updated 6/14/2004 10:57:46 AM ET 2004-06-14T14:57:46

The Supreme Court ordered a lower court on Monday to reconsider if Holocaust survivors and heirs can sue the French national railroad for transporting more than 70,000 Jews and others to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

The case was one of four that justices sent back for more consideration in light of their ruling last week that a federal law allows American courts to hear old disputes over such things as wartime looted property, unless the suits are barred by treaties.

The other cases involve claims that women were used by Japan during World War II as sex slaves, that Austria is responsible for stolen art and that Poland took Jewish families’ land.

An appeals court had said that the French railroad was not protected from litigation in the United States.

In appealing that ruling, New York attorney Andreas Lowenfeld, representing the railroad, had told justices that a multitude of old claims could deluge courts if the justices did not stop them.

The lawsuit alleges that Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais delivered 72,000 “passengers” to their deaths during World War II, billing per person per kilometer.

Stephen Rodd of New York, one of the attorneys representing the survivors and their relatives, said the railroad’s conduct assisted in war crimes. He urged the court not to delay the case, because witnesses are growing older or dying.

In the case against Japan, an appeals court had ruled that Japan was protected from a lawsuit by 15 women from China, Taiwan, North and South Korea and the Philippines who claim that Japan should pay damages for trafficking in women and girls. They contend they were among about 20,000 who were used as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers during the war.

The lawyer for the women said one was 10 when she was kidnapped and enslaved, and the others ranged in age from 13 to 26.

The Austrian art case is a class-action lawsuit filed by people seeking to recover property they claim was stolen by the Nazis, with Austria’s help. Poland is accused of taking land after World War II from Jewish families who had fled the country.

Those two cases, along with the French railroad case, return the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. The lawsuit against Japan will be considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The cases are Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais v. Abrams, 03-284; Joo v. Japan, 03-741; Austria v. Whiteman, 03-500; Poland v. Garb, 03-517.

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