March 9, 2014, Maryland (Newsy/NYDailyNews) — French rail system negotiating reparations for Jewish families it transported to concentration camps during Holocaust
A coalition of Holocaust survivors and families headquartered in New York has battled to block lucrative contracts to an affiliate of Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, leading the rail system to start formal negotiations with State Department representatives. The foreign company transported some 76,000 Jews to concentration camps. Only about 3,000 survived.
Francine Green can’t remember the day she and her family were put on a train amid the horror of the Holocaust.
The Manhattan grandmother was an infant then, hidden in the folds of her mother’s clothing for safety. But her big brother Abe Dresdner will never forget.
Paris rail workers and guards “took everything but the clothes on our backs and crammed us into a cattle car,” he said.
Now, 73 years later, the French national rail system is finally negotiating reparations for Jewish families like the Dresdners.
What brought the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français to heel? A coalition of survivors and families headquartered in New York that has battled to block lucrative American contracts to an SNCF affiliate.
“The SNCF wants desperately to do business here,” said Harriet Tamen, the Manhattan attorney representing some 600 U.S., Israeli and French Jews. “It wasn’t an attack of morals that caused them to reach out now.”
The rail company is a transit powerhouse that moves to the head of the line when cities seek companies capable of building and managing cutting-edge transportation systems. Its U.S. arm, Keolis America, has bid on projects from Florida to California to Virginia.
Keolis recently won a $2.7 billion contract from Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. But its interest in a $6.5 billion Maryland project is being challenged by a state bill requiring SNCF to pay reparations.
Support for the measure was fueled by survivor Leo Bretholz, 92, who has gathered 150,000 signatures on a petition blasting the “unconscionable” possibility that the company could now reap profits from its taxpaying victims.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) has also joined the fight, co-sponsoring The Holocaust Rail Justice Act, which would allow victims to have their day in U.S. court against the foreign company that transported some 76,000 Jews to concentration camps. Only about 3,000 survived.
The French firm has now begun formal negotiations with State Department representatives. Tamen has communicated her clients’ expectations, and is awaiting an offer.
“They had better hurry,” quipped Dresdner, 85, a retired salesman from Borough Park.
France Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF)
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