SNCF lawsuits (re Holocaust, filed in the US)
Snapshot: During World War II, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), the French national railroad company, transported 76,000 civilians to Nazi death camps. Holocaust survivors filed three different lawsuits against SNCF seeking to hold it accountable – three US lawsuits and one French lawsuit.
For proceedings in France, see SNCF lawsuits (re Holocaust, filed in France)
Proceedings in the United States
Abrams v. SNCF
On 12 September 2000, twelve Holocaust survivors filed a lawsuit against SNCF in US federal court; this lawsuit is Abrams v. SNCF. The plaintiffs alleged that SNCF committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, by knowingly transporting French and other European civilians to Nazi death camps during World War II. During World War II SCNF was a private company with the French Government as a shareholder. SNCF argued sovereign immunity under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), stating it was an agent of the French state when the alleged crimes were committed. The court dismissed the case in November 2001, and in June 2003 the plaintiffs appealed the decision. They argued that because the alleged crimes were committed between 1942 and 1944, the defendants were not able to rely on the 1976 law, as it did not apply retroactively. On 13 June 2003, the appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered the lower court to explore whether the FSIA could be applied retroactively. SNCF appealed to the Supreme Court in 2004. The Supreme Court issued a decision in an unrelated case affirming that the FSIA applies retroactively, and referred the Abrams case back to the appeals court. The appeals court dismissed the case on 9 November 2004.
Freund v. SNCF
In February 2005, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court again, but it declined to hear the case. Holocaust survivors filed a similar suit, Freund v. SNCF, in March 2006, seeking restitution for property stolen from them on SNCF trains en route to the camps. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to present sufficient facts to take advantage of an exception to the FSIA and dismissed the case. The appeals court in September 2010 upheld this dismissal.
Scalin v. SNCF
In April 2015, Holocaust descendants filed a class action lawsuit against SNCF in Chicago, USA. Plaintiffs claim the company confiscated and sold of personal effects of victims sent to Nazi camps by train.
- “Holocaust Survivors Seek Congress’s Help in Court”, James Barron, New York Times, 3 Nov 2008.
- [PDF]“Holocaust Restitution Litigation in the United States: An Update”, Michael J. Bazyler & Kearston G. Everitt, International Civil Liberties Law Report, New York University Press, 2006
- [PDF] Freund v. SNCF, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 7 Sep 2010 [order upholding dismissal of the case]
- Abrams v. SNCF, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 9 Nov 2004 [order dismissing plaintiffs' complaint]
- Abrams v. SNCF, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Court, 13 June 2003 [order referring case back to district court for further proceedings]
- Abrams v. SNCF, US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, 5 Nov 2001 [SNCF's motion to dismiss]