This story was updated at 6:35 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2014.
The affiliate of a company seeking to operate the Purple Line says it was not paid to transport Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust, despite records that show it asked for money.
Keolis America — a U.S. affiliate of French rail company Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, or SNCF — 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 would connect Bethesda and New Carrollton.
A bill in the General Assembly would require companies with direct involvement in the Holocaust or their affiliates to disclose their involvement and pay reparations to surviving victims and their families to be eligible for a public-private partnership in Maryland.
According to an online petition by Leo Bretholz, a Maryland man who survived the Holocaust, SNCF was paid per head and per kilometer during World War II to deport about 76,000 Jews and others toward Nazi death camps.
However, Jerry Ray, a spokesman for SNCF’s American operations in Rockville, said SNCF was not paid to transport Jews. The company, he said, was “conscripted” into transporting Jews toward Nazi extermination or death camps under German occupation.
Ray declined to define what he meant by conscripted, which is a term usually meant to signify a draft or forced service in the armed forces.
Rafi Prober, pro bono counsel to the Coalition for Holocaust Rail Justice, said in a statement provided Friday by Prism Public Affairs that SNCF is trying to “parse its role in one of the most sordid chapters in world history.”
“If this is their way of defending their monstrous behavior, it is shameful,” Prober said.
The coalition says it comprises “victims and their family members, historians, community leaders, and volunteers committed to holding SNCF accountable.”
On its website, the coalition provides a copy of a bill, in French, supposedly sent from SNCF to the French government seeking payment with interest for transportation of “interned or expelled persons” in 1944. An English translation of the bill is posted, too.
In 2006, French government Commissioner Jean-Christophe Truilhé said that evidence indicated that SNCF willingly transported Jews during the Holocaust.
In an advisory opinion in a case over the transports before the Administrative Court of Toulouse, Truilhé said SNCF’s independence from German coercion when it came to transporting Jews toward the camps was “particularly clear,” according to an English translation posted online in a law journal.
Truilhé said the transfers, in cattle cars, were “billed to the Ministry of the Interior of the government of the so-called French State at the rate of a third-class ticket for a seat per person.”
In an email on Tuesday, Ray said an invoice being claimed as proof that SNCF was paid “has nothing to do with Jewish deportation transportation. It is irrelevant to this debate.”
In a set of answers to questions he anticipated, Ray reiterated that SNCF “did not get paid per head and per kilometer,” “was not paid for the deportation trains” and “did not willingly collaborate with the Nazis.”
Earlier, Ray said the company is analyzing whether the Maryland bill is discriminatory and designed to single out the company at the exclusion of others.
A 2011 bill related to which companies may be awarded a MARC contract was similarly drafted to apply to Keolis. That bill passed.
Del. Kirill Reznik, who filed the recent bill, said it 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,” said Reznik (D-Dist. 39) of Germantown.
As for other atrocities and the companies that might have had direct involvement, Reznik said he would look at other issues and similar legislation.