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Return of Jewish Property in Algiers Brings Judicial Complications

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The thorny problem of restoration of Jewish property either confiscated under anti-Jewish laws, or transferred to non-Jews in advance of these measures in an attempt to evade confiscation, is now being studied here by the French Committee of National Liberation, which has been designated the “Provisional Government of France” by the French Consultative Assembly.

The problems facing the committee are typical of those that will arise in every German-held or German-dominated country as they are freed by the Allied armies. The decisions taken here may well set a precedent for all of liberated Europe.

One of the plans which is under consideration by the “Committee on Jewish property” appointed by the Committee of National Liberation would divide the former Jewish property into three categories; property which was sold prior to extension of the anti-Jewish laws from France to Algiers, in anticipation of eventual confiscation, property which was sold after announcement that anti-Jewish laws would be introduced in Algiers, but before the property had been taken over by the authorities; and, finally, property which was seized by the Vichy administration and sold privately or at public auctions.

The majority of the confiscated property falls into the last category, since most Jews followed the advice of the Jewish Consistory and did not dispose of their property voluntarily, but retained possession until it was expropriated by the authorities. Under an order issued April 3, 1943 – following abrogation of the Vichy anti-Jewish laws by General Henri Giraud – Jewish owners of confiscated property could reclaim their possession within one month, after which it would be assumed that they did not wish to do so. Most of the Jews filed claims within the one-month period, and their property was restored to them.

STATUS OF PROPERTY “VOLUNTARILY” TRANSFERRED IS UNCLEAR

The difficulties that have now arisen concern persons falling into the first and second categories – that is those who disposed of their property voluntarily. The majority of these people now claim that they sold their property under pressure and that therefore, they are entitled to have it restored on the same basis as that seized directly by the Vichy administration.

To support their claims, these Jews point to the United Nations declaration specifying that all transactions made under enemy pressure are null and void. Opposed to their claims is the principle of French judicial procedure which holds that voluntary transactions are valid.

Eminent jurists queried by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency said that the claims of persons falling into the second category are justified, but those of the first category – that is persons who sold their property even before any announcement of anti-Jewish laws – are untenable. These judicial authorities point out that the very announcement of anti-Jewish legislation constituted pressure, and transfers made after such an announcement should be nullified.

Besides the plan mentioned here, the Committee of National Liberation is studying other proposals on methods of restoring the Jewish property. No final decision has been reached as yet.

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