eizenstat said the French approached him two years ago to talk about a possible deal, and expressed a desire to conclude an agreement by the end of this year.
The French government is holding several events marking 70 years since the Allies liberated France from Nazi control in 1944.
Word of the accord comes as France, home to western Europe's largest Jewish community, is battling new concerns about anti-Semitism. French authorities and Jewish leaders denounced a rape and robbery attack with anti-Semitic overtones this week against a French couple.
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in France has grown 91 percent this year compared to last year, according to CRIF, France's leading Jewish organization. Incidents such as graffiti on Jewish gravestones and violent assaults spiked around the Gaza war this summer, and Jewish groups are concerned about rising Islamic extremism and the resurgent far right.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, who had pushed to get the U.S. government to pressure the French government to agree to compensation, hailed the deal as a "breakthrough in a decades-long struggle for justice."