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France to compensate Holocaust deportation victims

AFP | Jewish deportees are loaded into trains bound for Germany in the northern Paris suburb of Drancy in 1942

Holocaust survivors and family members in the US, 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.

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The application period for the French-funded, US-administered programme opened on Tuesday. The money will be available to survivors of the deportations, or spouses or family members of deportees who have since died.

"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 program," the joint statement by the French foreign ministry and US State Department.

"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 the lawsuits and other compensation claims brought in the United States against SNCF for its role in the Holocaust. SNCF also faced being excluded from billion-dollar US rail contracts over the issue.

'People have waited seventy years'

"We consider this a very important day. People have waited seventy years," said Stuart Eizenstat, US special adviser on Holocaust issues.

SNCF transported 76,000 French Jews to camps while France was under Nazi occupation.

But the French foreign ministry argued in December that 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.

The compensation will be calculated and distributed after the application deadline May 31, 2016.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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