The Commission has a special department for receiving and attending to claimants and providing them with support and information.
Claimants and heirs may contact or meet with a representative to obtain any information they may require regarding the procedures followed by the CIVS and the monitoring of their case file and for any clarification regarding their case file.
Bridging the gap between claimants and Commission representatives, the head of the department also corresponds with CIVS partner organisations such as the FSJU and the ONACVG, bodies responsible for paying the recommended compensation, and associations providing support for Shoah victims.
+33 (0)1 42 75 68 32
Prior to their case file being examined by the Deliberative Panel, claimants and those accompanying them are invited to attend an individual and tailored interview. The aim of this meeting is to explain to claimants what the hearing involves, enable them to prepare for the role they will play in the proceedings and answer any questions they may have regarding the Commission. Information regarding the terms by which compensation is awarded will also be provided.
Furthermore, claimants and heirs may view their case files, onsite and by appointment only, by contacting the Claimant Support Unit.
The archivist is responsible for the CIVS archives, contributes to the smooth running of all of the Commission's departments and prepares permanent archives to be transferred to the National Archives.
There are considered to be 'three ages of archives':
Current archives comprising "documents and files commonly used by the departments, establishments and organisations that produced or received them in the course of their day-to-day activities "
Intermediate archives, consisting of "documents that are no longer considered to be current archives but cannot be sorted and destroyed owing to their administrative importance"
Permanent archives, namely "documents that have been sorted and assessed and consequently stored indefinitely "
Claimant case files have a historical value and are therefore considered to be permanent archives. They will also eventually be transferred to the National Archives, which were created for the purpose of storing public archives indefinitely.
Such case files may later be reopened (request for re-examination, collection of portions, linking to a new case file, supporting doctrinal elements, etc.), which is why they are stored at the CIVS whilst awaiting their eventual transfer to the National Archives.
Created in 2008, the CIVS Archives Department serves three purposes:
organising the day-to-day management of the various departments and ensuring constant access to useful information;
justifying the rights of individuals and being able to provide the relevant proof in the event of a dispute;
protecting the memory.
In order to improve the quality of the public service, major work has been undertaken with a view to the following:
creating an archiving space devoted entirely to claimant case files in order to optimise access to case files and better preserve the documents in question;
storing any searches conducted by the CIVS branch at the Paris Archives in order to provide Commission staff with more immediate access to such information;
filing recommendations made by the CIVS, which represent a collection in themselves.
Partial transfer to the national archives
This initiative followed the creation of the CIVS History Committee. 2,050 case files have been transferred to the 20th Century section of the National Archives and are now indexed under the generic index entitled F60 secrétarait général du Gouvernement et service du Premier Ministre ('F60 secretary general of the french government and prime minister's offive').
CIVS staff needing to access the case files can do so at any time using the ' administrative communications'procedure via the Commission's Archives Department.
The Research Coordination Department
The Administrative Unit and the Control and Investigation Network merged in June 2012 to form a new department that continues to perform a number of roles aimed at preparing and completing the case file for investigation.
The Research Coordination Department is responsible for processing the questionnaires and research required for the Reporting Magistrate to investigate the claim before it is heard by the commission.
Case file preparation
The department initiates the compensation procedure, verifying the validity of the application based on the decree governing the nature of the Commission, ensuring that the application is registered and that the relevant questionnaires are sent and received, and ensuring that all of the information required to process the case file in question is provided.
Upon receipt of the questionnaire completed and signed by the claimant, the information it contains is recorded in a database to which all CIVS staff have access. This stage makes it possible to verify whether a procedure for the same victim, the same heir or the same spoliation has already been processed by the CIVS.
Once the questionnaire has been registered, a case file is opened and a number allocated. This number is then stated on all correspondence.
Each claimant will receive an acknowledgement of receipt from the CIVS stating their case file number, along with an informative letter reminding them of the administrative documents they are required to provide.
Prior to initiating the archive research procedure, the department will verify the basic information required to process the case file, including the marital status of the victim of the spoliation, the nature and location of damages incurred, the identity of the heir (systematic production of a family tree), etc.
