History of CIVS

Published on 11/03/2024 - Updated on 19/04/2024

On 16 July 1995, on the occasion of the commemoration of the "Vel d'Hiv Roundup" of 16 July 1942, French President Jacques Chirac acknowledged that the French authorities were partly responsible for the persecution of the Jewish community during the Occupation. Since then, the public authorities have considered compensating the material damage suffered by the Jewish community in France.

Study mission on the spoliation of Jews in France (1997)

The Mission d'étude sur la spoliation des Juifs de France, also known as the "Mattéoli Mission" after its chairman, was set up by order of the Prime Minister on 25 March 1997.

In a letter sent on 5 February 1997 to Jean Mattéoli, then Chairman of the Economic and Social Council, Prime Minister Alain Juppé defined the scope of this mission:

"In order to fully enlighten the public authorities and our fellow citizens about this painful aspect of our history, I would like to entrust you with the task of studying the conditions under which property, both real and personal, belonging to the Jews of France was confiscated or, in general, acquired by fraud, violence or deceit, both by the occupying forces and by the Vichy authorities, between 1940 and 1944. In particular, I would like you to attempt to assess the extent of the spoliations that may have been carried out in this way and to indicate which categories of individuals or legal entities benefited from them. You should also explain what happened to these assets from the end of the war to the present day."

The Mattéoli Commission worked in particular on economic "Aryanisation", the blocking of bank accounts, the looting of housing, the spoliation of property left behind by internees in the camps, insurance policies and the rights of authors and composers. These works are accompanied by precise statistical data that testify to the scale and nature of the spoliations suffered: 80,000 bank accounts and 6,000 safety deposit boxes blocked; 50,000 businesses "Aryanised"; 40,000 flats emptied of their contents; 100,000 works of art and millions of books stolen. They also detail the effects of the restitution and reparation procedures implemented after 1945.

The conclusions of the research led to a series of recommendations aimed at consolidating the work of remembrance of this period. On 17 November 1998, Jean Mattéoli proposed that the Prime Minister "create a body responsible for examining individual claims made by victims of anti-Semitic legislation established during the Occupation or by their heirs. It would monitor the processing of claims and would be responsible for providing responses, which could take the form of reparation".

Recommendation 8 of the General Report of the Mattéoli Commission lays down the general principle with regard to individual restitutions:

"When property whose existence in 1940 has been established has been the subject of spoliation and has not been returned or compensated, compensation is due regardless of the applicable statute of limitations."

Creation of the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from Anti-Semitic Legislation in Force during the Occupation (1999)

In decree no. 99-778 of 10 September 1999, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin set up a commission to examine individual claims submitted by victims or their heirs for compensation for losses resulting from the spoliation of property under anti-Semitic legislation enacted during the Occupation by both the occupying forces and the Vichy authorities.

First President of the Cour de Cassation from 1988 to 1996, Pierre Dray was appointed Chairman of the new ten-member commission on 15 November 1999. Prefect Lucien Kalfon was appointed Director of the Commission, which moved to 1 rue de la Manutention, Paris 16th.

CIVS History Committee (2007)

A CIVS history committee, chaired by the Secretary General of the Government, was placed under the scientific direction of Anne Grynberg, professor of contemporary history, in 2007. Its remit was to contribute to a better understanding of French policy on compensation for anti-Semitic spoliations, the history and operation of the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation and to carry out a study of comparable bodies in other countries.

"Doing better" on the restitution of cultural property (2018)

On the occasion of the commemoration of the Vél' d'Hiv' roundup on 22 July 2018, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called for "better efforts" to be made in the search for and restitution of works of art looted from Jewish families.

In 2018, the methods of referring cases to the CIVS were extended to enable it to find the owners, or their heirs, of cultural property looted in France between 1940 and 1944 under anti-Semitic legislation. The creation in April 2019 of the M2RS, Mission de recherche et de restitution des biens culturels spoliés entre 1933 et 1945, by order of the Minister of Culture, goes hand in hand with this strengthening of the role of the CIVS.

20e CIVS anniversary (2019)

On 15 November 2019, the symposium "Twenty years of reparation for anti-Semitic spoliations during the Occupation: between compensation and restitution" was held. This international, multidisciplinary conference was attended by nearly 400 people. It reflected the specific moment at which the CIVS's mission had reached: having reached maturity, the CIVS could take stock of its years of activity, but it also had to look to the future and the challenges that lay ahead, foremost among which was the difficult issue of looted cultural property.

Framework law for the restitution of cultural property (2023)

However, the restitution of property in the public domain came up against the principle of the inalienability of public collections. A special law of 21 February 2022 was therefore necessary to enable the restitution of 15 paintings to the heirs of their owners who were victims of anti-Semitic spoliation.

The framework law of 22 July 2023 now makes it possible to derogate from the principle of inalienability, after obtaining the opinion of the CIVS, in order to order the removal from the public domain of spoliated cultural property for the purposes of its restitution to its rightful owners. This law stipulates that a decree in the Council of State must specify the rules relating to the competence, composition, organisation and operation of the CIVS. This is the purpose of the decree of 5 January 2024, which came into force on 1 February 2024.

The CIVS, now called the Commission pour la restitution des biens et l'indemnisation des victimes de spoliations antisémites (Commission for the Restitution of Property and Compensation for Victims of Anti-Semitic Spoliation), has three distinct missions:

  • to recommend measures to compensate for material and bank-related anti-Semitic spoliations that occurred in France between 1940 and 1944, exclusively on the basis of referrals from heirs;
  • to recommend measures to compensate for the anti-Semitic spoliation of cultural property in France between 1940 and 1944, at the request of any person concerned or on its own initiative;
  • to recommend the restitution of cultural property looted in the context of Nazi anti-Semitic persecution, including outside France, between 1933 and 1945, when this property is held in a public or similar collection.
Back to top