For the first time, the U.S. Court of Appeals has found that a case may be brought against a foreign national railroad in a Holocaust-related case that seeks billions of dollars.
Late last month, the court in Chicago refused to dismiss a suit against the Hungarian State Railroads (also known as the MAV) brought by Hungarian victims of the Holocaust who claimed the railroad must compensate them for the property it took from them in violation of international law.
“The Jews of Hungary were relatively OK until 1944, and the MAV actually employed Jews right up to the minute it deported them [to concentration camps],” said Richard Weisberg, a professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School who is a lawyer in the case. “Some of our clients were MAV employees, and nothing like that could ever have happened in France.”
He was referring to the French National Railroad, which survivors also sued but which American courts have ruled has sovereign immunity and thus protection from suits here.
But in the case against the MAV, Weisberg said, some of the plaintiffs not only worked for the railroad but also “were tenants in MAV-owned homes.”
“They were living in company housing, and all of a sudden they were kicked out and their possessions were left in the apartments,” he said. “The MAV still owns them. And the MAV owns warehouses along the right-of-way, where Jews leased storage space. Those leasehold arrangements were breached as part of a pattern of genocidal conduct.”
In addition, Weisberg said, the suit alleges that personal property such as candlesticks and jewelry were taken.
“Although the MAV does not currently own the jewelry that was taken, we allege that it still owns the proceeds,” he said.
The Court of Appeals sent the case back down to a lower court with instructions that it ensure that all legal remedies in Hungary have been exhausted before allowing the case to proceed in the United States. Weisberg said the plaintiffs would argue that there is such anti-Semitism in Hungary that “the idea our clients who are Jewish victims of the Holocaust would prevail in Hungarian courts on Holocaust-related claims is something we feel we would be able to deny. … It would not make any sense given the climate in Hungary.”