Rosalie Simon, 92, of Floral Park, is the lead plaintiff...

Rosalie Simon, 92, of Floral Park, is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that the Supreme Court will hear, filed by Holocaust survivors and their families against Hungary and its national railway. Credit: Simon family

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case against the Hungarian government, and its national railroad, brought by a group of Jewish Hungarian Holocaust survivors, including a lead plaintiff from Long Island, whose belongings were seized when their families were sent to mass extermination camps late in World War II.

The high court said Monday it would hear the arguments in the case, fourteen years after it was first filed, during its next annual term — though no date has been announced.

The class action suit was filed in 2010, led by plaintiff Rosalie Simon, of Floral Park. It argued that in 1944, as Nazi Germany was headed toward imminent defeat, the Hungarian government and its national railway stole their property — and their families' property — as it rushed to deport more than 560,000 Jews, about 68% of its prewar Jewish population, to death camps.

Lawyers for the Republic of Hungary and the railroad, Magyar Allamvasutak Zrt., have argued in court papers that American courts do not have jurisdiction in the case, citing the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) making foreign nations immune to such lawsuits.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case against the Hungarian government, and its national railroad, brought by a group of Jewish Hungarian Holocaust survivors.
  • The class action suit was filed in 2010, led by plaintiff Rosalie Simon, of Floral Park. The suit contends that the government and railroad stole the property of the plaintiffs and their families as it deported Jewish people to death camps.
  • Lawyers for Hungary and the railroad have argued in court papers that American courts do not have jurisdiction in the case.

Simon, now 92, said Tuesday she was very happy that the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case “because what Hungary did to us was the same as the Nazis … We were told we had to leave our house, leave everything behind my parents worked for all their lives, and can you imagine how that must have made them feel?”

Simon said she, her parents, her brother and four sisters, were forced from their modest, working-class home in Teresva, on the border with Ukraine, and first sent to a Jewish ghetto, where she said her family was forced to sleep in a local cemetery.

 Holocaust survivor Rosalie Simon in 1945.

 Holocaust survivor Rosalie Simon in 1945. Credit: Simon family

Then, after several weeks, Simon, whose name then was Rosalie Lebovic, said her family was placed on cattle cars, along with thousands of others, and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Twice, Simon said, she escaped a date with the gas chamber.

The first time, she said, was the first day in camp, when she left what she’d been told was a bread line where she stood with her mother, Riska, and brother, William, 13, to go find her sisters.

“It really was a line for the gas chamber,” Simon’s son, Mitchell Simon, of Oceanside, said Tuesday, “and she never saw her mother or brother again.”

The second time, Mitchell Simon said, was when his mother was spared by a female camp guard, who opened a door, allowing Rosalie, then 12, to escape back into the general camp population — instead of following others into the gas chamber.

Rosalie Simon chronicled her experience, including eventually being sent to work in a munitions factory, in a 2014 memoir titled “Girl in a Striped Dress.”  She and her family were liberated by American troops in 1945. Her father, Samuel Lebovic, went to Prague while one sister went to Canada, another to Israel and she and two sisters eventually went to Baltimore.

Attorneys for Manhattan-based Phillips Lytle LLP, which represents the Hungarian government and railway, argued the “reformulated” question raised by the Jewish survivors “improperly assumes that funds commingled with the proceeds of their property are present in the United States.” They noted that as “a matter of common sense, it is extraordinarily unlikely,” saying bond transactions involve “proceeds of property seized during World War II from the handful of individuals who filed this action.”

The petition argued the war caused “the destruction” of much of Hungary’s wealth — and that the subsequent “Communist dictatorship,” beginning in 1948, caused a period when the Hungarian government “did not recognize individual property rights.”

But in its filing, lawyers for Simon and her 13 co-plaintiffs argued making an exception to the FSIA is “critically important,” contending: “The Court should step in now and make clear that U.S. courts have jurisdiction to provide remedies, even if ‘profoundly inadequate,’ for ‘[t]he atrocities committed … during the Holocaust.”

This case arises from “probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the history of the world,” the filing said, adding: “With tragic efficiency, Hungarian government officials, including MÁV employees, shipped hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths.”

“Four times a day, Petitioners packed ‘3,000 to 3,500 Hungarian Jews’ into cattle cars destined for death camps,” the papers said. "‘Ninety percent … were murdered upon arrival.”

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