Last Thursday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have required companies seeking high-speed rail contracts with the state to disclose any role they played during the Holocaust, the European Jewish Press reported.
The bill, which was authored by Democratic California Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, required companies vying for a piece of California's $45 billion high-speed rail project to reveal any involvement in transporting people to concentration, prisoner-of-war, labor or extermination camps during World War II, and also to report whether they took any steps to remediate their actions or to pay restitution to victims.
Among the international railroad companies who expressed their interest in the California project is the French national railway company (SNCF) which transported Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
SNCF claims that its operations were taken over by the Nazis during the German occupation and that its trains were forcibly requisitioned to transport people to the concentration camps. The company said the Nazis threatened to execute French railway workers and their families if they resisted orders.
France was under German occupation from May 1940 until December 1944. While the German army had originally occupied a designated zone in the northern and western parts of the country, the rest of the country was occupied in November 1942 after the Allies invaded North Africa. Unoccupied parts of France were governed by the dictatorial Vichy regime, located in Vichy as Paris was under German rule, headed by Marshal Pétain, who collaborated willingly with the German occupation. The French police and the state militia organised raids to capture Jews in both the northern and southern zones until France was liberated from German occupation between June and December of 1944.
In February 2009, France's top judicial body recognized the French government's responsibility for the deportation of Jews during World War II.
In his explanation of his veto of the law, Schwarzenegger said that while he sympathized with the victims of the Holocaust and those who were transported to camps during the war, “this bill needlessly places the state in a position of acknowledging the activities of companies during that time.”
However, SNCF said that it will fully comply with the measure’s intent, despite the veto by Schwarzenegger. In a statement released on Thursday, the company said: “The atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during WWII were so horrific that we can never forget, nor should we. The people of France and SNCF are determined to remember and honor victims of the Holocaust so that the horrors of Nazi Germany and WWII are never repeated. This commitment is ingrained in our company’s culture as well as the hearts of the French people, and is confirmed by our actions.”
The statement added that “SNCF will continue its commitment to complete transparency of its WWII history, and will voluntarily comply, and even exceed, the requirements the bill would have mandated.”
Also last week, Democratic Florida Representative Ron Klein, announced a plan to introduce legislation that would bar SNCF from lucrative US high-speed rail contracts, due to its involvement in the deportation of Jews in World War II.
“I am a strong supporter of high-speed rail for the economic benefits it will bring to Florida, but moving ahead with SNCF's bid doesn't represent progress, it represents a major step backward and a direct insult to Holocaust survivors and their families,” Klein said, describing the reasoning for the legislation.