Yesterday, I blogged about the Holocaust exhibit called “The Courage to Remember” which I went to see on the campus of California State University Sacramento. The money for this exhibit came from a grant from the French Railway company known as SNCF, the Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer Francais, which Holocaust survivors hold responsible for reparations to the Jews because the French railway transported 76,000 Jews to the Nazi death camps.
Notice the line in the second paragraph which says “There was a time when SNCF sought to bid on the proposed high speed rail project in California.” Sacramento is one of the cities that will have a station on the high speed rail system if and when the second phase of it is ever built.
The photo above is a close-up of the panel that has the title “Statement.” The whole panel is shown in the photo below, which shows the start of the exhibit.
Yesterday, I arrived at the exhibit in Mendocino Hall about an hour after it opened at 10 a.m. I noticed that the exhibit was creating a great deal of inattention. There were no students there whatsoever. The only visitors were a group of well-dressed, well-groomed women who seemed to know a lot about the Holocaust. I waited until they were gone because I didn’t want people in my photos. These women were too young to be survivors, so I deduced that they were teachers. The CSUS campus is very diverse, with every race, color and creed in the world represented. The CSUS students couldn’t care less about the Holocaust: they have their own problems.
But I digress. The main thing here is the role of the French railway and whether they owe the Jews reparations for transporting Jews to Auschwitz. Auschwitz was chosen as the location for a death camp because railway lines all over Europe led to it. The Jews could be transported to Auschwitz from any country without changing trains.
This quote is from an article, which you can read in full here.
More than six decades after World War II, survivors of the Holocaust and descendants of its victims are waging a battle with the French railroad over history and fairness.
At issue is whether the rail company — the Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer Francais, or SNCF — can be held liable for transporting some 76,000 Jews and others to Nazi death camps.
Lightman and others who are fighting SNCF are now hopeful they can leverage a legislative victory in the Maryland General Assembly this year into momentum for a stalled bill in Congress that would open the company to reparation lawsuits.
Though the legislation has failed in the past, advocates are citing Maryland’s new law as they search for new co-sponsors on Capitol Hill to help push the measure forward.
Two lawmakers, including Western Maryland Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican, signed on last week to bring the number of supporters to 43.
“We’re trying to bring closure,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., who has backed the bill in the past and is doing so again this year. “Those who are victims have the right to get information made available so that we can bring closure to that chapter in history.”
But the debate has raised difficult-to-answer questions about French culpability for the crimes of the Nazis. After the Germans invaded France in 1940, they installed a collaborationist government in Vichy and seized the rail system. Holocaust survivors and SNCF have argued fiercely over whether rail officials were coerced by the Nazis or were willing partners.
For the past decade, 650 Holocaust survivors have pursued the company in federal court. The group sued SNCF in 2001, arguing that the company knew of the packed and squalid conditions Jews were forced to endure in the rail cars.
The lawsuit made it to the Supreme Court but was dismissed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which limits plaintiffs’ ability to sue foreign governments. The company has argued in U.S. courts that it is an arm of the French government; its critics have maintained it is a separate entity.
The legislation pending in Congress would end that debate by lifting the protection from the company.
Jerry Ray, a spokesman for SNCF America, said the Nazis had seized the country, and SNCF employees — none of whom work at the railroad today — were forced to take the actions they did.
Ray said the French government, which owns the company, began reparation programs soon after France was liberated in 1944, and paid out more than $1.4 billion in claims to date.
“This bill, directed exclusively at France — our oldest ally — invites foreign countries to open up their courts to allow retaliatory lawsuits against the United States and its entities from any corner of the globe,” Ray said.
The legislation, he said, “serves no public purpose since non-litigious reparations programs … have long been available to residents of France during World War II and their children, including U.S. citizens.”
While the fight over SNCF has raged for years in Washington, it has cropped up more recently at the state level as the company’s U.S. subsidiaries have bid on rail projects paid for with economic stimulus money.
California’s legislature approved a bill last year that required companies bidding on rail projects to acknowledge whether they transported victims during the war, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. In Florida, SNCF put in for a $2.6 billion rail project that was ultimately canceled.
The company’s $80,000 donation to a Holocaust education program in Florida brought accusations that it was trying to buy support for its bid. The company has honored its commitment to the program even though the rail project was shelved.