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Agreement on Compensation of Certain Holocaust Victims

Agreement on Compensation of Certain Holocaust Victims

Published on December 8, 2014
France and the United States sign an agreement on compensation for certain victims of holocaust-related deportation

Joint statement of the spokespersons of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of State

December 8, 2014

Today, France and the United States have signed an agreement in Washington to establish a compensation fund for Holocaust victims deported from France, who had not been able to gain access to the French compensation program.

This fund will supplement the schemes established by France since 1946 for reparation and compensation of the victims of anti-Semitic persecutions led by the German occupation authorities and the Vichy regime.

In this year marked by the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy and Provence, this agreement further strengthens the historic friendship and ties between our two countries.

French human rights ambassador Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay and U.S. Special Adviser on Holocaust Issues Stuart Eizenstat sign the agreement in Washington DC.

Speech by Ambassador Sparacino-Thiellay given during the signing ceremony:

Madam Assistant Secretary of State,
Mister Ambassador, Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Holocaust Issues,
Distinguished guests,

It is with great honor and particular emotion that I am signing today, in Washington, on behalf of the French government, this landmark agreement between our two countries.
This important agreement marks, in both symbolic and concrete terms, a new and crucial stage in the commitment made by the French Republic to Holocaust victims.

Ambassador Sparacino-Thiellay speaks at the signing ceremony in Washington D.C.

This agreement sought to achieve, and I believe achieved 3 main objectives we were looking for: responsibility, memory and justice.

In France, the commemoration of the Vel d’Hiv round-up - which took place in Paris on July 1942 - has become the symbol of the deportation of Jews from France.

In his speech at this commemoration 20 years ago, President Chirac began by saying:

“In the life of a nation, there are moments which tarnish the memory and idea that one has of one’s country.”

This is true for every French person and even more, for an Ambassador for Human Rights in charge of Holocaust Issues.

That dark chapter of our history, was written by the so called “government of the French State”, which collaborated with the German occupying authorities, and directly helped to deport seventy six thousand Jews from France.

At the Vel d’Hiv commemoration in 2012, President Hollande said: “The truth is that this crime was committed in France, by France. It was also committed against France, its values, its principles and its ideal.”

The President also recalled the honour of the Righteous among the Nations and of all those who rose up against barbarism, anonymous heroes who ensured the survival of many Jews in France.

We will never forget that dark chapter of history. It is our duty to remember and to pass on this memory to future generations, for as our President reaffirmed, “It is not the history of the Jewish people; it is our history.”

Survivors from that dark period are still with us to recount the atrocities of the Nazis and they do so unceasingly particularly in our schools throughout France.

Initiatives to raise awareness of the tragedy of the Holocaust, especially the murder of almost 2 million children, remembered by the emotional children’s memorial at Yad Vashem, are also organized by leading figures and certain witnesses who have led exceptional lives.

Some of them are here today. I would like to thank them very sincerely for being with us on this special day. Their presence gives this very moment such solemnity.

I would also like to particularly thank Serge Klarsfeld, whose lifelong commitment, especially as Nazi hunter, we all know. He agreed to join us, with his son Arno. Their presence further highlights the importance and solemnity of the present signing ceremony.

For all the generations to come and for the six million victims of the Holocaust, we must continue to support all the witnesses’ remembrance efforts.

It is therefore deeply moving to contribute today to this duty of remembrance.

It is also a great honour to contribute to a measure of justice, through this agreement, in an attempt not to “repair the irreparable” but to offer material support to the Holocaust survivors.

This agreement is a further contribution to recognizing, France’s commitment to facing up to its historic responsibilities.

The reparation programs set up immediately after the war, and those introduced in the past fifteen years, are the tangible symbol of the official acknowledgment in 1995 of France’s “imprescriptible debt” towards the victims of the Holocaust.

It was this same political will that led to the introduction, at the end of the 90s, of complementary measures for orphans, and then for victims of material and bank-related spoliations - following the previous Washington agreement also signed under Ambassador Eizenstat exceptional leadership.

It was this same objective that led to the launch of new negotiations with our American partners to ensure compensation for victims of deportation from France.

This agreement between our two governments will be a chance to “mend the holes in the blanket”, to quote an expression used previously, and meet the expectations of deportation victims promptly and fairly.

I am particularly pleased by the constructive atmosphere and the spirit of friendship and cooperation that have prevailed, from the outset, between our delegations and our joint ambition to reach an agreement as soon as possible, in the interest of the victims and their families.