In the event that any information is found to be lacking, the claimant will be contacted by telephone, post or email.
In the event that the claimant states in the questionnaire that the victim may have been in possession of a bank account, a so-called bank-related claim is initiated and referred to the department responsible for performing the corresponding investigation. In the event of any works of art or cultural personal property being mentioned on the questionnaire, the case file will be processed by the ad hoc service.
Provided that all of the information required to continue with the procedure is present and correct, the department will analyse the claim submitted by the victim or their descendant(s), determine the counts of spoliation and make the necessary enquiries with the relevant archive centres to enable the magistrate to investigate the application.
Identifying the nature of the spoliation
The necessary research may take different directions, depending on the elements referred to on the questionnaire, the circumstances and the counts of spoliation. Without this research phase, it would often be impossible to evaluate spoliated property. Nevertheless, processing time frames are still long, despite the high-performance systems and procedures employed.
Making the necessary enquiries with archive centres involves determining what has been spoliated as a result of anti-Semitic legislation, on the one hand, and obtaining information on any compensation that has already been awarded by France in the framework of the War Damage Act and/or by Germany in the framework of the BRüG Act, on the other.
The relevant archive centres are consulted for each case file, depending on the nature of the spoliation to which the claim relates (looting of apartments, loss of professional property, property deposited at the Drancy camp at the time of internment, etc.). With this in mind, questionnaires are sent to all archive centres simultaneously. This procedure is implemented in accordance with the priorities identified based on the claimant's age, state of health and situation of instability, as well as the time that has passed since the case file was opened.
The department will coordinate the responses received from the archive centres involved, notably those associated with CIVS branches, before verifying and analysing the response provided, and will perform any further searches that may be required.
The primary counts of spoliation are as follows:
Looting of apartments
Internment in French camps
Search for life insurance
Fees for smuggling
In the majority of cases, the enquiries made will concern the three archive branches of the CIVS:
The CIVS Berlin branch where the questionnaire refers to a spoliation that took place in France, regardless of the nature thereof.
The CIVS branch at the National Archives in the case of provincial spoliations (looting of apartments, internment or professional property) or in the event of aryanisation (company placed under provisional administration).
The Paris Archives branch in the case of personal property, real property and business spoliations that took place in Paris and the Ile de France region.
Other archive centres are regularly consulted in accordance with the information gathered, including the Parisian Police Headquarters (PP), the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC) and the Contemporary Jewish Documentation Centre (CDJC) when it is necessary to identify traces of deposits made by those interned at the Drancy camp. The CDCfor its part, is frequently consulted with regard to the liquidation of businesses, companies and buildings and withdrawals made from bank accounts in the framework of the Amende du Milliard (a billion-mark fine imposed upon Jews in December 1941) to the benefit of the General Commissariat for Jewish Questions (CGQJ).
The Office for Personal Property and Interests (OBIP), collection - the diplomatic archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at La Courneuve - provides information regarding the existence of any applications for compensation and/or the restitution of any item of property submitted by a claimant in the aftermath of the war. In the case of spoliations that took place in Tunisia, enquiries will be directed to the Nantes Diplomatic Archive Centre (CADN).
With regard to spoliations that took place in Algeria, the National Overseas Archives (ANOM) will be consulted. Investigations regarding life insurance policies will be conducted with the French Federation of Insurance Companies (FFSA) and the CDC.
Other enquiries may be made on a more sporadic case-by-case basis, the ultimate aim being to gather any information that might enlighten the CIVS with regard to the spoliations suffered by the victims.
The consultation of archive centres may lead to the emergence of other spoliations of which the claimant was unaware or that they had forgotten. Furthermore, when a questionnaire is submitted with a lot of information missing, or when no information is provided, research can help establish and refine the circumstances of the presumed spoliations. In the case of over three-quarters of case files, research helps unearth at least one document held in the archives that may support the presumption that a spoliation did, in fact, take place.
Once all of the archives have been amalgamated, and once the archive items received have been analysed, the case file is forwarded to the Principal Rapporteur to be allocated to a Reporting Magistrate.
