ORLANDO — The French national railway's hope to bid on the first high-speed tracks in the United States is running into resistance from Holocaust survivors because of the company's role in transporting Jews to Nazi death camps.
One of those leading the charge against the railway is Florida resident Rosette Goldstein, whose father was taken away, shoved in a cattle train and delivered to his death during World War II. Goldstein plans to voice her opposition on behalf of many Holocaust survivors to the railway Thursday when the Florida Department of Transportation holds a public meeting in Orlando on the $2.6 billion high-speed rail project, which would connect Tampa and Orlando. Trains are expected to begin operating at speeds up to 168 mph by 2015.
The Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, better known as SNCF, generally respected as a heavyweight in French industry, is among about 30 companies hoping to bid for the Florida contract.
Goldstein and others want SNCF to formally apologize for its role in the war, give full access to its records and make reparations.
"Why does this company deserve my tax dollars when they cooperated with the Nazis and let their trains transport people to be murdered?" said Goldstein, 71, who lives in Boca Raton.
The company has argued it had no control over operations when France was under Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1944 and was under orders to transport Jews to death camps. It also has said the French government has made an apology and offered reparations, although survivors contend the company itself has never made such amends.
Peter Kelly, an American-based attorney for SNCF, said, "The fact is many railway workers were killed by Nazis, many were bullied and the company was under control of an occupied government."
In California, lawmakers passed a bill last month that forces companies hoping to compete for a piece of its $45 billion high-speed rail project to disclose whether they transported Holocaust victims. SNCF is also hoping for that project and said it has no problems with the bill.
Florida lawmakers are also stepping into the fray. U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, a Democrat who represents portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties, with a high Jewish population, said he was writing Gov. Charlie Crist asking for some of the same things Goldstein wants.
Goldstein, then 4, hid with another family on a farm outside Paris as her father enlisted at a nearby labor camp. One night he didn't come to see her.
She said he was taken by an SNCF train to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald and finally Langenstein-Zwieberge, where he was killed by the Nazis just five days before Americans liberated the camp.
"If SNCF had resisted even a little, more people could have been spared," she said. "What's worse, is the way they've ignored us. Is it so hard to say, 'I'm sorry?' I'm one of the youngest survivors — soon there's not going to be any. We have to make sure people don't forget what happened."