21 March 2011
Congressmen and senators in the United States have introduced legislation that would allow lawsuits against France's state-owned rail company SNCF over its role in deporting Jews to the Nazi death camps during World War II. The measure seeks to counter the SNCF's argument that it is immune to legal action thanks to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the proposal's Republican and Democratic sponsors said last week. "Nothing will ever make up for the atrocities undertaken by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. But every bit of justice is important," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York. "This bill allows some measure of justice and closure for those who have suffered," she added.
The bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate, which would need to pass identical legislation to send it to President Barack Obama to sign into law. It aims to clear a legal path for Holocaust survivors and their heirs to sue the SNCF, which is seeking lucrative contracts to build high-speed rail in the United States. Co-sponsors of the bill are amongst others Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican from Florida), Jerrold Nadler (Democrat from New York), Ted Deutch (Democrat from Florida), and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (both Democrats from New York) and Marco Rubio (Republican from Florida).
“This is a bill which seeks to protect the legal rights of Holocaust survivors and hold accountable the railroad companies that profited from deporting Jews and other victims to Nazi concentration camps,” Ros-Lehtinen said, adding: “Congress must pass this bill to bring a semblance of justice to the survivors and families of victims of this horrific chapter in world history.” Gillibrand declared: “This legislation seeks long overdue justice for the Holocaust survivors and their families. By bringing these cases under federal jurisdiction, railroad companies who worked with Nazi sympathizers will be held accountable for their actions."
Last year, the company formally expressed remorse and insisted it was forced by the German occupiers of France to help deport 75,000 Jews to the gas chambers. SNCF noted that 2,000 of its own rail workers had been executed.
The SNCF is bidding on a US$ 2.6-billion rail project linking the cities of Orlando and Tampa in Florida. In California, where the SNCF is interested in another rail project, lawmakers tried last year to pass a law obliging bidders to disclose details of their involvement in wartime deportations. However, it was vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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