Following the signing of the Washington Agreement on 18 January 2001, the CIVS created a special department dedicated to monitoring the reparation of bank-related spoliations, to be known as the Bank-Related Claims Search Team.
The research initiation procedure: the referral
In accordance with the provisions of the Agreement, a bank-related claim is only initiated when the claimant refers to a bank either implicitly in the questionnaire or explicitly through any archive items they may have submitted.
However, the systematic consultation of the archive documents gathered over the course of investigations into material spoliations by the Bank-Related Claims Search Team may also lead to a bank-related case file being opened in the event that they relate to one or several personal or corporate accounts or safe-deposit boxes.
Researching bank-related spoliations
The Bank-Related Claims Search Team conducts its preliminary research directly within the Commission based on the electronic files relating to blocked accounts/safe-deposit boxes using the Banks CD-Rom provided by the Mattéoli Mission in accordance with the decree of 19 October 2000.
The electronic files relating to blocked accounts are divided between 26 files corresponding to 25 banks that have performed their own research and one file compiled by the Mattéoli Mission and comprising 160 banks.
Around 80,000 accounts/safe-deposit boxes in 60,000 different names have been included on lists of bank accounts blocked on 20 December 1941 at the order of the General Commissariat for Jewish Questions (CGQJ) stored at the National Archives.
The processing of each claim therefore requires a systematic electronic search of around a hundred financial institutions that were in operation in 1941, even if the claimant refers specifically to only one bank.
The search is based on the name of the victim(s) and their address(es) during the Occupation (home addresses, business addresses, shelters, etc.) and takes into account different spellings that might be used in questionnaires and archive documents.
An electronic search of files relating to blocked bank accounts is deemed positive when the marital status or address of the spoliated individual corresponds to a marital status or address identified within the files.The search makes it possible to establish the types of accounts - cash accounts, securities accounts or safe-deposit boxes - held with one or several banks. Enquiries will then be made with the historical archive departments of the various banks concerned by mail in order to obtain the relevant information on what has become of the accounts identified.
This correspondence, accompanied by a copy of the questionnaire and any relevant archive items, will comprise a standard letter asking for confirmation of the search, any additional information that may be relevant, and a justified opinion regarding the compensation claim submitted to the Commission.
Banks have a time frame of two months in which to provide details of the results of their research.
The Bank-Related Claim Search Team confirms the findings by means of a summary declaration outlining all of the accounts located.
When the case file is considered a 'simple' one, a recommendation is drafted and submitted to the Chairman in the framework of the procedure known as 'Chairman ruling alone' (link to the corresponding sub-section to be created in Q/A).
If the case file proves to be more complex, it is submitted for investigation to a rapporteur who is then responsible for presenting it to the CIVS Deliberative Panel.
A negative search suggests that no match has been found with the civil statuses or addresses in the files relating to blocked accounts.
The Bank-Related Claims Search Team will then produce a summary declaration validating this negative outcome of the investigation.
In the case of bank-related search requests submitted prior to 2 February 2005, the file processing procedure continues with a written request for claimants to provide a sworn declaration testifying to the existence of accounts held during the Occupation. "Fund B" will then be called upon for the payment of a lump sum compensation. In the case of claims submitted after 2 February 2005, a decision to reject the claim on the basis of the foreclosure date will be drafted and presented for signing by the Chairman of the CIVS.
The Cultural Personal Property Unit
The term 'Cultural Personal Property' refers to all objects that represent an expression of or testimony to human creation or the evolution of nature and that are of archaeological, historical, artistic, scientific or technical value.
Claims submitted to the CIVS can relate to Cultural Personal Property (CPP) and, in some cases, less commonly, to works of art. Applications of this nature nevertheless remain limited.
Claimants tend to have two types of expectations when it comes to CPP spoliated during the Occupation, namely a request for the work(s) in question to be returned or for compensation for the work(s) to be paid in the event that it has not been possible to locate it/them.
For the purposes of the reparation of spoliated property, the CIVS has investigative powers and has access to various French and foreign archives, allowing it to bring together the elements necessary to assess the veracity and extent of the alleged damage, as well as determining any compensation previously awarded.
