Flickr photo by Lars K. JensenRail entrance, Auschwitz
A San Fernando Valley lawmaker wants to require prospective contractors on California’s proposed high-speed rail project to disclose whether they transported Nazi Holocaust victims to death camps during World War II.
A rail advocate says that Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield’s measure seems aimed at blocking the French National Railroad from constructing the multibillion-dollar rail line.
The government-owned French railway, also known as SNCF for Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, last year submitted a detailed construction proposal for the proposed rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In recent years, some Holocaust survivors’ groups have filed lawsuits against the French rail line, contending it was complicit in the Holocaust because its rail cars were used to deport some 76,000 Jews from France to death camps in Germany during World War II.
The Nazis conquered France in 1940 and ruled the country until driven out by U.S. and British armies in 1944. The modern SNCF says it shouldn’t be held responsible for the deportations because the French railroad – and, indeed, the entire country – was under Nazi control.
"This is a very strange piece of legislation," said Richard Tolmach, president of the California Rail Foundation. "… It sets up a rail board that will judge issues of culpability for war crimes from World War II."
According to state records, Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, last week amended a bill that in its original form pertained to federal funding for state highway projects.
Blumenfield inserted language that would require every high-speed rail contractor to report whether it had “direct involvement in the deportation of any individuals to extermination camps, work camps, concentration camps, prison of war camps or any similar camps between specified dates in World War II,” according to the legislative counsel’s digest.
The High Speed Rail Authority could disqualify prospective contractors based on what they disclose.
"The people of California deserve to know whether a company seeking to be awarded a contract for the largest public works project in the state conducts itself responsibly," Blumenfield said in a statement. "A company that has failed to take responsibility for transporting people to concentration camps during the Holocaust should be asked to disclose what steps it has taken to make amends."
Peter Kelly, lawyer for the railroad, said, "SNCF takes the issues raised by the Blumenfield legislation very seriously." He said the railroad would provide lawmakers with pertinent information at a June 29 legislative hearing.
State taxpayers have authorized $9 billion in bonds to help pay for the rail project, and the federal government has agreed to chip in about $3 billion more.