The great holocaust railroad shakedown

The Nazi genocide of Jews during World War II, which accounted for about half the toll taken by German death camps, is notorious not so much because of the number of people killed, which has been exceeded before and since in both absolute and relative numbers, but its ruthless, industrial efficiency. Key to delivering victims to the Auschwitz, Dachau, and the other camps was the European rail system consisting of a number of quasi-public railroad companies. In France, that company was—and is—the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, better known by the acronym SNCF. After the fall of France in 1940, the French railways operated under the command of the German occupation. And under that command, the company did transport prisoners, Jews among them, to Nazi concentration camps. Such is the reality of occupation during wartime.

Fast forward to 2014 Maryland. The Maryland Department of Transportation has proposed constructing a 16-mile long light rail line through the two counties bordering the District of Columbia. Roughly paralleling the Capital Beltway this Purple Line would link the inner suburbs to one another and to the Washington Metro subway system. Since there is little industrial base in the US for building mass transit systems, the Maryland Department of Transportation has been forced to look outside the country for qualified bidders for construction contracts. One potential bidder is the aforementioned SNCF which, it should be noted, operates the world’s most advanced rail system.

And here comes the shakedown. Descendants of holocaust victims living in Maryland are attempting to push through the Maryland legislature a bill requiring that any company involved in the transport of Jews to concentration camps pay reparations to them before being allowed to bid on state transportation projects. That law would, in fact, only apply to SNCF. Never mind that sixty-eight years have passed and that nearly all survivors of the holocaust are dead. Never mind that SNCF had no choice but to transport those people. Never mind that SNCF has apologized for their role during WW II and have already paid reparations of $6B to French survivors. Never mind that blocking SNCF from bidding  might quite possibly kill the project altogether. Leaving aside the very real possibility that killing the Purple Line is the real reason behind this—Montgomery County has a long legacy of NIMBY opposition to transportation projects—this shakedown is a vile attempt to profit on the suffering and deaths of millions. Sadly, there is precedent for such blackmail: the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC was the price the professional holocaust exploiters extracted from the Carter administration for the Camp David peace accords. Of course, anyone who calls these actions for what they are—shakedowns—will be dismissed as anti-Semitic. But the best way that the State of Maryland can honor the memory of victims of the Holocaust is to stand up to this blackmail. And it is time for American Jews to look for inspiration to Elie Weisel, not Meyer Lansky.


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