Before I conclude, allow me to commend the remarkable and long-standing commitment shown by Ambassador Eizenstat all along our discussions.

His personal investment, his long experience and remarkable talent have contributed greatly to this result and to our success.

I would also like to highlight the vast amount of work carried out on both sides of the Atlantic by the teams of negotiators, in order to reach an agreement of this importance within only a few months.

More broadly, I would like to thank all those in the State Department who dedicated to organize this great ceremony.

The signing of this agreement is taking place symbolically at the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps, which we will commemorate throughout the coming year.

2015 will be another opportunity to promote remembrance of the Holocaust.

The French authorities will play their full part in perpetuating this memory, as President Hollande reaffirmed: “France is strongly committed to protecting the memory of her lost children and honor those who perished but have no grave, whose only tomb is our memory”.

I thank you all.


Speech by Stuart E. Eizenstat, Special Adviser for Holocaust Issues

It’s a very auspicious occasion and I’m really honored to be here.

I want to thank a number of people. The ambassador herself – and I’ll give her a more thorough introduction shortly – the French ambassador, (inaudible), thank you very much for coming, French ambassador to the United States. I want to thank Toria and her whole office, because they’ve been enormously supportive of what we’ve done, and Under Secretary of State Pat Kennedy. I especially want to thank a number of the Holocaust survivors who are here – and they have come a long way – Madam Jacqueline Birn, Madam Rosette Goldstein, Rose Helene Spreiregen, who’s also a personal friend, and then a special mention of Serge Klarsfeld, who’s come from Paris.

Serge and his wife have been very famous Nazi hunters for now over 50 years. It was through their efforts that the documentation of French victims was done. They personally helped identify people like Klaus Barbie, and then Serge and his wife Beate created the Association of the Sons and Daughters of Jews Deported from France. It’s an inspiration to have you here and to know that you came all the way from Paris for this event.

I also particularly want to recognize Congresswoman Maloney, who has been a leader in this effort. It was her legislation that helped bring attention to this. And she is a real inspiration – really an inspiration, Carolyn, and I really appreciate your being here and the support that you’ve given our efforts.

I want to welcome you on this very historic day. We gather for marking another measure of belated and imperfect justice, but justice nevertheless, for the horrors of one of history’s darkest eras. The United States and France have reached an agreement that will provide compensation for victims of deportation during the Holocaust.

Let me begin with a brief story of how we got here. Over two years ago, the French approached me with an interest in what they then described as a unilateral program to mend the holes in their existing French program for those deported during World War II and their spouses and, in certain cases, their children. The French program had provided already hundreds of millions of dollars of pension programs since the end of World War II, but it had not benefited those who were not French nationals. It did not apply to Americans or Israelis, to Canadians or to nationals of other countries.

We engaged in two years of informal discussions about how to accomplish this goal. And then the French decided toward the end of last year that rather than proceed unilaterally, they wanted to have a more comprehensive bilateral agreement between the French and American governments. So in January of this year, at the highest levels of the French Government, they received authorization to negotiate with the United States, and we agreed.

Both of our governments recognized the pressing nature of the issue and set a goal of reaching an agreement this year. We set a very brisk pace for the negotiations. On February 6th of this year, I led an extraordinarily talented U.S. negotiating team to meet with French officials in Paris at the French foreign ministry, the Quai d’Orsay. From that first session, we realized that there were many difficult compromises required to reach an agreement that would be based on the French program but at the same time take into account the passage of seven decades.

But we also recognized from the start that we had an excellent French counterpart and her team, dedicated to become partners with us and overcoming every hurdle. In particular, the lead French negotiator, Ambassador Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay, has been a remarkable, dedicated, and talented partner. Her courageous leadership has been an inspiration to all of us. We could not have been successful without her dedication. She simply would not let us lose a last opportunity – a last opportunity – to help those who have waited so long.

Spurred on by my late wife Fran, I’ve spent a significant part of my career in trying to provide belated and imperfect justice for Holocaust survivors, honoring the memory of 6 million Jews and millions of others who perished at the hands of the Nazis, and helping to promote the broader lessons of the worst genocide in world history.

This started with my recommendation to President Carter to create the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Elie Wiesel, which led to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and then continued in eight years of the Clinton Administration with the negotiation of some $8 billion in recoveries from a variety of nations, plus in my private capacity working with the Jewish Claims Conference to negotiate with Germany. But with all of this, the challenges we faced in our negotiations with the French were as complex as any I had seen.

