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James Coomarasamy
"An important step in France's painful and belated recognition of its collaborationist past"
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Monday, 17 April, 2000, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
France counts cost of Nazi era
Billions of dollars were plundered during the Nazi occupation
The French Government has been presented with a long-awaited report on the plundering of Jewish property during the wartime Vichy regime.

The Matteoli report estimates the value of looted Jewish assets, particularly works of art, in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars in today's money.

It shows that the confiscation of Jewish assets affected every area of public and private life, including the civil service, trade, industry and culture.

Headed by former minister Jean Matteoli, himself a concentration camp survivor, the inquiry began in February 1997.

It was charged with assessing the scope of the looting during the occupation, as well as postwar restitution.

Here, it discovered that although the process had been slow, between 90 and 95% of Jewish assets had been returned.

Customs and museums reproached

However, the 3,000 page document rebukes the customs services for holding "premature" sales of formerly Jewish properties.

It also attacks some French museums for failing to carry out adequate research into the rightful ownership of 2,000 classical paintings and other works of art stolen during World War II.

The Nazis in France
Up to 120,000 Jews deported 1940-44
80,000 bank accounts and 6,000 safe-boxes were frozen
50,000 Jewish-owned businesses were "aryanised"
More than 100,000 works of art were stolen.
The museums directorate has since set up a database to help identify the artworks' original owners.

Tthe report largely avoids recrimination or chest-beating, and in his presentation Mr Matteoli stresses the "volume and diversity" of the efforts at post-war restitution.

BBC Paris correspondent James Coomarasamy says the process marks a further stage in France's efforts to come to terms with its murky wartime record.

It follows the unprecedented admission in 1995 by President Jacques Chirac that the French state as a whole was implicated in the deportation of French Jews during the occupation.

New enquiries

The Matteoli report forms part of a series of recent inquiries aimed at helping the country come to terms with the social damage done during the German occupation.

Every Jew in France was affected, from the poorest tailor to the richest art collector

Annette Wieviorka, historian
A commission for the compensation of victims of anti-Semitic legislation was created last September and has already received 4,000 claims.

The government has also set up legislation to offer financial compensation to the 10,000 Jews who were left orphans after their parents were deported.

A Memorial Fund is to be established to receive unclaimed Jewish assets and to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust.

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26 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Brushing out the taint of looted art
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