France compensates US Holocaust victims

WASHINGTON (AFP) - France will pay US$60 million (S$84 million) to mainly American victims of the Holocaust who were transported by train from France to Nazi death camps during World War II, an affair that nearly cost French state rail company SNCF its US contracts.

The two countries issued a joint statement on Tuesday announcing the entry into force of a compensation agreement drafted in December 2014 after years of legal wrangling.

The settlement creates a fund with US$60 million paid by France to the United States to compensate thousands of non-French citizens, their spouses or descendants who were not covered by a settlement programme that France put in place in 1946.

"The United States will administer and distribute this amount to eligible Americans, Israelis and other foreigners and their families who were not entitled to make claims under the existing French programme," the statement by the State Department and the French foreign ministry said.

"In turn, the United States will ensure an enduring legal peace for France with regard to Holocaust deportation claims in the United States," it said, alluding to lawsuits brought in the United States against SNCF.

Requisitioned by the Nazi regime in Germany, the French rail company transported 76,000 Jews across France to the death camps from 1942 to 1944.

About 3,000 survived, according to SNCF.

Lawsuits brought in US courts nearly cost SNCF its commercial contracts in the United States.

There have been calls for SNCF itself to compensate US victims.

But the French foreign ministry argued in December that the SNCF was an instrument of the deportation but had never been held responsible.

"It is the responsibility of French authorities to assume the consequences," it said, noting that SNCF was not part of the negotiations that led to the compensation agreement.