Efforts by Maryland and New York legislators to make a French rail company pay reparations to Holocaust survivors who were deported by train to Nazi death camps are hurting chances that those survivors will ever receive any money, according to Stuart Eizenstat, a special adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry on Holocaust Issues.
Eizenstat, a D.C. lawyer involved in the bilateral talks with the France government, said that competing negotiations “pose a serious obstacle” and “are self-defeating.” He was referring to efforts by various states to stop the French company, Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) and its American subsidiaries from obtaining state contracts unless it pays reparations first.
But the Coalition for Holocaust Rail Justice disagreed that its efforts were interfering.
“As so many lawmakers on the federal and state levels have made crystal clear, they are standing shoulder to shoulder with SNCF’s victims, and will do whatever is necessary to provide SNCF’s victims with justice,” the coalition said in a statement. “We believe these initiatives have expedited the process and sincerely hope that the State Department-led efforts will lead to a reasonable and fair resolution for all survivors and their families.”
In Maryland, Keolis North America, a U.S. affiliate of SNCF, is part of Maryland Purple Line Partners, which was invited to submit a bid to operate Maryland’s proposed Purple Line for 35 years. But legislation being discussed in Annapolis demands that reparations be paid before Keolis can be awarded a state contract.
Last week, members of the New York State Assembly sent a letter to SNCF, making it clear they intend to introduce legislation restricting access to state contracts if reparations are not paid out.
“SNCF’s Holocaust-era record is irrefutable as it is tragic,” state assembly members write in their letter. “During the Holocaust, your company deported approximately 76,000 individuals – including Jews, American airmen and other ‘undesirables’ – toward Nazi death camps.”
Therefore, the letter states, “in the coming days, we will introduce legislation to ensure that any company such as yours seeking to do business in the State of New York does so with clean hands, having first paid reparations.”
California and Florida are involved in similar measures.
The French government has taken the position that only it — and not SNCF — can negotiate for reparations. A second meeting between French and American officials took place March 21. Eizenstat was involved in the three-hour telephone meeting.
While refusing to get specific, Eizenstat said that representatives from both countries were discussing the matter “in good faith” and that “very good progress” was made.
A third meeting is expected to be held in April. The French government has set a goal of completing the negotiations by the end of this summer, said Eizenstat, explaining there is a need to move quickly as survivors are growing old.
“The French government should be applauded” for willingly conducting these negotiations, but “they are frustrated” by the various state actions, he said.