An Interview with Vincent le Coq and Anne Poiroux, writers of the book The Notaries under Occupation (1940-45).
“In 2015 we published a book whose title translates as The Notaries under Occupation (1940-1945); Actors of the Expropriation of the Jews. Until then the major collaboration of French notaries with the Vichy government and their key role in robbing Jewish business owners was not known. The book exposes the central role of notaries in economic aryanization, as well as the democratic government’s protection of the profession after the 1944 liberation of France.
“After 10 September 1940 the Vichy government allowed the appointment of administrators to manage Jewish enterprises. The administrators could not sell these assets. In early 1941 a new Vichy law permitted their sale. The monies obtained were passed to the Jewish owners. In April 1941 a German decree forbade these payments. The Vichy law of 22 July 1941 determined that such monies were to be deposited with the Caisse des Depots et Consignations (CDC), a French public sector financial institution.”
Vincent Le Coq teaches public law since 2000, after a ten year career as a lawyer. Anne-Sophie Poiroux has a notary diploma and has worked in this profession. She is nowadays a lawyer.
The authors add: “The economic ‘aryanization’ was gradual and had both French and German elements. The initial discriminatory ‘statute of the Jews’ was an initiative and decision of Vichy. The origin of aryanization was German. Initially the German decrees were only applied in German-occupied Northern France. From 22 July 1941 the economic aryanization was extended to unoccupied Southern France.
“Before the war transfers of businesses could be handled by either lawyers or notaries. The notaries collaborated closely with the Vichy government which then decided that only notaries could handle the aryanization cases.
“We know approximately how many Jewish businesses and real estate properties were aryanized. In Paris and its surroundings about 31,000 files were opened. In the remainder of the occupied zone 11,000 and in the Vichy South 7-8,000. However not all files resulted in actual sales. Out of the 6,607 notaries in France in 1939 only 10 were Jewish. This is an indication of the anti-Semitic entrance barriers to the profession.
“The notaries did more than just lobby Vichy for their economic aryanization monopoly. They also suggested legal changes to make the procedures more efficient. The greedy notaries benefitted greatly from aryanization. From 1939 to 1942 their turnover increased from 712 million francs to over 1.3 billion francs. Jewish clients also deposited money with notaries as they distrusted the banks. We do not know whether part of this was appropriated by the notaries.
“After 1942 most potential buyers started to realize that Germany might lose the war. It then became difficult to sell aryanized properties. The notaries complained about their declined income. The Vichy government granted them a tariff increase. In practice, they charged even higher percentage fees. This was illegal but did not lead to any punishment.
“In 1944 France became a democratic republic again. The fees received by the notaries from selling aryanized Jewish properties were considered legal. In 1945 the French government raised the notaries’ tariffs by an additional 30% to compensate for the loss of income as the anti-Semitic Vichy laws were no longer in force.
“The republic expelled collaborators in many other areas from their positions. However the justice ministry left investigation of the notaries to the profession itself. All chambers of notaries declared that none of their members had collaborated with the enemy. This was patently false.
“In 1954 the Paris Chamber of Notaries elected a president who had shown great zeal in depriving Jewish clients of their property. He was reelected in 1957 and in 1960 he was made a commander of the Legion of Honor. An associate of his, who prided himself of being anti-Jewish, became president of the Superior Council of Notaries (CSN) from 1948 to 1950. French President René Coty personally handed him the insignia of the Legion of Honor. This notary had a history of good relations with the German occupiers.
“The Mattéoli commission which -- at the end of the 20th century --investigated the post-war restitution, discovered that the office of these prominent and decorated notaries had not deposited all sales income from aryanized properties. They were not the only ones.
“The archives on the relations of Vichy’s General Commissariat for the Jews (CGQJ) with the notaries are accessible to researchers as are those about the notary profession in general. If researchers however want to investigate the files of their expropriations, the individual notary offices claim professional secrecy. That is not only to protect their profession, but also the reputations of their families. This attitude is the opposite of their behavior during aryanization. During that period they never claimed professional secrecy.”
When asked what reception their book received Le Coq and Poiroux replied that except for a public meeting at the Paris Memorial of the Shoah there was largely silence in France. In the meantime, the notaries still claim that they professed hidden resistance during the war.