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French Government Under Fire for Failure to Speed Return of Property to Jews

A strong attempt to induce the Government to act effectively, and without further delay, in restoring to Jews property seized during the Vichy regime will be made at the next session of the Consultative Assembly, it is learned here today. The Government’s failure to take action so far was strongly criticized in the closing stages of the last session during a discussion on outlawing anti-Semitic organizations.

The Government will also be asked to amend the ordinance of Nov. 14, which provided for the repossession of premises which Jews and others were forced to vacate during the occupation, in order to eliminate loopholes and qualifying clauses which have made the legislation a bitter mockery for thousands of dispossessed and homeless families.

The way this ordinance has worked out has been so unsatisfactory that Pierre Degon, delegate of the Movement for National Liberation and rapporteur to the Assembly for the Commission of Justice and Purification, has already served notice on the Government that the Assembly wants to see the draft of the ordinance on restitution of property before its adoption to “avoid all surprises and so that settlement of this question may be conceived with the greatest clarity.”

The draft of this law is not yet forthcoming, although in November the Minister of Justice predicted its speedy enactment. Measures adopted so far to restore confiscated property involve only a negligible amount which remained unliquidated and in the hands of the Administrator of Domains and provisional administrators.

The ordinance of Nov. 14 has completely failed to bring any relief or restitution. The law is so riddled with exceptions and limiting provision that two months after its enactment there is still no case on the record of Jewish tenants succeeding under the law in recovering their dwellings.

ISSUE SOFT-PEDALLED FOR FEAR OF AROUSING ANTI-SEMITISM

The reason most frequently advanced for the Government’s failure to implement its premises on restitution is the fear that the measures would be an upsetting factor and give rise to anti-Semitism. Consequently it is explained that the Government prefers to soft-pedal the issue. Its failure to act, however, is the chief obstacle in the rehabilitation of the great majority of France’s surviving Jews – between 150,000 and 180,000 – who, in large part, remain homeless and unable to reestablish the economic bases of their existence. In Paris, alone, one-third of the Jewish population is dependent on relief for survival and an equal number are on the borderline.

As far as anti-Semitism is concerned, that is already here to an extent which cannot be ignored and it will take many years to overcome the effects of four years of intensive Nazi propaganda. It is naturally strongest among those elements which gave Petain most support, but it is not confined to Vichyites. Most Jews here see little advantage in making such concessions as the policy of soft-pedaling allows. With anti-Semitism having to be contended with regardless of whether or not they receive justice and restitution, they would prefer, at least, an economic strengthening of their present difficult position.

The French press, with a few notable exceptions, has been ignoring the plight of the Jews, but during the week-end the newspaper Combat published the first full detailed report, in which it sharply criticizes recent legislation and says that the cases in which property has been restored to Jews are exceptions rather than the rule. The resistance organ dwells at length on the plight of the small merchants, artisans and workers who comprise sixty-five to seventy percent of the Paris Jewish population, pointing out in many cases their apartments served as combination dwellings and work-shops, and they are left destitute.

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