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Paris denies role in Vichy looting of Jewish property

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PARIS, Nov 23 (JTA) – The city of Paris has apparently quieted a two-year controversy regarding the looting of Jewish-owned real estate during the Nazi occupation of France. Presenting its report after 18 months of research, a commission of experts told a news conference at the Paris city hall that none of the buildings or apartments owned by the municipality had been seized from Jews under the collaborationist Vichy regime’s plan to aryanize, or stamp out, Jewish influence in the economy during World War II. Mayor Jean Tiberi had ordered the report in 1996 amid an uproar over a book, “Private Estate,” which accused the city of continuing to own and manage buildings it had confiscated from Jews deported to death camps. “It’s clear. There is no longer any problem. The city of Paris has been absolved of guilt,” Tiberi said, breathing an almost audible sigh of relief. Most of these buildings were in the Marais district, a run-down neighborhood inhabited mostly by poor Eastern European Jewish immigrants who rented – and did not own – their apartments. The Marais was drained of its population during World War II – dropping from 25,000 to 5,000 as Jews were deported to concentration camps or fled. In all, 76,000 Jews were deported from France, representing a quarter of the country’s Jewish population. Henri Hajdenberg, president of CRIF, France’s umbrella group for secular Jewish organizations, praised the commission’s work in a newspaper editorial as a “remarkable case-by-case study” that disproved the accusations against the city. The commission, made up of historians and representatives of the Jewish community, said it had scoured state and city archives as well as those of the wartime General Commission for Jewish Questions, which was in charge of administering property and assets stolen from Jews. “The city of Paris did not appear to have a discriminatory policy of an anti-Semitic nature. There were only very rare examples of buildings being seized outright,” said Noel Chahid Nourai, president of the commission. He added that although the city had paid its debts, in some 50 cases it was not sure whether the money ended up in the owners’ hands. In such cases, the funds would have been deposited in accounts turned over to the state savings institution. That institution is currently searching its own archives for clues but will need two more years before announcing its conclusions. In 20 cases, said Noel Chahid Nourai, president of the research commission, the owners or their heirs never claimed their compensation. This money was turned over to the Treasury after 30 years, in accordance with French law. The report on the city was issued as another commission continued its investigation into whether banks, insurance companies or other state agencies are still holding assets plundered from Jews. CRIF has criticized that panel, known as the Matteoli Commission, for including too few independent experts to carry out the research, leaving it to the banks and government agencies to probe their own archives.

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