The Hearings Secretariat
The Hearings Secretariat is the final stage in the processing of compensation case files submitted to the CIVS and is the department responsible for organising and holding hearings over the course of which claims are examined and recommendations adopted.
Hearings are attended by the members of the Deliberative Panel, the claimant, accompanied by their advisor if need be, the Reporting Magistrate, who formulates a quantified compensation proposal, the Government Commissioner and a Hearings Secretary.
The department is also responsible for enlisting the case file once the investigation has been concluded and drafting an agenda for each hearing.
Hearings Secretaries inform the members of the Deliberative Panel, the claimant and the various interested parties, the rapporteur and the Government Commissioner that the hearing is to take place.
They follow the deliberations and draft the resulting recommendations. These are then sent for payment to the Prime Minister's office, in the case of material compensation, and the Unified Jewish Social Fund (FSJU) in the case of bank-related compensation. A copy is also sent to the claimant and to any interested institutions and bodies if need be.
The Supervision Unit (CDS), a department devoted entirely to case file verification, was created in 2004. The CDS ensures that the information contained in a case file is consistent and complies with that entered in the database.
This verification process applies to case files submitted by the Hearings Secretariat after they have been heard by the Commission and to those that had already been examined prior to the database being created.
The rapporteurs' office
Once the relevant archive items have been received, case files are resubmitted to the Principal Rapporteur who will distribute them among so-called 'Reporting' magistrates for investigation.
Interviews are an important component in gaining a thorough understanding of the case file, given that rapporteurs are expected to achieve the following three objectives:
First and foremost, listening: This is a fundamental aspect of their role. Indeed, remembering the war and the experiences it brought with it is a stressful and very emotional time for claimants. It is clear that regardless of their own personal journey, many of them are keen to pay homage to such a tragic period in history, of which the number of survivors is gradually decreasing.
Secondly, providing information for claimants regarding their family's experiences during the Occupation by sharing with them documents relating to family members that have been found in the archives and of which they were previously unaware. For many claimants, these documents are the only traces that remain of a painful past with which they are once again confronted, which is why they place as much importance on such documents as on the reparation they are anticipating.
Thirdly, corresponding with claimants, primarily, and often, with the aim of determining the heirs entitled to the compensation based on a study of descent, which, in some cases, requires a family tree to be drawn up in order to provide the compensation proposal that will be submitted to the Commission by the rapporteur.
It is not uncommon for interviews to enable claimants to obtain information, particularly in the case of the heirs of direct victims who perished, regarding the existence of spoliations identified by the archives, of which they were not previously aware and which they had not, therefore, referred to in their initial claim. It can also, conversely, provide an opportunity for claimants to declare spoliations that they had omitted from their original application, in which case new investigations must be carried out.
Drafting the report
Once the evaluation is complete, the rapporteur produces a written report reiterating the circumstances of the spoliation in question and outlining an assessment of the damages incurred as a result.
The report is then sent to the claimant, who has a period of one month in which to make any observations they may consider useful to the Commission in writing.
The role of the rapporteur during the hearing
Reports are submitted to the Principal Rapporteur who, after verifying them, forwards them to the Hearings Secretary with their opinion regarding the most appropriate composition for the hearing - Chairman, ruling alone in accordance with the Decree of 20 June 2001, subcommittee or plenary session. In the event that the case is submitted to a panel sitting as a full bench, the rapporteur attends the hearing, during which they provide an oral overview of their report and answer any questions that members of the Commission, the claimant or the Government Commissioner may have.
The CIVS French National Archives Team
Enquiries are made with this branch at the request of the Research Coordination Department or the Cultural Personal Property Unit when the spoliations referred to in the questionnaire, or in the archive items received, indicate an aryanisation anywhere in France, or a property-related or business spoliation in provincial areas. The branch was created in February 2000 and has been based at the Pierrefitte-sur-Seine (93) site since 2012.
