US lawmaker invites French rail chief to discuss Holocaust

6th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

A US lawmaker opposed to seeing France's state-run railway get lucrative high-speed rail contracts pressed its top executive on Wednesday to attend public talks on the company's role in deporting Jews to Nazi death-camps in World War II.

"I view your participation in this meeting as absolutely necessary," Democratic Representative Ron Klein of Florida wrote SNCF Chairman and CEO Guillaume Pepy in a letter released by the lawmaker's office.

"I respectfully invite you or an appropriate representative of your company to a public meeting with Holocaust experts, historians, and survivors to discuss these issues," Klein wrote.

Klein, who has called for legislation to block SNCF from winning high-speed contracts in his home state, did not specify a date for such a discussion, saying only it would occur "in the very near future."

"We, with your help, need to get to the bottom of these troubling issues before any high-speed rail bidding begins," he added.

The Nazis occupying France in the 1940s used SNCF trains to take Jews to death camps. The company insists it was forced to take part in the deportations and that many of its workers resisted the occupation.

"We should not forget one thing: the SNCF, the railway workers were under the yoke of the Nazi occupiers, threatened with death... 2,000 railway workers were executed by the Nazis," Pepy said in late August.

Pepy, speaking to Europe 1 radio, said the company would give US authorities details of its role in the deportations.

Klein's bill would require firms seeking high-speed rail contracts to disclose any participation on Holocaust-era deportations to Nazi concentration camps, and to have "resolved" the issue with the victims or their families.

The measure would explicitly apply to firms that were, or are, state-owned, such as the SNCF.

The legislation does not specify what "resolved" would mean, but a Klein aide indicated that the SNCF could reach that goal by settling a class-action lawsuit brought by a coalition of Holocaust survivors.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed a bill that would have required the SNCF to disclose whether it transported Jews to Nazi death camps and reveal any reparations paid to Holocaust survivors or their families.

The SNCF said it respected Schwarzenegger's decision but "still plans to fully comply with the bill's intent" and vowed "complete transparency."

© 2010 AFP

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