I can say without fear of exaggeration that I’ve never worked with a more talented, creative, and dedicated team than the one with which I was privileged to serve. Lisa Grosh and Josh Simmons of the Legal Advisors Office here at State; Ben Canavan of the French Desk and now Dan Mangis; Liz Nakian, Deputy Special Envoy, and Nick Dean, Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues; Susan Sandler, and their predecessor Doug Davidson, and Lewis Yelin of the Justice Department were our negotiating team. We were cohesive and united, and I, frankly, could not be announcing this agreement without them.

For every seemingly insuperable problem, working with Ambassador Sparacino-Thiellay and her team and mine, we found a solution which has brought us to this day. But we were also strengthened by having the full backing and support of Toria Nuland and her team; Acting Legal Advisor Mary McLeod; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ambassador Paul Jones; and Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State Hoyt Yee and Julieta Noyes, with whom we met frequently.

Following our initial February 6th meeting, we engaged in seven formal negotiating rounds by videoconference, and the Ambassador and I had two additional informal sessions, the last only a week ago in her office in Paris. We had innumerable exchanges of proposals and counter-proposals, telephone calls, and other communications to achieve the agreement we will sign today. During the course of those negotiations, my team and I frequently briefed key members of Congress and their staffs, including, as I mentioned, Carolyn Maloney, also Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Chuck Schumer, as well as the senior staff of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. We deeply appreciate the leadership of these members of Congress and their staffs in bringing the world’s attention to the plight of people who were deported from France during World War II, but did not have access to the post-World War II French pension programs.

My team and I also engaged with several groups of counsel to claimants. This included counsel in the United States and France, Avi Bitton , and in Israel, Michael Bach . Counsel in the U.S. was especially important in providing information and insights critical in our negotiations. I want to pay special tribute to Harriet Tamen, who was here, who has worked tirelessly for over 10 years, along with her colleague Stephen Rodd , to assure justice. And to Steven Ross and Rafi Prober of the Akin Gump Law Firm, for their major and substantial contributions. Harriet and I had already worked more than a decade ago to reach an agreement in 2001 for disputes connected to French banks and Holocaust-related proposals. So this is coming full circle.

We also have benefited from the support for this agreement of major Jewish organizations – the Anti-Defamation League, The American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith , and the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Now, thanks to our French partners, members of Congress, counsel, and our own State and Justice colleagues, we’ve reached an agreement that will provide a lump sum of $60 million in compensation, which follows the spirit of the French program. The French authorities have agreed that in order to expedite payments, the U.S. Government will administer and distribute this amount to Israelis, Americans, and other foreigners and their families who have been unable to benefit from the programs, and these will be done without any requirement for any medical showing of disability. And in exchange for the $60 million, the United States will ensure an enduring legal peace for France and its instrumentalities with regard to Holocaust deportation claims. We will do so, again, out of this Department that you’re in now.

We strongly believe this agreement will provide much more meaningful relief to people around the world than litigation that would last many years, come at great cost, and with very uncertain results. It’s important that we recognize that this agreement benefits more than just survivors and spouses of deportation and some children. What is critically important and one of the innovations is that the estates – or as we call it, “heirs standing in the shoes of survivors or surviving spouses or their children” – who are now deceased and would have been eligible had they been French citizens in France, will be compensated. And this way there is some measure of justice for the families of those who passed away in the decades since the French pension programs began for French citizens after World War II.

I’m thinking now specifically of the family of Leo Bretholz of Maryland, who died at the age of 93 only a few months ago, and who did so much to raise the level of visibility of this issue. While he is not here to recover, under the innovative process of this agreement, his family will.

I also want to highlight an existing French program that should be considered when we look at the totality of what France has provided – and Congresswoman Maloney and I were talking about this just now. Since the year 2000, the French have offered payments to orphans of every nationality. This includes everyone who was a minor at the time of the deportation and lost either one or both parents, who were deported and died during the Holocaust. Already, over 1,000 orphans, each from the United States, and another thousand or so from Israel, are receiving or have received such payments, totaling over $60 million to U.S. orphans alone. So when combined with what we’re doing now for U.S. claimants, we’re talking about already $120 million, with more to come. Because I expect with the greater publicity, thanks to this agreement, additional orphans will come to benefit.

