Holocaust reparations bill up for debate in Maryland general assembly

(WJLA) - In 1942, Leo Bretholz, a prisoner-of-war bound for the Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, jumped to freedom from the rail car he was riding.

He spent the rest of his life telling his story, and keeping the stories of those captured and killed alive.

Bertholz died this weekend, but the 93-year-old was scheduled to testify on Monday before this Maryland House Committee, which is considering legislation that would prohibit the French rail company SNCF from doing business in Maryland -- unless they first pay reparations to Holocaust survivors or their families.

SNCF reportedly transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners of WWII to Nazi camps, and is now bidding on a contract to provide rail cars that will run on Metro’s proposed Purple line. Its president said that his company has no plans to pay reparations, and added that during the war, SNCF operated under the orders of the Germans who controlled France:

"We were a cog in the German extermination machine and we deeply regret what happened then, but we acted under duress."

Rosette Goldstein is a longtime friend of Bertholz, and on Monday read his testimony. She added that her father, a French soldier captured by the Nazis in 1945, rode to his death at a German prison camp on board an SNCF train.

"I want justice, I want justice for Leo and I want justice for the 76,000," he said.