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Holocaust Reparations Talks Won’t Halt Pressure From Maloney, Ros-Lehtinen

Despite ongoing reparations negotiations between France and the State Department, one member of Congress vows to continue fighting a French rail firm’s bid on Metro’s Purple Line project.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., welcomed news, first reported by The Washington Post, that the French government appears open to paying reparations to U.S. Holocaust survivors who were transported to Nazi death camps in SNCF trains. But Maloney still wants Maryland to sever all ties with rail company Keolis because of its parent company’s ties to the Third Reich.

“I welcome the news that the French are open to changing their Holocaust reparations program so that it covers more victims who were transported on SNCF trains during the Holocaust,” Maloney said in a statement on Friday. “These reparations are long overdue and the ongoing discussions are a positive step.”

SNCF transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners to Nazi death camps during World War II, according to historians.

Maloney said she still plans to actively work against all contracts SNCF or its subsidiaries pursue “until the issue is resolved and justice has been served.”

Her main target appears to be Keolis’ bid for a 35-year Purple Line contract, valued at more than $6 billion. The Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Administration selected the company as a finalist in bids to build the 16-mile light-rail line that will run between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

State Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr., has assured Maloney and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., another SNCF critic, that he takes their concerns seriously and will continue to consult with the Maryland attorney general and appropriate federal agencies on the matter.

The two congresswomen recently applauded proposed state legislation that would prohibit Maryland from entering contracts with companies complicit in Holocaust deportations, unless those companies have paid reparations.

“While talks between the French government and the State Department over reparations for the victims of SNCF’s role in the Holocaust are a step in the right direction, they’re grievously overdue,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “It’s now been 70 years since the French rail line transported tens of thousands to Nazi concentration camps and many survivors and their families here in the United States have yet to see justice done, or to see the SNCF finally be held accountable for its complicity in the 20th century’s greatest atrocity.”

Though Ros-Lehtinen is optimistic about the outcome, she has reservations.

“We have been through these moments of false hopes and dashed expectations before and the result is always too little, too late for the Holocaust victims, and an attempt by big business to pretend to make fair and full restitutions,” she said.

SNCF has previously been sued for its role in World War II deportations. The Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which limits plaintiffs’ ability to sue foreign governments.

Both Maloney and Ros-Lehtinen declared Friday that they will continue pushing the Holocaust Rail Justice Act, which would provide plaintiffs the right to seek damages in U.S. federal court against railroads that owned or operated trains that deported people to Nazi concentration camps.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is sponsoring companion legislation. His office did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

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