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French court recognizes the “responsibility” of the French state in the Holocaust

The entrance to Auschwitz

The entrance to Auschwitz

The BBC is reporting (HT: Guy Kawasaki):

France’s highest court has recognised the state’s “responsibility” for the deportation of Jews in World War II.

The Council of State said the state had permitted or facilitated deportations that led to anti-Semitic persecution without being coerced by the occupiers.

But the council also found reparations had since been made “as much as was possible, for all the losses suffered”.

Correspondents say the ruling is the clearest such recognition of the French state’s role in the Holocaust.

Between 1942 and 1944 some 76,000 Jews were deported from France by the Vichy government in collaboration with the German occupying army.

In 1995, former French President Jacques Chirac officially recognised the French state’s responsibility in the deportation of French Jews, putting an end to decades of ambiguity by successive governments.

“These dark hours forever sully our history and are an insult to our past and our traditions,” he said. “Yes, the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state.”

Previous administrations had always blamed either Nazi Germany or the Vichy government, absolving the French state of responsibility.

Compensation claim

The Council of State’s pronouncement on Monday came after the Paris administrative court sought its opinion on a case brought by the daughter of a deportee killed at Auschwitz, who is seeking reparations from the French state.

She is also asking for material and moral damages for her own personal suffering during and after the German occupation.

In its judgement, the council said it believed the responsibility of the state was evident because it had “permitted or facilitated the deportation from France of persons who had been victims of anti-Semitic persecution”.

The state’s actions were not the result of “direct constraints put upon it by the occupying force”, it added.

The council cited “arrests, internments and displacement to transit camps” carried out by the French authorities, which it said were “the first stage of the deportation of these people to camps in which most of them were exterminated”.

However, the court also said that it did not believe the government should be liable for any further compensation claims.

“The reparations required called for individual compensation for victims, as well as a solemn recognition of the state’s responsibility and of the loss and damages collectively suffered,” it explained.

“The various measures taken since the end of World War II, both in terms of compensation as well as symbolic reparation, have repaired, as much as was possible, all the losses suffered.”

In 2007, a Bordeaux appeal court overturned a ruling ordering the state railway operator, SNCF, to compensate the family of deportees.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.