Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais(SNCF) is bidding to get a piece of the lucrative contracts to build the United State’s first high speech rail tracks. Plans for high-speed rails were announced last January by President Barack Obama. Nothing out of the ordinary about that until you add in some creepy and disturbing historical context. Sixty-Nine years before they made their current play to transport us at high speed around the United States, SNCF was transporting Jews at relative high speed to concentration camp gas chambers during the Holocaust. Between 1941 and 1944, 3,000 wagons — originally designed for the transportation of cattle — were used by the SNCF to transport Jews to Nazi death camps. Holocaust survivors and others are voicing their opposition to SNCF being part of the high speed rail process.
This is not the 1st time a foreign company with Holocaust ties has caused controversy when trying to do business in this country. In 2008, the Germany based financial services giant(the largest in the world), Allianz received similar treatment when they announced that they would bid for the naming rights to the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants new Meadowlands Stadim. Allianz has its name on Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. That’s the relative present. In the historical past, Allianz insured the building of concentration camps. In the past Allianz had given money owed to Jewish beneficiaries of their life insurance policies to the Nazi authorities instead.
Like Allianz, SNCF has poured on excuse after excuse of justification and order following to minimize their historical complicity in mass murder. SNCF argues that it had no control over railroad operations when France was under Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1944. It was simply under orders to transport Jews to death camps. The firm also has said the French government has made an apology and offered reparations. The company however has reportedly not apologized for its direct role. Moreover, the “following orders” argument goes directly to the moral low ground explicitly rejected in the Nuremberg Trials and other war crimes tribunals. It is insultingly despicable that it would even be put forth in a good faith attempt to deal with the facts.
In the end, the Stadium Authority decided that the public relations damage that would ensue was not worth taking millions from Allianz. As I was with Allianz, I am against SNCF or any company who played a direct role in the Holocaust and has not confronted it through direct apologies and/or reparations doing business in this country.
As to the high speed rail, other states have recognized the sensitivity and historical significance of the issue. In California, lawmakers passed a bill that forces companies wanting to bid on a share of California’s $45 billion high-speed rail project to disclose whether they transported Holocaust victims.
Will we reach a historical point where companies who wish to shed their Holocaust past can do business without fear of negative publicity and blackballed business dealings? To a large extent time is taking care of that. Within 10 years there will be few if any survivor left. Many of us will always remember but many will forget, especially when profits make it expedient to do so. There however,is still more than enough time for companies who have not adequately confronted their past to do so and re-brand themselves for the future without excuse or justification.