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March 10, 2014 1:50 pm

French Train Maker Begins Talks on Holocaust Reparations

avatar by Joshua Levitt

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Leo Bretholz, the 93-year-old Holocaust survivor whose petition may bar France's SNCF from bidding on a $6 billion train contract in Maryland. Photo: Screenshot / Change.org.

Leo Bretholz, the 93-year-old Holocaust survivor whose activism may bar France's SNCF from bidding on a $6 billion train contract in Maryland. Photo: Screenshot / Change.org.

French train manufacturer SNCF has begun talks with a New York lawyer representing 600 families of Holocaust victims, reversing its policy until now of denying responsibility for the Nazi contract it executed by transporting 76,000 people, in its trains and over its tracks, to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The New York Daily News reported on Saturday that Harriet Tamen, the Manhattan attorney representing U.S., Israeli and French Jews, said that SNCF asked her to communicate her clients’ expectations, and is awaiting an offer.

“The SNCF wants desperately to do business here,” Tamen told the Daily News. “It wasn’t an attack of morals that caused them to reach out now.”

Last month, U.S. politicians exerted continued pressure on SNCF to approach the issue of Holocaust compensation like other major firms, and threatened to bar it from a 35-year, $6 billion contract for a new commuter rail line in the state of Maryland because of its role in helping the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Maryland House Delegate Kirill Reznik, a Ukrainian-born Jew, said last month, “SNCF’s actions during the Holocaust were a failure of humanity. It would be a further tragedy for the company or its affiliates to thrive in the very communities many Holocaust survivors call home without first owning up to its past and making things right.”

The issue was raised in the public eye by Leo Bretholz, a 93-year-old survivor, whose online petition, now with 150,000 signatures, supported a state bill that would block SNEF. Bretholz died on Saturday, two days after his birthday, just as his fight against SNEF was about to yield the results he had championed in his final years.

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