IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
March 17, 2011
Mr. Schumer (for himself, Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Franken, Mr. Nelson of Florida, Mr. Rubio, Mrs. Gillibrand, and Mr. Lautenberg) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
To ensure that the courts of the United States may provide an impartial forum for claims brought by United States citizens and others against any railroad organized as a separate legal entity, arising from the deportation of United States citizens and others to Nazi concentration camps on trains owned or operated by such railroad, and by the heirs and survivors of such persons.
This Act may be cited as the
Holocaust Rail Justice
Congress finds as follows:
During World War II, more than 75,000 Jews and thousands of other persons were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps, on trains operated for profit by the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (in this Act referred to as SNCF), including deportations to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Numerous citizens and residents of the United States were among those who were on the trains or had relatives on the trains. United States servicemen who were pilots shot down over France were also among the persons deported on the SNCF trains to Nazi concentration camps.
United States citizens and others have sought redress against SNCF by filing a class action suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The named plaintiffs and class members include United States Army Air Force pilots and United States citizens.
The complaint filed alleges that SNCF, a separate corporate entity that remained independent during World War II, operated the deportation trains for a profit, as ordinary commercial transactions. SNCF remained under French civilian control throughout World War II and is alleged to have collaborated willingly with the German Nazi regime.
The complaint alleges that SNCF provided the necessary rolling stock, scheduled the departures, and supplied the employees to operate the trains bound for the concentration camps. SNCF allegedly charged an ordinary passenger coach fare for the deportations, calculated per person and per kilometer, and considered these trains as ordinary commercial activities. The plaintiffs further contend that SNCF herded as many people as possible into each car, requiring passengers of all ages and sexes, including the elderly and young children, to stand throughout the trip of several days’ duration, with no provision for food or water and no sanitary facilities. The complaint further alleges that SNCF cleaned the trains after each trip, removing the corpses of persons who perished during transit due to the execrable conditions of the train cars. The destination was in each case a camp in which the deportees were to be exterminated, worked to death, or made to suffer terrible and inhuman conditions.
The complaint contends that SNCF’s actions violated the Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1950, relating to crimes under international law (earlier recognized by the Martens Clause of the Hague Convention IV of 1907), and aided and abetted the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. SNCF has not denied its actions and has never disgorged the money that it was paid for the deportations or otherwise compensated the deportees or their heirs.
SNCF’s records concerning the deportation trains have not been made available to the plaintiffs, and SNCF archives concerning its wartime activities are not accessible to the general public.
SNCF moved to dismiss the lawsuit on a
claim of sovereign immunity under the foreign sovereign immunities provisions
of title 28, United States Code (28 U.S.C. 1330 and 1602 et seq.), even though
it is one of the 500 largest corporations in the world, earns hundreds of
millions of dollars from its commercial activities in the United States, and is
not accorded sovereign immunity under the laws of France. SNCF’s motion to
dismiss the lawsuit was granted by the United States District Court for the
Eastern District of New York. Plaintiffs appealed the decision, their appeal
was granted, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. Subsequently,
in light of Republic of Austria v. Altmann, 541 U.S. 677 (2004), in November
2004, on remand, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recalled its prior
mandate and determined that SNCF was entitled to immunity and affirmed the
dismissal of the complaint. The Second Circuit stated that
railroad’s conduct at the time lives on in infamy but concluded that
the evil actions of the French national railroad’s former private
masters in knowingly transporting thousands to death camps during World War II
are not susceptible to legal redress in Federal court today..
This lawsuit, which arises from the unique historical facts of the deportation of persons to Nazi concentration camps, presents issues of substantial importance to citizens and veterans of the United States. Many of those who have sought redress against SNCF are elderly and would have difficulty traveling outside the United States in order to pursue their claims elsewhere. The courts of the United States are and should be a proper forum for this lawsuit. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which had not been enacted at the time of SNCF’s actions during World War II, was not intended to bar suit against the SNCF.
Access to United States courts for holocaust deportees
Jurisdiction of district courts
The United States district courts shall have original jurisdiction, without regard to the amount in controversy, of any civil action for damages for personal injury or death that—
arose from the deportation of persons to Nazi concentration camps during the period beginning on January 1, 1942, and ending on December 31, 1944; and
is brought by any such person, or any heir or survivor of such person, against a railroad that—
owned or operated the trains on which the persons were so deported; and
was organized as a separate legal entity at the time of the deportation, whether or not any of the equity interest in the railroad was owned by a foreign state.
Other laws not applicable
Sections 1330 and 1601 through 1611 of title 28, United States Code, or any other law limiting the jurisdiction of the United States courts, whether by statute or under common law, shall not preclude any action under subsection (a).
Inapplicability of statutes of limitation
An action described in subsection (a) shall not be barred by a defense that the time for bringing such action has expired under a statute of limitations.
This section shall apply to any action pending on January 1, 2002, and to any action commenced on or after that date.
In furtherance of international education relating to the Holocaust and historic and continuing anti-Semitism in Europe and throughout the world, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Congress a one-time report, outlining the status of access to wartime records and archives concerning the wartime activities of any railroad organized as a separate legal entity that engaged in the deportation of persons to Nazi concentration camps during the period beginning on January 1, 1942, and ending on December 31, 1944.