US governor to sign Holocaust disclosure law
The governor of Maryland is due Thursday to sign groundbreaking legislation requiring companies vying for lucrative US rail contracts to disclose their role in World War II deportations to Nazi death camps.
The law specifically targets France's state-owned railway company SNCF, which is seeking lucrative contracts to develop high-speed rail in the United States and is hoping to be awarded a contract to provide commuter train services in Maryland, which borders the US capital Washington.
Ninety-year-old Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz, who in 1942 escaped from an SNCF transport bound for the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz by prying apart the windows of the cattle car he was crammed into with 50 deportees, is expected to attend the signing ceremony in the seaside town of Annapolis.
Fifty-six years after the end of World War II, Bretholz said he "just wants a declaration of contrition -- yes, we've done it, we are guilty."
Last November, SNCF boss Guillaume Pepy met in Florida with elected representatives and Jewish community groups to express his regret over the deportations after US lawmakers threatened the SNCF's chances of winning contracts.
But the company has also insisted it was forced by France's World War II German occupiers to help deport 76,000 French Jews to the gas chambers, and noted that 2,000 of its own rail workers were executed.
The French were paid by the Nazis "per head, by the kilometer" to take people to their deaths, Bretholz said.
"Now, they want to build trains in the US, and they'll make more money. I don't think we, as survivors, I don't think our tax dollars should go to that. It's adding insult to injury."
In addition to the Maryland commuter rail project, the SNCF bid last year 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, and a rail project in California.
Maryland will become the first US state to have a law obliging companies to come clean about their role in the Holocaust before bidding on potentially money-spinning projects in the United States.
© 2011 AFP