PARIS (Jan. 22)
French banks systematically sold stocks belonging to Jewish customers during World War II, according to documents recently obtained by a French daily newspaper.
The 100 documents, obtained by the newspaper Liberation, reveal how the pro- Nazi Vichy regime ordered French banks to sell stocks belonging to Jews “without delay, nor market considerations.”
The discovery of the documents, along with the release last week of a 100-page report detailing Vichy’s systematic looting of Jewish property, provides evidence of widespread looting of French Jewish property during the war.
Henri Hajdenberg, president of CRIF, France’s umbrella for secular Jewish organizations, said in an interview that the documents could provide new evidence in sorting out restitution problems.
After receiving the orders, the banks transmitted the instructions to official brokers, who zealously carried them out, often within 24 hours. They were sold under the process of Aryanization that the Vichy government put into place through a series of laws to “eliminate the Jewish influence on the national economy.”
The documents from 1941, 1943 and 1944 — some are dated even after the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 — bear the letterheads of some of France’s most prominent banks, including two banks that Vichy considered to be under Jewish influence and, therefore, placed under different management.
The warehouse in the Normandy port of Le Havre that stored the documents was destroyed in a fire last August. Liberation did not say how it was able to recover the documents
Hajdenberg said it was important to find out if the fire, which is currently being investigated, was the result of arson. If it was, he said, it could be linked to the 1996 blaze that destroyed the Paris headquarters of the bank Credit Lyonnais. An investigation into that fire is still under way.
Hajdenberg also said he wanted to know whether the archives were stored in the warehouse recently to hide them from investigators seeking to explore the extent of the plundering of Jewish property during the Nazi occupation of France.
The Liberation article came on the heels of the release of the 100-page report conducted by a government-appointed commission charged with investigating the seizure of Jewish property.
The report, which was released Jan. 12, details Vichy’s systematic looting of Jewish property, but stopped short of recommending compensation, saying it was too early to estimate the monetary value of the property seized. Hundreds of thousands of archives as well as files from government ministries have yet to be examined.
Hajdenberg accused the Culture, Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries of deliberately dragging their feet in opening their wartime archives to the commission.
“Everyone says they want to help the commission make progress, but no one is making a move.” he said.
The report details the 109 anti-Jewish measures passed by Vichy to make Jews more vulnerable, including banning them from many professions, and requiring them to report their wheareabouts, register their assets and wear a yellow star.
“Vichy turned Jews into such outcasts that it was easy for the authorities to confiscate property without incurring protest from anyone,” said the head of the commission, former Resistance fighter Jean Matteoli.
He said he had received over 100 letters from Jews seeking information about property that disappeared during the war.
The report proposed that some of the 2.2 tons of gold looted by the Nazis that make up France’s part of the 5.5 tons in a New York vault could be used to compensate Jews whose families were ruined during the war.
It also studied inventories of the cash, jewelry and bonds seized from the 67,000 Jews who passed through the Drancy detention camp on their way to Auschwitz.
A total of 76,000 Jews, one-quarter of France’s Jewish population, were deported to death camps during the Nazi occupation. Only 2,500 returned.