PARIS (Nov. 15)
The legal basis for the restitution of property to Jews in France whose holdings were confiscated by the Germans and by Vichy was outlined here today by Prof. Rene Cassin, chief of the Juridical Committee for the presidency, in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent.
The restitution of Jewish property is on the same legal plane as the property of people of Alsace-Lorraine, of peasants chased from their farms by the Germans, and of de Gaullists who left France to continue the battle against the enemy, Prof. Cassin, foremost legal authority in France, said. As the expert who prepared the basic suggestions for the restoration laws which are now being put into final form by the Ministry of Justice, he emphasized that doubters of the restoration principle have no legal justification since early enactment of an ordinance enforcing restoration is the normal sequence to the procedure which began in 1943.
In January of that year, Prof. Cassin stated, the Inter-Allied commission radioed a warning from London voiding all purchases of Jewish property confiscated by the Nazis or purchases made under threat or pressure. He pointed out that the Algiers ordinance of November, 1943, was the application of the commission statement, and that the ordinance last August annulling all anti-Jewish laws was the final step making restitution mandatory.
Regarding second and third-hand purchases of Jewish shops and property “in good faith” by those who supposedly did not know that their original owners were Jewish, Prof. Cassin said the law stated that no re-sale was permissible within three years and all purchases had to pass through a registrar’s office. It was, therefore, impossible for any purchaser to remain ignorant of the origin of the property and, therefore there could not be any “good faith” purchasers.
Prof. Cassin regretted the tardiness of governmental action on the problem. He remarked that the Assembly in Algiers had begun the consideration of the subject but the Battle of France interrupted final action. He agreed that there were some people in the government who were satisfied to delay solution of this issue and said much time had been lost in the last few months debating whether to attack the problem by a single law or a series of laws. It was finally decided to promulgate a series of laws on the different aspects of the problem, he said.
ACTION ON RESTORATION OF BUSINESSES MUST COME SOON, HE SAYS
Action on the most important points regarding restitution of businesses must come soon, he declared, since only the Ministries of Finance and Economic Warfare must make their reports to the Justice Department on the proposed ordinances, which will probably be issued without presentation to the Consultative Assembly here.
Prof. Cassin noted that the first two ordinances, which have already been issued, closely followed his recommendations. The first ordered restitution of all Jewish, Alsace-Lorraine, Gaullist and deportee property still in state hands. This is already being done, with many people receiving letters from the Ministry of Finance asking for itemization of such properties. The second ordinance requires the return of living quarters to their former tenants. A peculiar question arose here since many apartments of deportees were requisitioned for German military use. Allied military authorities followed the principle of permitting requisition of property used by the Germans, hence many such places have now been requisitioned by the Allies. When military requirements diminish such properties will be restored.
Another factor is the occupation of Jewish homes by refugee and bombed-out families, largely from Normandy. The ordinance provides that in such cases the principle of restitution holds, but a judge can grant refugee or war-widow occupants considerable delays before ordering them to move.
The big question, naturally, concerns the return of property bought from the Commissioner of Jewish Affairs under Vichy by Frenchmen. Prof. Cassin believes that in the case of physical property, such as furniture, it should be found and restored, if possible. If impossible, the owner should claim war damage.
BUYERS OF JEWISH PROPERTY KNEW THE RISK AND MUST TAKE LOSSES
In the case of buildings and businesses, Cassin believes the buyers knew the risks and must be the losers. According to Cassin, however, the buyer might justly place a claim for the return of the purchase price against the impounded funds of the Commissioner. In those cases where purchasers considerably enlarged the property or built up a business, Cassin thought that some adjustment should be made after the return of the holdings to their original owner.
Prof. Cassin believes that the least sensible opponents to property restoration are certain Jews who fear it will arouse a wave of anti-Semitism and therefore, advocate an indemnity settlement. He felt that the Consultative Assembly might bring up the question of restitution and urge speed if government action is delayed much longer.
Cassin himself left France in June, 1940, responding to a call from Gen. de Gaulle. His radio talks from London earned him a Vichy death sentence. He became the French delegate to the Allied War Crimes Commission, and in the last 15 months has devoted himself to the establishment of a legal basis for the French government. His own belongings have been saved since he was prosecuted not as a Jew but as a de Gaullist. However, his sister and her husband have been deported. At the recent re-opening of the Sorbonne, Prof. Cassin was reinstated as president of the Law Faculty and delivered two lectures. He has been unable to undertake a full teaching schedule due to his governmental tasks.