Jewish Groups Demand Quick Inquiry Into City-Owned Apartments
PARIS (AP) _ Jewish groups applauded the city of Paris’ decision to block sales of apartments that may have been seized from Holocaust victims during World War II.
Mayor Jean Tiberi announced Tuesday that no city-owned apartments would be sold until their ownership history was clear.
The action followed the publication of a book last week that alleges at least 100 city-owned buildings may have been seized from Jews by the Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazi occupiers.
``We are pleased with this decision, but we insist that the investigation be completed within three months at most,″ Haim Musecant, director of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, an umbrella organization of Jewish groups, said Tuesday.
Tiberi promised a speedy investigation, without committing to a time frame, he said.
Most of the apartments in question are in the old Jewish quarter of Paris, called the Marais. Fifteen units were to go on sale Tuesday before the city stepped in.
The Simon Weisenthal Center urged other big cities in France to launch similar investigations.
France has long struggled with its wartime past. Only last year President Jacques Chirac acknowledged that France was responsible for systematically persecuting Jews during the war.
And France is not alone. Recent documents show that Switzerland signed secret deals with several eastern European countries to liquidate Swiss bank deposits of Jews who had been deported. Switzerland also has been accused of laundering gold stolen by the Nazis from Jews.
For the city of Paris, the revelations come on top of earlier scandals involving city-owned apartments. It was revealed last year that numerous politicians, including Prime Minister Alain Juppe, paid reduced rent for luxurious city-owned apartments. Juppe moved out of his apartment last autumn, as did the mayor’s son.
One of the more striking disclosures in the book ``Private Domain″ is that relatives of Chirac’s wife, Bernadette Chodron de Courcel, currently live in a city-owned building on seized land.
The author, journalist Brigitte Vital-Durand, says the building belonged to a Jewish antique dealer who died at Auschwitz in 1944.
Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld told The Associated Press that the city knew at least 18 months ago that some of its apartments may have been seized from deported Jews, but that it did nothing until this week.
In a July 1995 letter sent in response to the claims, Tiberi said the city was ``pursuing″ the problem.
Of the 320,000 Jews living in France in 1941, the Vichy authorities turned over 75,000 to the Nazis. Only 2,500 returned, Klarsfeld said.
During the German occupation, all Jewish assets _ including bank accounts, businesses and buildings _ were controlled by a provisional administrator, whose job it was to sell them to non-Jews, he said.
He estimated that at least 10,000 Jewish-owned buildings or apartments were sold, some to private owners and others to the state. Some heirs have been compensated but many have not, Klarsfeld said. Many families left no heirs to make claims.
In her book, Vital-Durand says that of the 150 buildings in the Marais that now belong to the city, 95 percent were owned by Jewish families before the war.