French gov't seeks to compensate Jews

Delegation of Drai Commission in Israel searching for citizens who lost property under Vichy in WWII.

WWII art 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy: Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
WWII art 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy: Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
If you or your relative lost property to anti-Jewish legislation in France during World War II, the French government wants to know about it. On Thursday and Friday, the French Embassy is hosting a delegation of the Commission for Compensation of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from the Anti-Semitic Legislation in Force during the Occupation. Also known as the Drai Commission, the French state commission was founded in November 1999 to compensate tens of thousands of French citizens who lost property to the German occupation or the Vichy puppet government between 1940 and 1944. According to commission vice president Francois Bernard, most of the stolen property was in the form of items or real estate left behind by fleeing or deported Jews, or in holdings in companies and bank accounts that were expropriated by the wartime regime. In 1997, the official Matteoli Committee produced a report that estimated the total value of assets confiscated during the war at some €5 billion. Between 80 percent and 90% of this was returned in the years immediately following 1944, the year the anti-Semitic legislation allowing the confiscations was overturned. To date, the Drai Commission has distributed €410m. in some 25,000 cases. According to Glen Ropars, spokesman of the commission, around 7% of these files concern Israelis. The current visit to Israel, which ends on Friday, is the sixth in the commission's 10 years. It is expected to lead to the opening of 500 new files. "It is important to come to Israel to meet the applicants and to see how [the commission's work] gives them back some of their memories and their past," said Ropars. Unusually for a Holocaust-era compensation effort, the Drai Commission has no time limit and no financial cap. Any amount recommended for compensation by the commission is approved by the French government, according to Bernard. However, he adds, the number of applicants is dropping, and now hovers at 74 per month. There may come a time soon when the French government will determine that the committee's work is completed and will close it down. "To approach the Drai Commission, one needs only the wartime name and address of a victim of confiscation during the war years. The commission does the rest, corroborating and uncovering further information in archives in France, Germany and Israel," Bernard explained. Cases usually take 12 to 18 months from initial application to the first compensation payment. The commission is qualified to determine which specific funds and under what legal clauses an individual or heir is entitled to compensation. For example, it could discover that an applicant's parent was deported to a camp during the war, making that applicant eligible for a €457 monthly stipend or a one-time €27,400 grant - a compensation already paid out to almost 14,000 victims.