Anger over railway's Holocaust role
The French national railway's bid to win America's first high-speed rail contract will face the fury of Holocaust survivors over the company's role in transporting Jews to Nazi death camps.
A leading opponent, Rosette Goldstein, will voice her opposition on behalf of many Holocaust survivors when the Florida Department of Transportation holds a public meeting in Orlando on the £1.7 billion high-speed rail project, which would connect Tampa and Orlando.
Ms Goldstein, 71, of Boca Raton, Florida, and others - including some politicians - want the SNCF railway to formally apologise for its role in the war, give full access to its records and make reparations.
"Why does this company deserve my tax dollars when they co-operated with the Nazis and let their trains transport people to be murdered?" said Ms Goldstein, whose father was taken away by French authorities, bundled into a cattle truck and sent to his death.
SNCF - Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais - has said it had no control over operations when France was under Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1944 and was under orders to transport Jews to death camps.
The firm said the French government had made an apology and offered reparations, although survivors say the company itself has never made such amends.
"We plan to have a full disclosure of our records and complete transparency," said Peter Kelly, an American-based lawyer for SNCF. "The fact is many railway workers were killed by Nazis, many were bullied and the company was under control of an occupied government."
But Rositta Ehrlich Kenigsberg, vice president at the Holocaust Documentation & Education Centre in South Florida, said corporations such as SNCF had long used coercion as an excuse. She said SNCF profited greatly from the transports, charging per person and kilometre.
"Being a collaborator and saying you were coerced is not acceptable," she said. "Nobody bought that at the Nuremberg Trials, Rwanda, Darfur and other genocides. You can't help murder people and then just say, 'Well, we were coerced'."
In California, politicians passed a bill last month that forces companies hoping to compete for a piece of the state's £29 billion high-speed rail project to disclose whether they transported Holocaust victims. SNCF, which is also bidding for that project, said it had no problems with the bill.