5.1 Final evaluation and conclusions
5.1.1 General evaluation of the period 1940-1944 and of
the post-war process of redress
As of the fall of 1940, it became clear to the Jewish population that the nazipersecution, which a number of them had tried to escape by emigrating toBelgium, would within a very near future turn into reality. And, indeed, thefirst anti-Jewish edicts issued by the German Military Command were notlong in coming; they were announced as early as October 28, 1940.
Some of the Jews no doubt made a last-minute attempt at safety, whether or not with part of their possessions, but opportunities for escapewere few and far between. Those who fled to France were subsequentlyovertaken by events, namely the German occupation and the Vichy gov-ernment.
The Jewish population appeared very vulnerable : its concentration in primarily two main urban centres, Antwerp and Brussels, made indi-viduals easy to track down, while its particular composition (approximately93 % of them were foreigners) limited assimilation and increased the risk ofrecognition.
That latter factor also contributed its part during the May days in 1940, when the Belgian government proceeded to the arrest of all personssuspected of being sympathetic to the German aggressor. At that time (nodoubt influenced in its actions by the panicked reaction of a public that de-tected spies around every corner), it interned without distinction alsomasses of Jewish refugees from the German Reich. In spite of the fact thatthese Jewish refugees were victims of the nazi regime, the government ulti-mately had them transferred to camps in France. For many amongst them,this became the first step that via Drancy led to their internment in Ausch-witz.
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Berlin dictated the measures that were directed against the Jewish popula-tion and which, conform to the blueprint followed within the Reich, gradu-ally took on a sharper form and focus. Those measures took for their objec-tives to identify the Jewish population, to ban them from participation ineconomic life and at the same time to lay hold of their possessions, and, inthe ultimate stage and based on a secret directive that was confirmed at thebeginning of 1942, to physically eliminate them.
The consecutive Jewish edicts were meant to give this operation a legalistic and organisational framework. In practice, however, and for di-verse reasons, matters did not proceed quite as smoothly as planned.
In the first instance, the interests of the German Military Command and the objectives of the nazi ideologists in Berlin did not always follow aparallel course. The Military Command aimed at maintaining law and orderwith an occupational force held to a minimum and it looked upon thismaintenance of order as a necessary condition for the maximum exploita-tion of the Belgian economy. They chose to realise such objectives as far aswas feasible within the frame of the Belgian legislation and with the col-laboration of the Belgian public authorities. This had two significant conse-quences.
First of all, the Military Command limited its own scope of action by its willingness to conform to the Belgian legislation, a plan whose implica-tions it surely had not explored thoroughly enough. Illustrative in this re-gard is the example of the Brüsseler Treuhandgesellschaft (BTG), founded as amanagement company under Belgian law : the BTG was allowed to controland manage, but it was denied ownership of what it controlled.
Secondly, the Belgian authorities, which had been allowed to keep functioning under the decree of May 10, 1940, did not always prove as flexi-ble and accommodating as had been expected. In this respect, the Secretar-ies-General, for instance, basing themselves on the Belgian Constitution,refused to issue the initial anti-Jewish measures (October 28, 1940) (whichforced the occupying forces to announce those measures as German edicts).
On the other hand, the Secretaries-General later on did send a circular letterto the municipal authorities directing them to open Jewish registers. Whenthe municipalities were subsequently told to distribute the Star of Davidbadges, the Brussels municipalities refused to comply but those in Antwerpacceded.
The Belgian Court in its turn often registered its opposition as well.
Amongst other instances, it forbade the sanctioning of acts of forced sale ofreal estate, which strongly curtailed the implementation of German policyregarding Jewish real property. In contrast, there is the collaboration of theAntwerp police in the process of internment and, in some instances, also inthe arrest, of Jewish citizens.
Not surprisingly, the Jewish population managed in part to avoid compliance with the German edicts. There is little doubt that the compul- 456 – Study Commission Jewish assets
sory entry into the Jewish registers was not obeyed to the letter. The samepertained to the identification of Jewish bank deposits – the obligationrested with the Jewish depositors – and to the registration of securities,gold, jewels, and diamonds. On the other hand, the Jewish population expe-rienced greater difficulty in avoiding the identification of their real estateproperty or of their commercial and industrial enterprises.
