French railway’s apology for Holocaust role possibly linked to secret deal

From Irish, November 14, 2010:

France’s state-run railway company has for the first time expressed “sorrow and regret” for its role in the deportation of Jews during the Second World War II.

But the mea culpa is confined to its English language website and is part of a bid to secure a lucrative US rail contract.

The railroad, known as the SNCF, won an appeal in 2007 against a French lawsuit over its role in the Nazi deportation, and now is trying to convince people in Florida of its good faith.

The SNCF is bidding for a US$2.6bn (€1.9bn) high-speed rail project that would connect Tampa and Orlando, but has run into resistance from Holocaust survivors there. The project would be the first high-speed tracks in the US.

SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy said in a statement posted on an English language website that the company “wants to convey its profound sorrow and regret for the consequences of its acts” during the war, when France’s Vichy government collaborated with the occupying Nazis.

The statement concedes that the SNCF’s equipment and staff were used to haul 76,000 French and other European Jews to Germany, where they were sent on to death camps. Fewer than 3,000 returned alive.

However, the railroad reiterated its contention that it was requisitioned for the Nazi war effort and therefore had no choice.

“The Nazis, their French (Vichy) collaborators directed these terrible actions, determining the composition of the trains, the types of wagons, and even the train schedules,” Pepy’s lengthy statement said.



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