French rail's Holocaust regrets 'not complete'

25th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

A Holocaust center in the United States welcomed the latest regrets expressed by France's state-owned rail company SNCF for hauling Jews to their deaths, but said Tuesday it was not enough.

The SNCF, which is seeking lucrative contracts to build high-speed rail in the United States, announced plans to build a memorial near Paris at a disused railyard from which thousands of Jews were deported to Nazi death camps.

Guillaume Pepy, the rail company's president, said the company "was forced and requisitioned as a cog in the Nazi extermination machine." But it fell short for some Holocaust survivors in the United States.

"It's not a good act of apology, it's not complete," said Rositta Kenigsberg, executive vice president of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center near Miami, Florida.

"Come and apologize to the people themselves, come and meet with them, come and sit down with those that have experienced what happened at that time."

Last November, Pepy met in Florida with elected representatives and Jewish community groups to express his regret, after US lawmakers threatened the SNCF's chances of winning contracts.

But as well as expressing remorse, the company has insisted it was forced by France's World War II German occupiers to help deport 75,000 French Jews to the gas chambers, and noted that 2,000 of its own rail workers were executed.

The southern state of Florida, popular among elderly retirees, has the second-largest number of Holocaust survivors and their families in the United States.

"I do know when there is an apology, it sends a fabulous message universally but what it does for the survivors -- it helps with closure," said Kenigsberg, who called for a full apology.

"They do feel a sense that something has changed, that people are going to stop doing this. Apology is about a new beginning."

Pepy denied that the memorial in France or the outreach to Florida's Jewish community were in response to criticism. "Our replies are not dictated by circumstances. Our replies are dictated by our convictions, which were not just formed yesterday," he said.

The SNCF is bidding on a $2.6-billion rail project linking the Florida cities of Orlando and Tampa that is part of President Barack Obama's multi-billion-dollar initiative to improve rail service across the Unites States.

"Every company has the right to bid, that is not the issue. Taxpayers need to know if there was a history and especially if the taxpayers happen to be Holocaust survivors," Kenigsberg said.

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. It was vetoed.

For Raphael Prober, a lawyer for the firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which represents 650 US-based concentration camp victims and their families, "until SNCF takes full responsibility for its collaboration with the Nazis and they pay reparation, they will remain the subject of a public" scrutiny.

© 2011 AFP

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