Ultimately, it also appears that the directive to the financial institu- tions that they themselves identify, when necessary, the Jewish deposit andsecurities accounts and, at a later stage, transfer them to the robber bankSociété française de Banque et de Dépôts (SFBD) received only a very limitedresponse.
No unambiguous global picture of the despoliation has emerged.
Certain is that there existed an indisputable despoilment of Jewish posses-sions to the benefit of the Reich. This is most convincingly demonstrated inthe so-called Möbelaktion, in the activities of Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg,and in the direct seizure (ordered by the edict of April 22,1942) of the pos-sessions of Jews of German origin. Aside from that, there existed a wide-spread well concealed plan of despoliation : real estate property was soldbelow the current market value; the same was true of diamonds and in thecase of liquidation of Jewish enterprises. Enterprises that were not liqui-dated were placed under German management and the unreasonably ele-vated management fees that were exacted for that service were partiallysiphoned off to the Reichskasse. Only the insurance policies were left un-touched, with this proviso that the insured policy holders and their as-signed beneficiaries could only collect on part of the remitted benefits.
Ultimately, a large number of liquid funds under the management of Brüsseler Treuhandgesellschaft remained in frozen accounts with the Sociétéfrançaise de Banque et de Dépôts. After the liberation, they were placed in Bel-gian custody. The post war restoration process The settlement of the material consequences of what had happened duringthe war was after the liberation entrusted in essence to three departments :the Department of the Sequestration of enemy goods (as security for thedamage inflicted by the occupying forces to the national heritage), the De-partment for Economic Recovery (an offshoot of the Allied agreements con-cerning German restitution and compensation for war damage caused), andthe Department of War Damage, an organ of the Ministry of Public Worksand Reconstruction.
The first two services were established respectively on August 23, 1944, and November 16,1944; the Department of War Damage derived itscompetences from the decree-law of November 19, 1945, concerning wardamage to private goods.
During this early period after the liberation, no particular attention was paid to the victims of the racial persecutions by the occupational forces,likely because the precise nature and extent of the judeocide had not yet Final evaluation, conclusions and proposals Final report - 457
been fully appreciated. As a result, no effort was made to accommodate thevictims in a way that was adapted to the particular manner in which theirpossessions had been despoiled during the occupation, this in spite of aninitiative – albeit isolated – by the Administration of Registration and Do-mains of the Ministry of Finance.
This explains why, initially, the Jewish holdings with the Department of Sequestration also remained frozen at the Brüsseler Treuhandgesellschaft.
Nonetheless, it was speedily realised that these could not possibly be cate-gorised as “enemy” assets; subsequently, the sums in question were in apractical way processed to the benefit of the Jewish depositors or legal bene-ficiaries, or transferred to the banks of their origin. It did, however, demanda great deal more time to isolate the assets of Jews that were refugees fromthe Reich (borders of September 1, 1939), and who had in the meantime re-gained their original German or Austrian nationality, from the “enemy”category. The problem was only legally solved by the decree-law of January13, 1947, following two and a half years of half-hearted attempts. Where itconcerned the holdings of those victims amongst them who had failed tosurvive the judeocide, these were transferred to the State Treasury in thesame manner as happened with “enemy” accounts.
The deposit accounts, securities, and goods whose Jewish owners were unknown or could not be located over time were in turn transferred tothe State Treasury via the Administration of Registration and Domains ofthe Ministry of Finance or via the Department of the Official Receiver.
From its side, the Department of Economic Recovery (DER), within thecontext of the recovery of the country’s economic potential, gave prime at-tention to the compensation in industrial goods, production plants, andmeans of transport assigned to Belgium. In addition, the DER further recov-ered a significant number of stolen diamonds. The restitution of these arti-cles to their legal owners was carried out with exceptional efficiency thanksto the assistance of the Federation of Belgian Diamond Fairs.
