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Holocaust survivors sue Hungary for deportation of 500,000 Jews

A picture taken in January 1945 shows the railway lines leading into Auschwitz concentration camp after its liberation by Soviet troops
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Hungarian government has never been prosecuted for collaborating with the Nazis

Fourteen holocaust survivors, including six Israelis have filed a lawsuits against the government of Hungary and the Hungarian national train corporation, MAV, for their role in the Holocaust, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Wednesday.

According to Ynet, the Hungarian government has never been prosecuted for collaborating with the Nazis and is the last European country to reach a settlement with Holocaust survivors and their heirs after the end of World War II.

The suit alleges that during the Holocaust, the Hungarian Government and MAV are responsible for the deportation of 500,000 Jews and that they confiscated the assets of those Jews. The group of plaintiffs also includes survivors now living in the United States, Canada and Australia.

A previous attempt to file the lawsuit in Washington DC, against the Hungarian government, was rejected as the courts said that Hungary had immunity based on the peace treaty between the Allies and Hungary that was signed in 1947, said Ynet.

Prosecutors appealed the decision at the federal court of appeals in Washington, which overturned the lower court's ruling, and said the suit will continue in federal court.

According to Ynet, the additional suit against MAV and Hungarian banks was originally filed in Chicago, but was rejected. Prosecutors appealed this decision twice, however, the court informed them that the claim must be filed in Hungary rather than the United States.

Israeli-American attorney Mark Zell filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs in Washington.

"We did not set a monetary value to the suit, but the amount should reach up into the millions of dollars. If we are successful, a fund will be set up that will be overseen by the court. This is actually a class action suit," Zell said.

"If we win, a fund will be established under court supervision, which will notify all of the Hungarian survivors, and their families, and the court will determine how much money is to be given out to each survivor," he continued, adding that "This is an important and costly suit that comes 71 years after the war."

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Zell explained that there have been previous efforts to get compensation from Nazi criminals in Hungary but this specific lawsuit is extraordinary because it is the first to be filed against the government itself, said Ynet.

Hungary fought alongside Nazi Germany during the war as a member of the Axis, but Hitler ordered a takeover on March 19, 1944, when he discovered Budapest had started secret peace talks with the Soviet Union.

Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished during the Holocaust, most deported to Nazi death camp Auschwitz after the German occupation began.

Around 100,000 Jews remained in Budapest when the entire city was liberated on February 13, 1945.

According to Zell, MAV kept records of all the Jews transported to concentration camps during the Holocaust, said Ynet.

"They sent a bill to all passengers charging them for their transportation and the transportation of their belongings and family members to Auschwitz or Mauthausen. We are suing a train company that sent more than 500,000 Jews to their deaths," said Zell  

"Usually it is impossible to sue a government," Zell explains. "But in the US, in some cases, it is possible to sue a foreign government or a government company, but only if the government expropriated property against international law."

"We can sue for the confiscation of personal property of the victims, but ironically we cannot sue for death or for the physical and psychological suffering that the victims went through. Our chances are better now because the Federal Court of Appeals has approved the suit, but we now have to return to the District Court in order to continue," he said.

Ze'ev Ram, one of the survivors represented in the suit, was raised in Hungary and sent to Auschwitz during the war.  He was forced to take part in the Holocaust's most notorious death march, and was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, said Ynet.  His family did not survive the war, and he relocated to Isrel.

Now 85-years-old, Ram says "I grew up in a home of Hungarian nationals, of secular Jews. I saw what was happening in the country and it was disappointing."

"Justice should be done. He who is to blame has to pay the price," said Ram.

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