All of the archives of the General Commissariat for Jewish Questions (CGQJ) and the Department for the Restitution of Spoliated Property belonging to Victims of Spoliation Laws and Measures are stored at the National Archives under sub-series AJ 38. A detailed introduction to the collection is available on the National Archives website.
From 29 March 1941 to 17 August 1944, the CGQJ implemented its anti-Jewish policy at the instigation of the Vichy government. It was responsible for developing a new status for Jews in France, collaborating with the occupying forces to prepare for round-ups, internments and deportations and, with regard to spoliations, overseeing economic aryanisation in accordance with the various laws designed to eliminate "any Jewish influence from the national economy". At the time of the Liberation, the Department for the Restitution of Spoliated Property was introduced to rectify such injustices.
Sub-series AJ 38 comprises some 62,000 aryanisation case files relating to the départements of the Seine and provincial regions. Research covers files dating from the period, on the one hand, and uses an electronic tool (that is not yet available to the public), on the other hand. These case files comprise items that are of vital importance to the Commission rapporteurs responsible for investigating case files and
include the following:
The various reports produced by provisional administrators, which provide a physical and financial description of the business and/or building.
The business's balance sheets.
The various inventories of the business's stock levels and equipment.
Notarial acts of sale and deeds relating to the fulfilment of the suspensive conditions of sale.
Extracts from trade and commerce registers.
An expert appraisal report on the case.
This research is then supplemented by the files of the provisional administrators and auditors responsible for managing and monitoring the business in question. Other collections stored at the National Archives may be consulted should the need arise.
The National Archives also comprise documents produced after the war, which offer an idea of the extent of the spoliation that took place and indications regarding any potential reimbursements that might be due:
The response to the Circular by Professor Terroine, sent to all those who had been victims of spoliation to establish the extent of their property at the time of the Liberation.
Files relating to the laws of 1948 and 1949 regarding the initial compensation offered by France.
Letters from spoliated individuals, which, in the form of inventories of personal property and certificates of looting, record the thefts and damages sustained in people’s homes.
Minuted reports regarding the restitution (or not) of furniture and pianos.
Consulting the so-called 'Jewish file', file F9, comprising records relating to individuals apprehended by the Préfecture de Police and interned at Drancy, Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande, also provides more accurate information regarding the name of the spoliated individual, their address, their profession and the date of their arrest.
With regard to searches for property located in provincial areas, this branch is also responsible for coordinating the responses provided by the Departmental Archives. It is becoming increasingly common for requests and information to be sent and received digitally for the purposes of greater speed and practicality (departmental archive centres have started to make many of the archives dating from the period available online). Such responses are vital to Alsace and Moselle, for which no aryanisation records are stored within the National Archives, as well as to other départements that are in possession of further items in addition to those found in aryanisation case files, such as the following:
Extracts from censuses and evacuation records.
Extracts from trade and commerce registers.
Extracts from mortgage and land registers.
War damages records.
National Solidarity Tax (ISN) records.
The documents located as a result of painstaking research work and through a willingness to fulfil a duty to remember are vital both to the Commission, and the rapporteur in particular, and to the family. Indeed, not all aryanisation records are of the same quality, some being comprehensive whilst others are incomplete. There may also be a discrepancy between the information provided in the claims registered by the CIVS and the information obtained from the archives. In fact, it is not uncommon to find no mention whatsoever of the individual's property or, on the contrary, to identify the existence of a business or buildings, despite the fact that the claimant made no mention of this in their claim.
Searches within the National Archives help trace the history of a real property or business during the Occupation, confirm marital status and even family composition, and even redefine a personal and moving story for each case file.
The CIVS Paris Archives Team
The CIVS Paris Archives Team is responsible for searching historical documents relating to the geographical area of Paris and both its inner and outer suburbs.
The corresponding investigations cover the following four archives:
War damages state whether a request has been submitted to the French government since the war. This collection makes it possible to locate testimonies, expert reports and various other forms of correspondence and administrative documents. A list of inventories drawn up by victims, supporting invoices, recovered property and the various potential means of compensation can also be found here.
Restitution orders include rulings regarding the restitution of property spoliated during World War II. Observations and reports can also be found here.