Only a small section at the DER was occupied in the recovery of stolen artwork and objects of cultural value, a sector within the Jewishcommunity that had been particularly targeted during the war. In compari-son with what was being achieved in the Netherlands and in France, thissection’s results remained only negligible. Furthermore, for the lack of anysystematic system of tracing the legitimate owners of the recovered art-works and cultural objects (interested parties could present themselves instorage centres), few of the items were actually restored. Most of the Jewishartwork and cultural objects were sold off, with the proceeds going to theTreasury; some of them found their way into museums.
The clearest evidence of exclusion of the victims of Jewish persecu- tion by the nazis found its de facto expression in the law bearing on the res-titution of material war damage (more particularly the decree of October 1,1947). In three areas, this decree led to an effective exclusion of most of theJewish victims. Under the established conditions for citizenship, only about7 % of the Jewish population at the outbreak of the war could claim redress.
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In this process, political prisoners could count on preferential treatment, tothe degree of complete compensation for all despoiled moveable and im-moveable goods, while those persecuted on racial ground were excluded asthey could not, in fact, lay claim to the Status of political prisoner. Finally –but this point is based rather on deduction –the traditional means of in-vestment for the wealthier Jews – bank accounts, jewellery and artwork –did not qualify for restitution.
The decision to withhold the Status of political prisoner from the victims ofracial persecution received, years later, an extension at the time of the dis-tribution of the global moral indemnification of circa 1 billion BEF paid byGermany. The Belgian-German agreement of 1960 stipulated that this globalindemnification had to be paid out to the victims of racial, religious, andideological persecutions during the national socialist regime. However, thissame accord did also grant Belgium the right to define the criteria for therestitution payments. In keeping with the decisions for the implementationof the decree of March 4, 1961, only those victims eligible for the Status ofpolitical prisoner and their legal beneficiaries could submit their claims. Asa result of this decree, the victims of the Jewish persecution once again fellby the wayside.
In conclusion, one may state that only in the diamond sector the res- titution of property was well-nigh total. Everywhere else one has to face thebare facts : the political and administrative authorities failed to grasp thetrue significance of the judeocide, a failure of insight that formed the basisfor a whole range of shortcomings. It is these shortcomings that ultimatelycaused the Belgian authorities to partially fail in their course of action torestore the possessions of Jewish war victims.
5.1.2 Evaluation of our study
Like all the other study commissions set up abroad to conduct, now morethan 50 years after the facts, a thorough inquiry into the destiny of Jewishpossessions during and following the Second World War, the Belgian StudyCommission encountered the obstacle of inaccessible archives and incom-plete source material.
Our first important task thus consisted in drawing up an exhaustive bibliography describing the nature, the value, and the extent of the scientificliterature and archives useful and available to the Study Commission. Inthis task, the Commission was assisted enormously by the research projectworked out by the Study and Documentation Centre War and Contempo-rary Society (SOMA) and for which purpose a researcher was assigned tothat institution (Inquiry concerning the stolen and abandoned possessionsof Jews in Belgium during the nazi period).
As the Study Commission wished in the first instance to formulate a picture of the general logistics of the plunder process and its total extent onthe one hand, and of the post-war instruments used for the restitution andredress on the other, a very significant number of public archive groupsappeared very useful. These were scrutinised by the SOMA-project re- Final evaluation, conclusions and proposals Final report - 459
searcher, who was able to carry out his study in complete freedom ofmovement and with total access to public archives.
After the completion of the bibliography and the scrutiny of the ar- chives (that frequently had not yet been deposited with the State Archive,are kept in abominable conditions, and have barely been opened – see be-low), assistance from the General State Archive was requested for the actualopening up and inventorising of certain important archive groups. This ap-proach did not, however, lead to concrete results. This obstacle was over-come only in May 1999, when the Study Commission received additionalassistance in personnel and data processing infrastructure.
From that time onwards, the Study Commission opted to conduct its inquiry in greater depth and with greater focus on the personal aspect. Itshould be emphasized that, in this respect, the methodology employed bythe Belgian Study Commission is clearly distinct from methods that havebeen followed abroad. The Study Commission integrated the personal dataof the victims of anti-Jewish edicts into the Mala Zimetbaum databank(MZDB). Information concerning these victims’ belongings was systemati-cally added to these personal data; this consisted of information that theStudy Commission was able to gather from all examined public and privatearchival sources.
