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Lawmakers want railroads to acknowledge roles in Holocaust

Legislators are considering a bill that would require rail road companies presenting bids to the state to declare any involvement with transporting people to Nazi death camps during World War II. The bill passed unanimously through its first committee, but Regan McCarthy reports some lawmakers worry about the precedent it could set.

During World War II several European railroads were paid to transport prisoners to Nazi death camps. Two of those railroads are the French National Railway Corporation and the German national railroad. A bill proposed by Senator Eleanor Sobel would require such companies to inform Florida officials of that involvement before entering into a contract with a government entity in the state. Sobel, a Democrat from Hollywood says that’s information worth considering.                                  

“If there were rail companies bidding on a contract and one of them was involved with the holocaust and didn’t come forward and didn’t pay the reparations. Maybe compared to the bids out there, we would not give them the contract; it would be a factor considered in bidding on rail projects.”

But fellow Democrat Senator Larcenia Bullard of Miami says she’s concerned about the precedent such a law might create.                  

“What will this open to other cultures that may come forward and say that because of the Bay of Pigs or Reparation or, you know, we don’t want to have contracts with Irishmen because they did this or Italians because they did that.”

Sobel points out her bill is limited to actions taken during a specific time period and doesn’t prohibit the state from contracting with these companies. It just makes them tell the state about their participation.                                                                               

“Its just like saying ‘were you ever arrested.” Instead of saying they were never arrested, they would say, ‘no, we had nothing to do with this time period.’”

Representative Franklin Sands, a Democrat from Sunrise, is sponsoring the bill in the House. Sands  says the bill does target specific companies.                                                           

“The French railroad company has refused to acknowledge their participation in the transportation of the 75-thousand jews and other French citizens to the death camps. And only when they decided to come into Florida to try to build a high speed rail-line did they even acknowledge their participation. Having said that, they still have refused to pay reparations.”

Florida has since opted not to pursue a high-speed rail project, but Sands it’s an issue that could come up again. He says his goal from this bill is for the companies involved to acknowledge the roles they played. He adds that people have the right to know who they’re doing business with. He says the final decision on whether to contract with those companies will be up to the entity letting the contract and points out that the bill does have bipartisan support. Senator Don Gaetz, a Republican from Destin has signed on as the co-sponsor of Sobel’s Senate bill.

“There were some companies, some foreign companies, companies existing at that time in Europe, and that now maybe bidding for rail contract here in Florida who were complicit in Hitler’s plan to exterminte the jews.  Seems to me that that kind of transparency is important and I think its good public policy, and I believe it’s something Republicans and Democrats, those of us from North Florida and those like Senator Sobel from South Florida can unite on.”

The Senate bill now moves to the Community Affairs committee. The House bill awaits a hearing in the Transportation Committee.


Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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