PARIS (Dec. 20)
Members of France’s pro-Nazi Vichy regime who profited from the sale of looted Jewish assets were protected from prosecution after World War II, according to documents from the French Finance Ministry’s archives.
The daily newspaper Le Parisien, which obtained the files, reported that some Vichy administrators received a 10 percent commission from the sale of buildings and businesses confiscated as part of an effort to rid the French economy of Jewish influence.
The documents belonged to a man named as Professor Terroine, a former member of the Resistance appointed to run an office established after the liberation of France to deal with restitution.
The revelations came just after France was bitterly criticized at the conference on Holocaust-era assets held recently in Washington for moving too slowly on returning paintings and other artworks seized from Jewish families during the war.
Nearly 2,000 paintings sent back to France from Germany at the end of the war are still in the possession of state-run museums, and President Jacques Chirac said recently that the paintings must remain in France.
At the same time, a body appointed in 1996 by former Prime Minister Alain Juppe to investigate the whereabouts of seized Jewish assets is facing resistance from banks, insurance companies and other state agencies in handing over their archives from the period, sources said.
Jewish community leaders have voiced criticism that insufficient resources and the lack of cooperation by financial institutions are hindering the Matteoli commission from conducting its inquiry effectively.
“Civil servants are never in a rush. It all should go faster,” said a source familiar with the situation. “A lot of negotiating has to be done.”
The source said the commission would look into Terroine’s archives, but at the same time he stressed that tens of thousands of other documents of the same type would remain untapped because the commission’s assignment is limited to giving a “global evaluation. They can’t do everything. Historians have to be put to work on it.”
The documents found by Le Parisien tell of Terroine’s anger at pressure by local politicians to turn a blind eye to the wartime activities of property administrators.
“Everyone knows that the [commission] they received increased their wealth, which was often very modest at the beginning, by a considerable amount,” Le Parisien quoted a note from Terroine as saying.
“Most of them accepted their responsibilities to make a profit and help the enemy,” he went on.
A total of 7,000 administrators were employed by the General Commission for Jewish Questions to manage and sell off seized Jewish property.
Terroine recorded the behavior of petty civil servants who profited from the slaughter of Jews.
One of those was an employee of the Credit Lyonnais bank in the city of Clermont Ferrand who, “realizing that a family had been exterminated, simply took the stocks that had been deposited in their name.”