Combining ‘persons’ and ‘goods’ required a detailed search throughout all sectors and institutions where the Study Commission sus-pected to find remaining traces of non-restored Jewish possessions datingback to the war years : these included public authorities, the arts and cul-ture sector, the insurance companies, and the financial institutions.
In the public sector, it proved possible to a large degree to trace back to what extent Jewish possessions had not yet been restored. However, theStudy Commission also noted on occasion that essential parts of the ar-chives were missing, with the inevitable result that its findings had to be leftincomplete. For that reason, it will later no doubt be necessary in some casesto have recourse to extrapolations. As a case in point, reference may here bemade to the study concerning the heirless legacies that have fallen to theState Treasury; this study found that the archives at one of the most impor-tant offices of the Administration of Registration and Domains (the Brusselsoffice) demonstrated glaring lacunae.
In the arts and culture sector, where the inquiry started later than in the other sectors, the study was limited to the cultural institutions and mu-seums in Belgium. This means that the private art market and private col-lections, in addition to foreign collections, have been excluded from consid-eration. What concerns the cultural institutions and museums, it can becategorically stated that the archives were available practically in their en-tirety and that the Study Commission was able to count on a high degree ofcollaboration across the entire sector. Sometimes it appeared impossible todetermine a conclusive source of origin for an object or a work of art; thisfailing, however, was not the result of any absence of sources but rather dueto lacunae in the sources themselves.
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The insurance sector has done a commendable job of preserving ar- chives concerning life insurance policies. Many of the companies even statethat they have kept the complete archival record intact. A cross-referencingof the submitted lists of holders of still outstanding and unremitted policieswith the MZDB of the Study Commission could for that reason offer a pic-ture of what in the post-war years was left unpaid to Jewish policy holders.
To remain on the safe side, the likely, but not 100 % certain, identificationswere - for reasons already mentioned with regard to the financial institu-tions (cf. Chapter 4.1.4) - retained for only 50 % of their numbers.
Nonetheless, we did register in the insurance sector a number of ex- ceptions where it concerned the conservation of archival records. As we didin the public sector, the Study Commission in those instances took recourseto an extrapolation in order to arrive at a picture of what we could reasona-bly have expected to find if the archives had remained available in theirentirety. In four cases, when faced with a total absence of archives, theCommission proceeded to fix an estimate by applying the 1939 market shareof the insurance companies involved to the total amount which it had cal-culated for the other companies.
In the financial sector, public and private, the archives were found to have been kept very negligently, for whatever reasons, but we suspect thatthe numerous mergers and acquisitions of bygone years no doubt hadsomething to do with the absences. Also, the absence of a regulation bearingon the management of ‘unclaimed’ possessions and the divergent manner inwhich the institutions themselves determined their own rules did hardlyfacilitate the search for Jewish holders of accounts.
We thus found that certain institutions were unable to submit lists of ‘unclaimed’ accounts or that, where the lists did exist, no traces of judeocidevictims could be found in them, even though it was evident, based on ar-chival records of the occupation period, that the institutions in questionshad during the war years managed Jewish accounts. Starting from the cer-tainty that approximately 45 % of the individuals classified as “Jews” by theoccupational forces in Belgium lost their lives during the war, it was hard toaccept that of the former Jewish depositors not a single trace should be leftbehind. Other institutions in turn could only provide us with very limitedlists, certainly not in proportion either to their total market share in 1940 orto their share in the compulsory transfer of Jewish assets to the Société fran-çaise de Banque et de Dépôts (SFBD, the robber bank designated for suchtransfers by the German Military Command).
