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France agrees to $60 million fund for Nazi-era deportees

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The French Foreign Ministry and US State Department jointly announced a deal on Friday to provide millions in compensation to Americans and others deported to death camps by French state railway company SNCF during the Nazi occupation.

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The $60 million (€49 million) compensation fund will be financed by France and managed by the United States.

France's parliament must approve the agreement before any payments can be made.

In exchange for the $60 million sum, the US government pledges to “recognise and affirmatively protect the immunity of France ... with regard to Holocaust deportation claims in the United States”, a statement from the State Department said.

The French government has already paid more than $6 billion in reparations, but only to French citizens and certain other deportees. The new deal will provide compensation for American citizens, Israelis and others.

SNCF transported about 76,000 French Jews to Nazi concentration camps during the war.

State legislators in the United States have in the past sought to block SNCF from bidding for rail contracts because of its wartime actions.

In June, Senator Joan Carter Conway introduced a bill in Maryland’s state legislature that would ban the Keolis transport firm, whose majority stakeholder is SNCF, from bidding on a €4.4 billion US contract.

Conway and fellow Democratic lawmaker Samuel Rosenberg said Keolis should be kept out of the bidding process until SNCF compensated the families of Holocaust victims.

SNCF in the past has resisted pressure to take direct responsibility for the 1940-1944 deportations of Jews to Auschwitz and other death camps, claiming it had been requisitioned by the Vichy regime that collaborated with the German occupiers.

But in 2010 the company's chairman, Guillaume Pepy, met in Florida with US representatives and Jewish community groups to express his regret for SNCF's wartime role.

Pepy said he wished to share "his profound pain and regret for the consequences of acts ... carried out under order".

In 2011 the French company reiterated its remorse, saying it had been “forced to act as a cog in the Nazi extermination machine”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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