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Editorial: Time can't erase memories

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of whether a French company whose trains transported Jewish prisoners to Nazi death camps should be allowed to bid on a Maryland rail contract, testimony this week in the House Ways and Means Committee will highlight one of the darkest periods of world history; a time that should never be forgotten and that we should never allow to be repeated.

The committee was discussing whether SNCF, a French company, should be allowed to bid on the new Purple Line light rail project. But some opponents pointed to the company's role in World War II transporting Jewish prisoners to Nazi concentration camps, and said the company should not be allowed to bid unless it pays reparations.

SNCF says that it had no control over its operations while the country was occupied by the Nazis.

Set to testify this week was Leo Bretholz, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor who was living in Pikesville. But he died Saturday. It is a reminder that the years have stretched long from that terrible time in history, and the number of people able to provide first-hand accounts grows smaller each year.

That lengthening period plays well into the hands of those who would deny that the Holocaust happened, or those who seek to downplay the documented history of the event.

On its website, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum notes, "The denial or distortion of history is an assault on truth and understanding. Comprehension and memory of the past are crucial to how we understand ourselves, our society, and our goals for the future. Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights."

Democracy and individual rights are under attack on many fronts today. And as the USHMM website notes, "The Nazi persecution of the Jews began with hateful words, escalated to discrimination and dehumanization, and culminated in genocide. The consequences for Jews were horrific, but suffering and death was not limited to them. Millions of others were victimized, displaced, forced into slave labor, and murdered. The Holocaust shows that when one group is targeted, all people are vulnerable. Today, in a world witnessing rising antisemitism, awareness of this fact is critical. A society that tolerates antisemitism is susceptible to other forms of racism, hatred, and oppression."

SNCF's level of guilt or liability, what it should do to compensate victims or their families and how it should move forward are issues that likely will be debated in earnest in the coming weeks and months. But regardless of the outcome of those discussions, we must never forget the victims, or let the horrors of the Holocaust fade with the passage of time.

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