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Posted: February 22, 2014

Maryland rail project linked to holocaust

JEAN AYISSI
Freight trains of the French rail operator SNCF are at a stand still, 22 November 2007 at the Drancy marshalling yard, on the ninth day of a nationwide strike. Rail workers walked off the job last 13 November evening to protest Sarkozy's plan to scrap pension privileges. AFP PHOTO JEAN AYISSI (Photo credit should read JEAN AYISSI/AFP/Getty Images)

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            Maryland rail project linked to holocaust
Freight trains of the French rail operator SNCF are at a stand still, 22 November 2007 at the Drancy marshalling yard, on the ninth day of a nationwide strike. Rail workers walked off the job last 13 November evening to protest Sarkozy's plan to scrap pension privileges. AFP PHOTO JEAN AYISSI (Photo credit should read JEAN AYISSI/AFP/Getty Images)

By Katherine Biek

American Holocaust survivors might soon receive reparation payments from a government-owned French railway that carried people to concentration camps.

Keolis, an American subsidiary of  French train company SNCF, is one of the rail companies being considered for a large new rail project in Maryland known as the Purple Line Project. (Via NECN)

Winning this contract would be a major coup for Keolis: the proposed 16-mile Purple Line comes with a 35-year contract worth more than $6 billion. (Via Maryland Transit Administration)

The Coalition for Holocaust Rail Justice says SNCF transported 76,000 people through France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. 

But the rail company didn't provide that information when it was chosen by the Maryland Department of Transportation to bid on the project. 

Outraged state lawmakers introduced legislation at the end of January that would require companies that had direct involvement in the Holocaust to pay reparations to surviving victims and their families. (Via The Gazette)

The Washington Post reports the French government has paid $6 billion in reparations to survivors who were transported on SNCF trains. But those survivors are French citizens; deportees who ended up living in the U.S. never received any money.

Ninety-two-year-old Maryland resident and Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz started an online petition to urge the government to require SNCF and Keolis to be held accountable.

In his Change.org petition, Bretholz wrote, "...the company has spent millions of dollars on a lobbying and public relations campaign to rewrite history and avoid accountability for its pivotal role in one of history's greatest atrocities." 

NPR says SNCF's American executives claim both the bill and online petition are not based on facts. Still, the French government is in talks with the State Department about possible reparations.

The Maryland Department of Transportation and the Transit Administration will choose which of the four companies receives the Purple Line Project. Both groups say they will consider the pending legislation requiring reparations. If passed, that would take effect July 1. 

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