The railway spur and main building of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp are visible 12 January 2005. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Leo Bretholz, who escaped from a train transporting him to a Nazi death camp during the Holocaust, was expected to testify yesterday on behalf of a Maryland bill that would hold railroad firms accountable for their actions during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, he died Saturday, two days after his 93rd birthday and two days before his longtime project was set to make public progress.

Bretholz, a Baltimore resident, was to testify before the Maryland House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee on behalf of proposed legislation that would make Maryland the first state to bar companies from receiving U.S. government contracts due to unresolved ties to the Holocaust.

Bretholz, author of the memoir Leap Into Darkness: Seven Years on the Run in Wartime Europe, had become the face and voice of the Ad Hoc Coalition for Holocaust Rail Justice, authoring their online petition supporting the Maryland legislation, which has received more than 155,000 signatures.

My deportation train to Auschwitz was owned and operated by SNCF, a company which still exists today. And despite the fact that SNCF has refused to pay reparations in the roughly 70 years since its first deportation train ran during the Holocaust, this company is now looking to expand its business in the United States, with projects funded by my tax dollars.

It remains to be seen whether Bretholz’s death will affect the fate of the bill.

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