• Outrage and lobbying over commuter rail contender’s Holocaust ties


    FOX UNDERCOVER - A billion dollar contract to run the commuter rail for the MBTA is up for grabs, but a company that wants the job has come under fire across the country for its role in the Holocaust.

    Now this controversy is headed to Massachusetts, but along with genuine outrage from Holocaust survivors it brings questions about whether a dark chapter in history is being used to land one of the biggest public contracts in the state.

    One of those Holocaust survivors is Fred Manasse. Now living in Massachusetts, he fled Europe as a young boy, escaping certain death.

    "I would have been taken by the Nazis and murdered. They took all the kids they caught and murdered them. Either shot them on the spot or sent them to Auschwitz," he said.

    After eventually reaching America, Manasse went on to become a successful engineer, even becoming chairman of Princeton University's engineering department.

    Other family members weren't so fortunate. His mother and father died in the camps, and he never learned of his sister's fate.

    He last saw his father in Gurs, a detention camp in southern France. From there his father, once the owner of a successful shoe factory, was packed onto a French rail car and taken to Auschwitz.

    "I don't know how many people they transported, but they transported 900 on the train my father was on," Manasse said. "They were basically transporting people for money. And they expected to be compensated."

    The rail cars were operated by the French national railroad company, La Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer, known by their initials, SNCF.

    SNCF is still in operation, running France's high speed rail network and trains all over the globe.

    But as SNCF has tried to expand in the United States, its past has come back to haunt it.

    An SNCF subsidiary's bid to run Maryland's MARC commuter rail was nearly derailed in 2011 when angry Holocaust survivors, with support from the governor and legislature, criticized the company, eventually passing a law requiring any company bidding on the contract to fully disclose its role during the war.

    Similar opposition surfaced in California, Florida and Virginia.

    In Massachusetts, the SNCF subsidiary, Keolis, is about to bid on the MBTA's commuter rail contract.

    "Do you think this company should be able to operate in Massachusetts?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked Manasse.

    "No. I think the company should not be able to until it acknowledges its role, its complicity, in the war effort of the Nazis," Manasse replied. "They have to honestly acknowledge the fact that they basically aided the Nazis in the murder of the Jews."

    Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, is apologetic but says the company "did not aid the Nazis."

    "The Nazis seized our rolling stock. The Nazis seized our personnel. The Nazis murdered some of our personnel. So I have to disagree, and very respectfully, given all the pain that lives on," he said.

    "What has your company said about its role in the Holocaust to survivors?" Beaudet asked him.

    "To survivors, the company has clearly expressed its regrets. We are conscious of the suffering which lives on," he replied.

    "To your point that you were under German command, why apologize at all, then?" Beaudet asked.

    "Because of the very simple reason, the regrets were expressed because who wouldn't regret what happened given how tragic it was?" Leray said.

    "Do you think your company should be prevented from getting this contract?" Beaudet asked.

    "Obviously not," Leray replied. "We transport more than 6 million people every day. We are good at what we're doing. We can bring a lot to Boston, and this is why we are competing in this procurement."

    If other parts of the country are a guide, the MBTA's normally quiet bidding process is about to be hit by the emotional debate.

    To prepare, representatives from both companies have been aggressively lobbying Jewish leaders. One of those leaders is Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.

    "We've started to hear from people more explicitly telling us negative information about the other company," Burton said.

    "You have two very large international companies who are competing over a very large piece of business. And from what I'm seeing and from what I'm hearing from a lot of different parties, they are trying to gain any edge they can in the public debate about this," Burton said.

    Burton said he has been approached by representatives from SNCF's competitor, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company to inform him of the Holocaust controversy.

    Representatives for SNCF have also passed on information to him about their competitor's corporate ties to the Holocaust.

    Mass Bay Commuter Railroad is partly owned by Bombardier. Bombardier in turn acquired in 2001 two German companies, both of which used slave labor to manufacture goods for the Nazi war machine.

    A spokeswoman for Bombardier says the company contributes to a fund for those who were forced to work for the Nazis.

    FOX Undercover asked SNCF's president about the behind-the-scenes lobbying.

    "Are Holocaust survivors being used as pawns here?" Beaudet asked.

    "I certainly hope not. I think it's not about the Holocaust, it's about providing quality transportation to commuters here in Boston," Leray replied.

    Leray added that SNCF's World War II past has not stopped the company from working in Israel.

    FOX Undercover also asked the Mass. Bay Commuter Railroad Company about its competitor's Holocaust ties and about the lobbying over the issue.

    The company responded with a statement: "We have every reason to believe the contract selection process will be decided on the basis of the quality of proposals, professional competencies and relevant rail experience of the bidders. The process so far has been fair and transparent."

    Burton says he is open to learning more, but so far he's not concerned about either bidder.

    He is worried, though, about companies exploiting the Holocaust for financial gain.

    "There is a very disturbing quality to all this," he said. "To manipulate emotions and to play off of peoples anxieties' about whether their dignity will be respected and whether their legacy will be remembered after they're gone, all in service of corporate interests, is really quite distasteful."

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