This story was corrected at 6:35 p.m. on Feb. 7, 2014. An explanation follows the story.
Companies directly involved in the Holocaust or their affiliates would have to pay reparations to surviving victims and their families to be eligible for a public-private partnership in Maryland, under a bill filed in Annapolis.
The bill comes after reports that an affiliate of a French company that profited from the Holocaust is bidding on the Purple Line public-private partnership contract.
Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Dist. 39) of Germantown, who filed the House bill, said the company in question, Keolis America, is the U.S. affiliate of French rail company Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, or SNCF. Keolis is part of a consortium bidding for the 35-year, $6 billion public-private partnership contract to operate the Purple Line.
The Purple Line is a 16-mile light rail line that will connect Bethesda to New Carrollton.
Reznik’s bill would force companies bidding on such contracts to be held responsible.
A similar bill has been proposed in the Senate by Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore.
Specifically, the legislation requires any entity seeking a public-private partnership in Maryland to disclose involvement it or its affiliates had in deporting individuals to extermination or death camps during the Holocaust.
An entity also must prove it or its affiliates paid reparations to the victims of such deportations. Failure to do so would disqualify it from a public-private partnership.
The Washington Post reported that Alain Leray, president of Rockville-based SNCF America, said SNCF has already disclosed its “tragic World War II past” when it bid unsuccessfully on a MARC contract in 2011. He said he will focus on whether the new bill would be “discriminatory” against SNCF if it is written specifically to target one company.
According to the Post, Leray said French law allows only the government, not the national rail company, to pay reparations for Holocaust deportations. He said the French government has paid more than $6 billion in reparations to Holocaust victims.
SNCF was paid per head and kilometer during World War II to deport about 76,000 Jews and others toward Nazi death camps, according to Leo Bretholz, a Maryland man who survived.
In his Change.org petition, signed by more than 61,000 people as of Thursday, Bretholz said not only was the company paid, but that he was one of the people herded onto one of the French company’s trains bound for Auschwitz in 1942. He escaped.
Of the 76,000 Jews deported on the French company’s trains, only 2,000 survived, Bretholz’s petition said.
“And despite the fact that SNCF has refused to pay reparations in the roughly 70 years since its first deportation train ran during the Holocaust, this company is now looking to expand its business in the United States, with projects funded by my tax dollars,” his petition said. “I am almost 93 years old and we don’t have much time left to act.”
Keolis America bid in the past to be part of a project in Maryland, but its bid was not awarded for “substantive reasons,” Reznik said. However, there was a past effort by the state to get the company to disclose its involvement in the Holocaust, he said.
“In an international marketplace, where our state and business in our state do business with companies and countries all over the world, we need to hold everyone accountable for civil rights,” Reznik said.
He said the bill deliberately is specific to the Holocaust.
“We want to make sure that, at least with this bill, we deal with the information we have presently,” he said.
As for other atrocities and corporations that might have funded or profited from them, Reznik said he would look at other issues and similar legislation.
The original version of this story incorrectly identified which companies the proposed law would affect. The bill applies to companies with “direct involvement” in the Holocaust.