This program, at the same time, will not become operational until it is approved by the French parliament. I have every hope and expectation that the French parliament will approve this landmark agreement as soon as possible so that those who have waited so long will not be further delayed. But like our own Congress, the National Assembly is a political body, and therefore it is very important – and I want to underscore this – very important that all stakeholders here – NGOs, counsel, members of Congress – voice their support for this agreement, so that when the National Assembly votes sometime next year, they know that it has the support of our own institutions. I’m very pleased by the way that Serge Klarsfeld and Roger Cukierman of the CRIF have done so already on their side.

The French people and their government have a long record of seeking justice on Holocaust issues that is not well known, and that’s why I want to emphasis it in closing. I actually first came into contact with this at the Paris Gold Conference during the Clinton Administration, in which in Paris, a dozen countries agreed to distribute to their Holocaust victims over six tons of Nazi-looted gold, which we almost miraculously found, held by the Tripartite Commission for decades after the war, only a few blocks from my mission in Brussels.

Also, since the end of World War II, France has paid hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps close to a billion dollars, to their own French survivors, spouses, and orphans. And as you will see in the side letter, which the ambassador has given me, those French citizens who, for whatever reason, have not applied for their own country’s programs may do so without any fear of delay. And those who have applied and been denied may reapply under criteria that are very liberal and that essentially allow payment for any age-related disability.

In addition, the French created a commission to deal with, in their terms, the spoliation or confiscation of art and other property, the CIVS, which has been open to people of any nationality and has – and I’ve met with their leadership several times – an enviable record of providing millions of dollars of payments through a fair and transparent program.

I’m also pleased that, voluntarily and independent of this agreement, the president of SNCF America, Mr. Alain Leray, whose parents themselves fled the grasp of the Nazis, has informed me in a recent meeting that SNCF, the state-owned railway, will contribute $4 million over the next five years, $1 million in 2015, and 200,000 per year thereafter – half in the United States, the other half in Israel and Europe – for the support of Holocaust museums, memorials, education, and projects of remembrance. This $4 million contribution is in addition to the $10 million they’ve contributed to similar projects in past years.

In addition, Mr. Leray has directly repeated to me and permitted me to repeat now within the last few weeks that SNCF’s deep sorrow and regret for the consequences of the acts of SNCF of that era. This was initially stated in a moving speech in 2011 by Mr. Pepy, the chairman of SNCF, and in May of this year by Mr. Leray to the Jewish Federation of Fort Lauderdale, both of which are on their website and which, again, Mr. Leray repeated to me.

We should also remember one other thing about France during World War II. 76,000 Jews and others were deported out of France to their deaths in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, but – and I think almost no one recognizes this – France had, by far, the highest percentage of Jews saved of any country under Nazi occupation. 75 percent of French Jews were saved, due to the courage of average French men and women and French churches, who saw their Jewish compatriots as equal French citizens. In 1995, then-French President Chirac recognized the responsibility of France for the actions of the Vichy government.

And now today, full circle, 70 years later after the end of World War II, it’s the French that will be signing this landmark agreement, covering people all over the world who did not have the opportunity to recover under their generous programs for their own citizens.

We know painfully we can never do complete justice for those 76,000 Jews and others who perished after their deportation from France, nor for everyone touched directly or indirectly by the deportations. But we’ve taken an important step to cover up to several thousand people around the world who would otherwise never have been able to recover.

I close with a quote from Elie Wiesel in his forward to my book, Imperfect Justice, in which he said: “This is not really about money. In a deeper sense, it’s about something infinitely more important and more meaningful. It is about the ethical value and weight of memory.” And so today, thanks to the leadership of the governments of France and the United States, both the Congress and the Executive Branch, to private counsel, and to our Jewish organizations, both here and in France, we sign an agreement that not only will, in their terms, mend the holes by providing generous compensation, but they will also enshrine the memories of deportation victims and their families everywhere in the world.

It’s now my privilege to introduce my colleague and partner, Ambassador Sparacino-Thiellay. She’s the Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights in charge of the Holocaust. She was appointed last year by the Council of Ministers. She’s had a very distinguished career in the diplomatic corps. She served in such positions as being the head of the European Union’s external relations with the developing countries, and she’s also been a legal advisor to the French ministry on women’s rights. She’s received a number of awards, including the Chavalier of the National Order of Merit from France, and a Special Order from the President of the Italian Republic.

She is, in my opinion, a real hero. And in fact, I ask people, should I call her a heroine or a hero? (Laughter.) Somehow, heroine has a bad connotation in some respects. She is a real hero. And it’s my pleasure to give you the floor and to thank you again. (Applause.)

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