We are pleased to report that we have reached another milestone in the Hungarian Holocaust case. Once again, Hungary’s attempt to have this important and substantial case dismissed has been denied. Because of Chuck Fax’s and Liesel Schopler’s outstanding efforts, we are one step closer to justice being served. An updated report on the case is in the article below.
Hungary Can’t Escape Holocaust Property Seizure Suit
Law360 (March 11, 2020, 9:13 PM EDT) — Hungary and its national railway must face a proposed class action filed by Hungarian Jews seeking restitution for property seized during the Holocaust after a D.C. federal judge concluded Wednesday that the suit fell under an exception to federal sovereign immunity law.
Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell concluded that the plaintiffs — 14 Holocaust victims — had proven that Hungary was not immune from the suit since Budapest had used the proceeds of their allegedly expropriated property to engage in commercial activities in the U.S., including issuing more than $13 billion in bonds and buying military equipment from U.S. companies.
Hungary’s national railway, Magyar Államvasutak Zrt., or MÁV, had also engaged in commercial activity in the U.S. by engaging in activity such as selling tickets and booking reservations, Judge Howell found. It did not matter that these activities were undertaken by MÁV affiliate MÁV-Start Zrt., which the judge said is financially dependent on and substantially controlled by MÁV.
“These allegations suffice to satisfy the [Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act]’s expropriation exception and overcome the default grant of sovereign immunity to the defendants,” according to the opinion. “Accordingly, the plaintiffs’ claims may go forward against the defendants.”
Counsel for the plaintiffs praised the decision Wednesday.
“We believe it is an important step forward in this almost 10-year legal battle to recognize the rights of Hungarian Jews,” said Paul G. Gaston of Law Offices of Paul G. Gaston. “Our team is very pleased to have overcome Hungary’s and MÁV’s last arguments for hiding behind sovereign immunity. We welcome the court’s decision and look forward to the next phase of proving our case on the merits, and will proceed to do so expeditiously.”
Counsel for Hungary could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The plaintiffs — four U.S. citizens, two Canadian citizens, seven Israeli citizens and one Australian — are 14 of the approximately 825,000 Hungarian Jews subjected to the atrocities of the Holocaust at the hands of the Hungarian government between 1941 and 1945. The proposed class would consist of all surviving Jewish victims of the Holocaust who were residents of Hungary between Sept. 1, 1939, and May 8, 1945, or their heirs.
Originally filed in 2011, the litigation seeks restitution for property seized from them and commingled with the country’s coffers as part of Hungary’s broader effort to eradicate the Jewish people, according to court records.
The dispute has its origins in actions undertaken by Hungary in 1944 to strip Hungarian Jews of their possessions — including cash, jewelry, heirlooms, art, valuable collectibles, and gold and silver — and then load them onto trains bound for concentration camps, where many died.
After World War II ended, Hungary signed a peace treaty in 1947 in which it promised to restore or compensate people for property, legal rights or interests taken from them. Although the country attempted to abide by its obligations in the treaty, the plaintiffs claim that Hungarian Jews “saw no tangible results,” according to court records.
In fact, the plaintiffs allege that Hungary liquidated their property and used the money to fund various government and commercial operations. They argue that some of the money was used to fund commercial activity carried on in the U.S. by Hungary, including issuing bonds, purchasing military equipment, promoting trade and tourism, and accepting grants from the U.S. government.
The dispute has already made two trips to the D.C. Circuit. In both instances, the appeals court revived the litigation after it was dismissed by the district court.
The plaintiffs are represented by Charles S. Fax and Liesel J. Schopler of Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC; L. Marc Zell of Zell Aron & Co.; Paul G. Gaston of Law Offices of Paul G. Gaston; David H. Weinstein of Weinstein Kitchenoff & Asher LLC; and Jeremy Spiegel of Law Office of Jeremy Spiegel.
Hungary is represented by Konrad L. Cailteux and Audrey Stano of Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP.
The case is Simon et al. v. Republic Of Hungary et al, case number 1:10-cv-01770 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
–Editing by Peter Rozovsky