Not long after Raphael Prober joined Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in 2008, he was asked to head a pro bono project advocating for Holocaust survivors who were seeking reparations from France’s national state-owned railway company, which operated the trains that transported them through the country to concentration camps in Germany and Poland.
Prober, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who specializes in congressional investigations, policy and public law, says he did not hesitate to join the effort. Prober himself has many family members who were killed in Lithuania at the outbreak of World War II. But it wasn’t until he read a memoir by a man who leaped from a train that was carrying thousands to Auschwitz that Prober says he fully understood the importance of the work he was a part of.
“It painted such a vivid picture for me and made so clear how much he and his fellow survivors deserved justice,” he says. “After reading that book, I was all in.”
The author was a man named Leo Bretholz, and the book is called “Leap into Darkness.” Bretholz immigrated to Baltimore after the war and was active in the effort to gain reparations for Holocaust survivors living in the United States. While working on this case, Prober says, he and Bretholz became close.
Earlier this month, thousands of survivors, their family members, U.S. Department of State officials and dozens of lawyers had reason to celebrate. Seventy years after French trains began transporting what would become 76,000 deportees, the United States and France signed an agreement that gives Holocaust survivors who were carried to death camps $60 million in reparations. Those funds will be distributed by the State Department to several thousands of survivors or their family members.
“Most importantly though, to me, the agreement represents an acknowledgment of complacency and a very meaningful recognition of responsibility,” Prober says.
The railway company, Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF), was operated by the French government during the Nazi occupation of that country. France had reparations programs set up for deportees from France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Poland and the United Kingdom, but none specifically for American survivors of the rail system.
“France recognizes that Americans and other foreigners deported during the Holocaust have not been able to gain access to the French pension program, and has agreed to compensate them through this agreement,” the French and American governments said in a joint statement.
Prober says his work has been to oversee strategy and to advocate at the State Department and in state governments. He says over 50 Akin Gump attorneys have worked on this case since 2005.
The case gained a sense of urgency about a year ago when Keolis, a subsidiary of SNCF, was invited to bid on a $6 billion project to build a light-rail line in Maryland, Bretholz’s home state, according to the Washington Post.
“SNCF willingly collaborated with the Nazis,” wrote Bretholz in a change.org petition, which gained more than 165,000 signatures calling for the company to pay restitution to American survivors.
Bretholz maintained in his petition that if SNCF had resisted, “even to a small degree, the number of those killed from France would have been greatly reduced. Had SNCF not imposed horrific conditions on its trains, many additional lives could have been saved.”
In March, the 93-year-old planned to testify before the Maryland State Legislature, but just days before he was scheduled to do so, he died, Prober says.
Bretholz had a good friend, Rosette Goldstein, who also survived the Holocaust and had been active in the effort to gain reparations. Goldstein’s father, who had been transported on SNCF trains, was killed at Buchenwald.
“She stepped up and said, ‘There’s no way someone’s not testifying on Leo’s behalf. I’m going to find a flight,’” Prober recalls. “And that’s exactly what she did.”
In a conversation with The Am Law Daily from her home in Boca Raton, Fla., Goldstein reflected on her work.
“I feel that I’ve done something for my father,” she says. “I’ve given him some kind of a life, a name. He’s there. He was alive.”
Even before Akin Gump entered the picture in 2005, Holocaust victims began pursuing claims against SNCF five years earlier, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal. They were represented by attorneys Stephen Rodd of Abbey Spanier and Harriet Tamen of Simon & Partners.
Tamen, who originally asked Akin Gump to join the effort to win reparations, says she is disappointed with the agreement reached with the French government.
“The work continues because the settlement does not cover the vast majority of the people we represent,” she says. The agreement covers survivors, spouses of survivors and children who lost one parent, but it does not include children who lost both parents or people who lost aunts, uncles or cousins.
Akin Gump not only lobbied for reparations, but also for the passage of the state and federal legislation, including the Holocaust Rail Justice Act, first introduced in 2003 and reintroduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in 2011, according to The National Law Journal. The bill would allow American survivors to make claims against SNCF or other railroads.
Both Prober and Goldstein attended the signing of the reparations agreement on Dec. 8 at the Treaty Room in the State Department.
“It’s coming 70 years late, but most importantly, it’s happened,” Prober says.
Goldstein says she was sorry her friend Bretholzwasn’t there, but adds, “I felt him at that signing. I felt that he was there.”
When are descendants of African slaves going to demand and receive reparations from the United States government for 500 plus years of oppression, which includes slavery [the “African Holocaust], legal segregation and continuing discrimination? This nation has been unjustly enriched from its atrocious crimes against humanity and they owe us more than a TRILLION dollars!
Source: Nell Gluckman. “Akin Gump Partner Helps Holocaust Survivors Win Reparations.” The American Lawyer. December 17, 2014. http://www.americanlawyer.com/id=1202712863574/Akin-Gump-Partner-Helps-Holocaust-Survivors-Win-Reparations-#ixzz3MLsZSv88.
Source: Tasneem Nashrulla. “New York Public Defenders Walk Out Of Court Protesting Eric Garner’s Death.” Buzzfeed. December 17, 2014. http://www.buzzfeed.com/tasneemnashrulla/new-york-public-defenders-walk-out-of-court-protesting-eric.
Ontrack Kroll’s summay of Novick v. AXA Network, LLC, 2014 WL 5364100 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 22, 2014).
With less than two weeks to go before we conclude 2014, Kroll Ontrack released a PowerPoint presentation on the “Top EDiscovery Cases of 2014.” This presentation further proves that the only way William Morris and Loeb & Loeb LLP obtained a favorable verdict in this case, was due to fraud because in every single area of this case, they have been able to ignore, flout and act above the law against an African American litigant who is not represented by an attorney.
William Morris and their Loeb & Loeb LLP attorneys Michael P. Zweig and Christian Carbone intentionally refused to comply with any of my [e]discovery requests and also refused to comply with Arbitrator Gregory’s various Interim Decisions, which granted “liberal discovery” and compelled William Morris to produce the underlying e-mails to “Exhibit 31″ and other documents pertaining to Rowe. They refused AND still “won” the case under the jurisdiction of the American Arbitration Association and P. Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York!! This presents just another area in which my due process rights were violated as a result the finders of facts’ deliberate refused to uphold the law. Based on Loeb & Loeb LLP’s contumacious and highly unethical conduct, default judgment should have been granted in my favor as a disciplinary sanction. Had I or any attorney challenging William Morris’ institutionally racist employment practices, policies and procedures engaged in the type of unlawful conduct Loeb & Loeb LLP and Michael P. Zweig have in Rowe, as well as my case, there’s no question that the case would have been immediately been dismissed with prejudice.
Source: Howard Koplowitz. “Race Relations in America Today At Their Worst in 10 Years After Ferguson, Eric Garner Case: Poll.” International Business Times. December 17, 2014. http://www.ibtimes.com/race-relations-america-today-their-worst-10-years-after-ferguson-eric-garner-case-1761237.