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Calif. high speed rail bill targets French railway for WWII role

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Daisy Nguyen on June 30, 2010.)

LOS ANGELES — The French national railway promised Wednesday to disclose its role in transporting Nazi victims to World War II death camps if California passes a bill that requires companies seeking state business to reveal any involvement in the camps.

"It's our intention to fully comply with the bill," said Peter Kelly, an attorney for SNCF, which is working on a bid to win a contract with the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The bill by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, would require companies that want to help build or operate California's $45 billion high-speed rail system to reveal whether they transported victims to work, concentration, prisoner of war or extermination camps.

As part of their bid, companies would have to provide records of their involvement and whether they took remedial steps for their action or paid restitution to victims.

Members of the state Senate transportation committee voted in favor of the measure Tuesday. The rail authority has not taken a position, and neither legislative chamber has taken it up.

Blumenfield said he was optimistic the bill would pass even though a legislative analysis noted that previous attempts at addressing Holocaust issues failed.

The Supreme Court ruled a 1999 California law that sought insurance claims for California residents who were Holocaust victims as unconstitutional because it infringed upon the president's power to resolve foreign policy issues.

Blumenfield said he wasn't seeking restitution, but that he believed taxpayers have a right to know how their money was spent.

"This bill is not about the past, it's about the present and whether companies asking for California dollars acknowledge their wrongdoing and some way made right by it," Blumenfield said.

SNCF, which stands for Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, commissioned and released a study in 2000 about its wartime operations.

Blumenfield said the study concluded that because SNCF was taken over by the Nazis during the German occupation, French railway workers were acting under duress when they transported people to the camps.

"My hope is that as a result of this bill, SNCF will do right by the victims over these many years, although I don't specify how to do that," Blumenfield said. "If they answer the question and said, 'We haven't done anything,' they might not want to do that because they might not get great consideration when they apply for our tax dollars."

SNCF is among several international railroads with experience building and operating bullet trains that have expressed interest in building the 800-mile rail system in California.

In January, the state was awarded $2.25 billion in federal funding to help pay for the system. California voters approved $9 billion toward the system in 2008.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

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