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.