World News

Court recognizes French role in deporting Jews

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s top administrative court ruled on Monday that the state was responsible for the deportation of French Jews during World War Two, but appeared to close the door on major new compensation for victims’ families.

Some 76,000 Jews were arrested in France between 1942 and 1944 and transported in appalling conditions to Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Only 3,000 returned.

Monday’s landmark ruling by the Conseil d’Etat court establishes a legal recognition of France’s role in the deportations and was welcomed by Jewish organizations.

“The Conseil d’Etat recognizes the error and responsibility of the state,” the court said in a written statement.

“This persecution, in a total break with the values and principles ... enshrined in the declaration of human rights and the traditions of the Republic, inflicted exceptional damage of extreme gravity,” it added.

Former President Jacques Chirac was the first French leader to acknowledge state complicity in the deportations in an historic speech in 1995, breaking with past efforts to dissociate France from the collaborationist Vichy regime.

His recognition of French involvement opened the way for victims’ families to seek compensation and the authorities have since given hundreds of millions of euros to plaintiffs.

The Conseil d’Etat issued its ruling after a minor court sought guidance over the liability of the state in the case brought by daughter of a deportee.

The top administrative court said the junior courts could decide on compensation, but added that the state had already met its obligations and respected European norms.

“Taken together, these various measures ... have compensated as much as is possible ... the losses suffered as a result of the actions of the state, which collaborated with the deportation,” the ruling said.

Serge Klarsfeld, a famous French Nazi hunter whose own father was deported from France, welcomed the ruling.

“This ruling is satisfying,” he was quoted as saying by Le Figaro newspaper website. “France is now showing itself to be a leader amongst countries facing up to their past.”

He added that reparations was no longer a major issue. “Those who are currently seeking more compensation have often already received something.”

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Charles Dick