Business registers can help establish the existence of the company and track the life of the business from the point of creation until it closed. Any change of owner or management as a result of bankruptcy, sale or legal liquidation will be recorded on these registers.
Trade registers relate to craftspeople and small businesses and provide the same type of information as business registers.
It is vital that business and trade registers be consulted in order to identify any potential economic aryanisation that may be relevant. Further research involving post-war company dissolution archives is also incorporated in the case of large and medium-sized companies. In such cases it is possible to obtain articles of incorporation, minutes of general meetings, capital modifications, the transfer of shares, the transfer of the business, instruments of continuance and dissolution reports.
These documents make it possible to verify any compensation that may have been paid for war damages incurred and whether or not the spoliated property has been recovered and to ascertain the existence of the business, as well as to appoint a provisional administrator if necessary.
Such searches are performed at the request of the Research Coordination Centre or the Cultural Personal Property Unit for the purposes of gathering as much information as possible or supplementing the initial case file. This documentation is gathered from the Departmental Archives in Paris so that accurate information can be provided to enable the CIVS to compile the case file and identify any previous compensation paid and procedures followed in the interests of equality. Case files are investigated by Reporting Magistrates based on this vital contribution on the part of the Paris Archives team.
The CIVS Berlin branch
The Research Coordination Department or the Cultural Personal Property Unit will make enquiries with the CIVS Berlin branch in the event that the questionnaire refers to a spoliation that took place in France.
This branch, which was created in September 1999 and is based at the French Embassy in Germany, therefore has a significant role to play.
Its primary task is to identify any compensation claims that may have been submitted to the German authorities in the framework of the 1957 Federal Restitution Act, theBundesrückerstattungsgesetz, also known as the BRüG Act. Indeed, as of 1957, there were two administrations in the Land of Berlin - the Oberfinanzdirektion and the Wiedergutmachungsämter- that processed compensation claims submitted by French Jews in particular. Based on the information contained in the claims submitted to the CIVS today, the staff at the branch perform regular searches of two archive centres located in Berlin for the purposes of locating these compensation claims, these being the Bundesamt für zentrale Dienste und offene Vermögensfragen (BADV) and the Landesarchiv Berlin.
Some case files require further research involving other German archive centres, such as those that refer to cultural property, or case files submitted by the heirs of families who left Germany for France after 1933 and who had received compensation from compensation authorities in Länder other than Berlin, compensation that might also cover property taken from Germany to France and spoliated at a later date during the Occupation.
BRüG records are particularly rich in information regarding the circumstances and extent of spoliations and can contain testimonies, marital status documents, detailed inventories of spoliated furniture or goods, expert reports and descriptions of works of art and businesses. Some case files can comprise up to 800 pages.
Furthermore, searches of German archives are particularly important since compensation awarded in the framework of the BRüG Act also takes into account compensation previously awarded in accordance with the 1946 War Damage Act. Within mainland France, a large number of these compensation records have been destroyed.
Based on these BRüG records, which have been compiled in German, the Berlin branch drafts research reports in French, summarising and explaining the German compensation procedures. In some cases, the BRüG compensation procedure and exchanges between the German authorities and claimants continued between 1950 and 2000. Such reports are sent to the Research Coordination Department for examination. They are used to help CIVS Reporting Magistrates to establish the circumstances surrounding the spoliation and to ascertain what compensation, if any, has already been awarded. Such research also enables claimants to complete the sections on their family history.
Furthermore, communication is a key part of what the branch does, both internally, with the various departments of the Embassy and certain CIVS departments in Paris, and externally. Indeed, correspondence with German and international institutions working in the field of compensation and the restitution of spoliated Jewish property is crucial. The aim is to raise awareness of what the CIVS does abroad and to share knowledge and information regarding the various compensation and restitution systems in place in France and in Germany. There is also, of course, the contribution made by commemorations, parliamentary discussions, symposiums and seminars looking at issues relating to the CIVS's activities. Exchanges between the branch and its various interlocutors regarding the spoliation of works of art and their restitution, or absence thereof, following the war are sometimes the reflection of the abundance of current events/news relating to it.