Holocaust survivor heirs sue Hungarian railway company MÁV for USD 1.24 bn

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Heirs of Jews killed in the Hungarian Holocaust of 1944 filed a lawsuit at a Chicago court on Tuesday local time against Hungarian state railways MÁV, demanding compensation of USD 1.24 billion (HUF 244 bn) for the company's involvement in deporting Jews during World War II.

The crimes

Plaintiffs, who are Hungarian Jewish victims of the Hungarian Holocaust or their heirs or next of kin, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, bring this action for compensation, restitution, reparations, and punitive damages against the defendant MÁV for:

"active participation in the Nazi genocide of 1944 in Hungary by knowingly providing the trains for delivering 437,000 Jews to their deaths in Auschwitz and murdering many of them along the way under the subhuman conditions of the transportation;
aiding and abetting the Nazi genocide of 1944;
looting the plaintiffs’ possessions, valuables, heirlooms, stock certificates, currency, and jewellery from the plaintiffs’ luggage, then destroying the plaintiffs’ baggage receipts, destroying records of these thefts, falsely denying that it committed any of these acts, and engaging in concealment of these crimes to the present day."

Nine years of research

The allegations in the complaint "are the product of nine years’ research, without the cooperation of the Hungarian government or its instrumentalities, into tens of thousands of official documents from East European and German archives and Israeli depositories, from the Raoul Wallenberg archives, from documents in the possession of Holocaust survivors and historians, and from the extensive documentary collection of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.," the case document said.

USD 1.24 bn claim

The plaintiffs, who are mostly descendants of Holocaust survivors living in Israel and the US (and one each residing in the UK, Hungary and Brazil), demand compensation worth a total of USD 1.24 billion dollars.

The plaintiffs ask the court to (a) award the plaintiff class the sum of USD 240 million, "as the value of its stolen property", to be adjusted upward from its purchasing power in 1944 to its present-day value; and to (b) award the plaintiff class (2/3) and their attorneys (1/3) the sum of USD 1 billion, "as punitive damages reflecting the heinous and zealous participation by the defendants in genocide and in light of the fact that no other law firm in 66 years has been motivated or has seen fit to bring such a case."

A conservative estimate of the money and valuables looted from the Jews at MÁV’s train stations is 8% of the total value of Jewish wealth in Hungary in 1944. Thus, 8% x USD 3 billion = USD 240 million in 1944 U.S. dollars. The dollar has appreciated approximately 33 times since 1944.

"MÁV knew exactly what it was doing"

"Although the Hungarian genocide was the single most extensive and brutal of all the Nazi genocides of World War II, at the present date not even one per cent of the Hungarian victims’ financial losses has been restituted. This is in sharp contrast to other Holocaust reparations initiatives that have been successfully prosecuted against other states and their instrumentalities. But in the case of Hungary, its agencies and instrumentalities so far have stalled, stonewalled, stridently misled, and falsely denied their role as profiteers from the Hungarian Holocaust. The worst offender has been MÁV, which has not paid a pengő (the Hungarian currency at that time) to the plaintiffs," the complaint said.

"MÁV knew exactly what it was doing. It was using nearly all of its trains day and night to transport people one-way to Auschwitz. The trains were empty as they rattled along the tracks back to Hungary. Without the trains provided by MÁV, hundreds of thousands of Jews could not have been transported to Auschwitz."

Zealous help in genocide

The plaintiff did not want to leave any doubt that MÁV was eager to help the extermination of Jews.

"MÁV chose to operate the death trains to the complete satisfaction of Adolf Hitler’s secretary Adolf Eichmann’s needs."

"It made available the necessary rolling stock, scheduled the trips night and day, and cleaned and disinfected the cars after the trips."

"MÁV supervised and managed every aspect of the transportation process.

"MÁV knew that conditions on the trains would cause many to die. The interior heat of the unventilated cars, coupled with the lack of water to assuage the thirst of the passengers, in fact resulted in many deaths and severe mental impairments. The sick, the elderly, pregnant women, babies and young children were treated with equal brutality by MÁV’s agents."

"The trains bound to Auschwitz would be stopped at intervals, allowing railroad employees to remove the dead bodies and the persons who had gone mad. MÁV employees had dug ditches in advance to receive the dead bodies and bury them."

"The persons who showed signs of mental illness were led to the edge of the ditches and then shot by MÁV employees."

The complaint has been submitted to the Northern District Court of Illinois on 9 February and a judge, Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, has already been appointed.

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