Holocaust survivors want to sue French rail company for role in prisoner transports
Holocaust survivors will urge a House committee to pass a bill that would allow survivors to pursue legal action against the French rail company responsible for transporting tens of thousands of Jews and other prisoners to Nazi death camps.
“What the French did during the war was excessively criminal,” said Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz.
In 1942, Bretholz was 21 years old when he escaped through the window of a cattle car that was deporting Jews out of France. The train was destined for the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“People were pushed into the cattle cars at the end of riffle butts and families were being separated,” Bretholz said.
He and other survivors will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday in support of the holocaust rail justice act.
France's national railway, known as SNCF, transported some 76,000 prisoners to death camps. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
“The French got paid by head and kilometer by the Germans for every person that they deported,” Bretholz said.
The now 90-year-old man sees the act before the committee as a way to achieve justice.
“I want justice to be finally done after all these many years,” he said.
Donald Shearer will testify alongside Bretholz. Shearer became a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down. The American was transported by French railway to Buchenwald concentration camp.
“It was just 10 months of misery because if the train hadn't taken us away four days later we would have been liberated in Paris,” Shearer said.
In his own words: View the interview with Shearer below.
The legislation before lawmakers would strip away foreign sovereign immunity from SNCF in its defense against lawsuits by holocaust survivors. The rail company is reportedly pursuing federal contracts to build high-speed rail in the U.S.
Last year, it for the first time apologized for its role in the holocaust.
“An apology like that is hollow for the victims that we represent,” said attorney Raphael Prober. His law firm, Akin Gump, is representing 650 holocaust victims worldwide pro-bono, including 250 Jews and PoWs in the U.S.
Bretholz lost his entire family to the Nazis. Now he says he wants peace of mind.
“Money can never bring back the victims. Money is just a token. To fess up, yes we did something awfully wrong and we are contrite about that, and we regret it, and we know we were guilty of something awful,” he said.
More: View the interview with Bretholz below.
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