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March 28, 2011

Holocaust bill OKd after compromise with railroad

A bill intended to put pressure on a French railroad and its U.S. subsidiary to cooperate with Holocaust survivors in efforts to account for the deportation of about 70,000 Jews and others from France to German death camps during World War II has passed both houses of the General Assembly.

Del. Samuel I.  "Sandy" Rosenberg, the House sponsor of the legislation, said the House bill was heavily amended to reflect the results of negotiations between advocates for the deportees and representatives of the French government-owned railroad SNCF and its Rockville-based affiliate Keolis America.

Rosenberg said the Senate bill passed a version close to the original form of the bill, which SNCF and Keolis had said would preclude it from competing to a contract to operate the MARC Brunswick and Camden lines when CSX Transportation relinquishes that role. But the Baltimore Democrat said he expected the Senate to agree to the amendments worked out in the House. He said those changes had been agreed to by the railroad's lobbyist in Annapolis.

The original bill would have made it a condition on bidding on the MARC contract that any railroad involved in World War II deportations would have to make extensive disclosures of its records of its wartime activities. At a hearing marked by the emotional testimony of Holocaust survivors and their heirs, Keolis said the measure's terms were so onerous it would have kept it from bidding on the MARC contract.

Keolis is one of a relative handful of companies with experience in operating railroads under contract with government agencies.

Rosenberg said that under the compromise, SNCF has agreed to speed the digitization of its company archives, which contain details of the railroad's cooperation with German authorities after the French surrender to the Nazis in 1940. The bill puts the determination of whether the company has complied with the bill's specification in the hands of the Maryland State Archives, an independent agency. The original bill would have left the decision on the adequacy of any disclosure up to the Department of Transportation, a part of the governor's administration.

Rosenberg said he believes the agreement forged in Maryland could become a model for other states, where SNCF has also run into attempts by state legislators to come to terms with survivors seeking damages for the railroad's wartime actions.

Neither the lobbyist for SNCF and Keolis, Bill Pitcher, nor Keolis America President Steve Townsend could be reached too comment.

The amended bill passed the House 137-0 Saturday. It had earlier passed the Senate 45-0.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:35 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Comments

As I have stated before I hope the same rules are applied to Japanese companies that used allied POW's for slave laborers.

A recall of the facts would he helpful in assessing what is going on here:
(1) The specifics of the deportation trains, including timing, equipment and who got deported, were decided on by employees of Deutsche Reichsbahn and German military officers.
(2) The SNCF was part of the French state during WWII; former French President Jacques Chirac has already apologized on behalf of France and its state, and the French state has already paid all the reparations required by law.
(3) Inomignously, the deportee numbers and specifics of the law mentioned here mean that it intentionally ignores that most of the deportees who traveled on SNCF trains were NOT Jewish or deported for racial motives.
In short, this is an attempt at using legal double jeopardy to hold up one bidder to the interest of a few. Lest they be fooled, MD taxpayers and train riders should be clear about this: They might as well bleed themselves and send the money to Jewish interests directly, and to rivals such as Siemens (which OPERATED death camps) and Japan Railways (which used Americans as SLAVES). Perhaps because he doesn't know this part of history that well, I don't think Sandy Rosenberg is serving all his constituents' interests here, even though there may be a financial and political payoff to him for doing this.

Where does the blame stop? With SNCF? With the companies that made the railcars? With the companies that mined the coal that drove the engines? This is a slippery slope that knows no end.

A reasonable person wonders how many employees of SNCF acted only after a Walther PPK was pointed at their skull. If they would have refused, would they have reserved their own seat in the railcar? Were any WWII era SNCF employees sought out and allowed to testify? If not, why?

The unanimous House and Senate vote is absolutely disturbing. Functional Democracies demand dissent or we're no better than Sadam's parliament. See the Knesset for an exellent example of "spirited debate" in a functional Democracy. Oy!

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.
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