French Court: ‘Jewish War Victims Have Had Enough Compensation’


franceFrance was responsible for deporting Jews during the Second World War, the top judicial authority ruled for the first time yesterday, but it dismayed families of victims by declaring that they had already been compensated. The decision by the Council of State, the final arbiter on civil law matters, made formal a doctrine that has been accepted by successive governments since 1995. It was advising on a case brought by Madeleine Hoffman-Glemane, 75, one of hundreds of victims who have sued recently for damages over their arrests and deportation during the Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1944.The council called for a “solemn recognition of the responsibility of the State.” France was “responsible for damages caused by actions which did not result from the occupiers’ direct orders but facilitated deportation from France of people who were victims of anti-Semitic persecution”, it said.

The ruling endorses a view that was proclaimed by the former President Jacques Chirac when he took office in 1995. Before that the crimes of the collaborationist Vichy Government had been acknowledged but they had been ascribed widely to an outlaw regime and not to the French State.

The late President Mitterrand who left office in 1995 and who served as an official of the Vichy regime, refused to accept the responsibility of the nation for more than 75,000 people who were taken to Nazi death camps. Most were arrested by French police on the orders of state officials and few survived.

Since taking office in 2007 President Sarkozy, whose mother is Jewish, has ordered acts of remembrance of the French role in the Holocaust but during his election campaign he said that France should stop apologising for itself because it had never been involved in a policy of genocide.

To the anger of campaigners the council advised the court dealing with Ms Hoffman-Glemane’s case that deportees had already received enough compensation. “The different measures taken since the end of the Second World War have made reparation as much as possible,” it said.

The Paris court had sought the opinion of the council on the request of Hoffman-Glemane, whose mother died at Auschwitz, for material and moral damages for the suffering of her and her father. She is suing the state and the SNCF, the national railways, for 200,000 euros (£180,000) for Joseph Kaplon, her father, and 80,000 euros for herself. Anne-Laure Archambault, the lawyer for Ms Hoffman-Glemane, said that she would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Avi Bitton, another lawyer who represents 600 deportees and plaintiffs, said: “We are simply asking to be treated like any other citizen who is a victim of asbestos poisoning or a road accident. When you suffer damage, you should be able to seek recourse.”

For more than a decade Holocaust survivors and their families have been waging legal battles in French and US courts. In 2007, however, an appeal court reversed a Bordeaux court conviction against the railways for holding and robbing two Jews. The court ruled that the SNCF was not an arm of the State.

A New York Federal Court judge also ruled in December that France was shielded as a sovereign state from action in US courts over its wartime conduct. Since then Senator Charles Schumer of New York has tabled a Bill in Congress to exempt the SNCF from the sovereign immunity.

{TimesOnline/Elisha Newscenter}