Compensation for Cruelty: Holocaust Survivors Take Legal Action

During this week’s class discussion about the Holocaust, identity and sentimentalism, I continuously found myself thinking about how Holocaust survivors dealt with finding peace and justice after the World War II was over.  When reading Maus: Part I: My Father Bleeds History, one can easy pick out certain behaviors of the main character, Vladek Spiegelman.  His attitude towards money and objects that we would consider irrelevant or easy to purchase instead of scrounge for are telling of his experiences as a Jewish Pole who survived through ghettos and Auschwitz. [1]  Vladek’s story is just one of several survivor’s stories and after doing some research, I found that Holocaust survivors and their heirs are currently taking action in a way I hadn’t thought of before: They are suing the railway companies of countries that are responsible for transporting Holocaust victims and survivors to concentration camps.

The most recent incident of survivors suing the government is currently taking place through the US court system.  14 Hungarian Holocaust survivors are bringing a lawsuit against the Hungarian government and its national train company for transporting and deporting at least 500,000 Hungarian Jews in cooperation with the Nazis.  They are also taking legal action against the illegal confiscation of personal property from the prisoners on the trains. [2]  This incredible action against Hungary, if won, would lead to, “a fund under the court’s supervision with a mechanism that will inform every Holocaust survivor and their families will be established, and then the court will make sure the money is distributed according to a formula that it will determine.”[3]  No monetary compensation could ever make up for the trauma caused during the Holocaust, but at least it’s a start.  The case against Hungary and it’s train company is one of many like it, survivors and their heirs have taken action against several countries that cooperated with Nazi demands.

KZ Auschwitz, Ankunft ungarischer Juden
The arrival of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Credit: The German National Archive via Wikimedia Commons.


Legal action seems like a small move compared to what was experienced in the Holocaust, and in my opinion, those who complied with the Nazis are lucky that trial is the worst they face.  As the survivor population ages, there are less people to testify against SS guards and bring the justice deserved to survivors and heirs of family members who did not survive the Holocaust.  I hope the survivors who are suing Hungary for reparations are successful; they deserve more that monetary compensation for the loss and hardship imposed on their lives because of their identity.

[1] Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale I. My Father Bleeds History (New York, Pantheon Books, 1986).

[2] “14 Holocaust Survivors Sue Hungary in US Court”

[3]Itamar Eichner, “Holocaust Survivors Sue Hungarian Government”,7340,L-4762071,00.html

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