Holocaust survivors and family members in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere can now apply for compensation from a $60 million fund for those deported to Nazi camps by France’s state rail company SNCF.
The application period for the French-funded, U.S.-administered program opened Tuesday. The money will be available for survivors of deportations, or spouses or family members of deportees who have since died.
“We consider this a very important day. People have waited 70 years,” Stuart Eizenstat, U.S. special adviser on Holocaust issues, told reporters.
The compensation will be calculated and distributed after the application deadline May 31, 2016, once organizers know how many people are eligible. Eizenstat said officials are considering making some payments to survivors before the deadline, because of their advanced age.
Survivors can expect to receive about $100,000 each, while spouses could receive tens of thousands of dollars, Eizenstat said.
Hundreds of survivors or their spouses in the U.S. are believed to be eligible for the funds, and several thousand could be eligible as heirs. Heirs of deportees would need to submit proof that their ancestor was deported, and what their nationality was, according to the U.S. State Department.
The fund was created after a U.S.-French agreement last year. As part of the deal, the U.S. government agreed to work to end lawsuits and compensation claims against SNCF, which has sought lucrative contracts in U.S. markets.
SNCF transported 76,000 French Jews to Nazi camps. The company has expressed regret for what happened, but argues it had no effective control over operations during the Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1944.
Eizenstat said Tuesday that the fund is “another measure of justice to help those who suffered the harms of one of history’s darkest eras.”
The German government has paid around 70 billion euros ($85 billion) in compensation for Nazi crimes, mainly to Jewish survivors.
“For decades, survivors and family members of those who perished have attempted to hold SNCF accountable for its active role during the Holocaust, however, it has continued to dodge responsibility for its collaboration with the Nazi regime,” said Senator Charles Schumer, who was the legislation’s senate sponsor. He noted that with the beginning of restitution payment, “the French rail company will finally be held accountable for transporting thousands to their death during World War II.”
France’s government has already paid more than $6 billion in reparations to French citizens and certain deportees. The new accord is to help compensate Americans, Israelis and some others who weren’t eligible for other French reparations programs.
France’s government has worked in recent years to counter new concerns about anti-Semitism in the European country with the largest Jewish community.