For such reasons, and on the basis of the partial data at its disposal, the Study Commission has opted for a bank by bank reconstruction – albeittheoretical but nonetheless founded on real parameters – of what at the be-ginning of 1945 could well have been the starting point. Indeed, at the be-ginning of 1945, some accounts that were centralised at the robber bankSFBD came back to the banks of their origin, even without the interventionof the depositors. They were thereupon combined with accounts of Jewishdepositors that had never left the banks. Because of the absence of data re- Final evaluation, conclusions and proposals Final report - 461
garding what amounts were subsequently paid back to the depositors or totheir legal beneficiaries (the banks are obviously not in a position to furnishdocumentation about repayments of decades ago and the Study Commis-sion did not request them to do so), a total repayment coefficient of 50 % hasbeen applied to the reconstructed situation of the year 1945. The last figuretakes into account the relative number of judeocide victims in 1945 and theestimated differences in repayments resulting therefrom.
In the case of institutions that did have lists available that could be cross-referenced with the MZDB, the likely, but not 100 % certain, identifi-cations were again for safety’s sake taken into account for only 50 % of theirnumbers, as set forth in Chapter 4.1.
Finally, in the case of securities accounts at the time kept by the fi- nancial institutions “in open custody”, it was necessary to do a weightingbetween, on the one hand, the portion of bonds and term deposits to bearerand, on the other hand, the portion of shares. As it is impossible to fix thisratio with any degree of certainty, the Study Commission bases its figureson the model that is considered the most representative by the Belgian As-sociation of Banking Institutions (50 %/50 %), with as the sole variant thatthe Study Commission, on the grounds of the study’s findings, also includesa limited portion of the share package in its total calculations.
In the four principal sectors, - the public authorities, the arts and culture sector, the insurance companies, and the financial institutions – theStudy Commission has in effect arrived at a number of findings that allow itto identify with certainty a number of objects or assets of judeocide victims.
Yet, the still available archives (nearly 60 years after the facts) make it im-possible for it to draw up a mathematically irrefutable global balance of thepossible total number of such remaining Jewish objects or assets. Notwith-standing this caveat, the Belgian Study Commission is convinced that byusing its particular research methodology, it has been able to surpass theresults of commissions in neighbouring countries in the degree of com-pleteness and the accuracy of its findings.
Depending on the area of inquiry, either certainties or uncertainties and hypotheses prevail. The public authority archives, those of the arts andculture sector and of the insurance companies appeared to have remainedthe best preserved; no doubt the study most closely approached a realisticpicture in those three sectors. A greater degree of uncertainly prevails in thefinancial sector. There, the recovered elements formed the corner stones fora formula built up along the most rational lines, taking into account a broadgamut of parameters but hardly laying claim to an established fixed pattern.
For the above reasons, the Study Commission can present its findings in thefour sectors with the following final evaluation :¾ With reference to the public authorities, the total mentioned inChapter 4 represents a quite accurate figure ; This is also the case with reference to the arts and culture sector, withthis proviso that the study, as described in Chapter 4.4, has remained 462 – Study Commission Jewish assets
incomplete and was conducted solely within the museums and cul-tural institutions in Belgium ; in the insurance sector, the total mentioned in Chapter 4.3 representsa quite accurate order of magnitude, with this understanding thatthe Study Commission, where it concerned the completeness of thearchives, had to rely exclusively on the information supplied by thesector; with regards to the financial sector, the total given in Chapter 4.1represents a reliable but rather broader order of magnitude.
5.1.3 Submission of individual claims to the Study Com-
The establishment of the Study Commission in 1997 and the internationalcommotion around this dossier led a number of victims or their survivingrelatives to deposit requests for compensation with the Belgian authoritiesor with bodies of the organised Jewish community. From the time of its in-ception, the Study Commission received such unsolicited applications. Theevolution in our neighbouring countries (especially the establishment of aCommission for Indemnification in France and the global ruling in theNetherlands), combined with the address of Belgian Prime Minster Verhof-stadt (Malines, September 24, 2000) wherein he held forth the prospect of aBelgian commission for restitution, was responsible for a substantial in-crease in the number of applications.
In order to be able to accommodate such requests and to bring some uniformity into the submitted claims, the Study Commission drafted a tri-lingual (FR-DU-EN) standard circular letter. This letter requested personaldata from the applicant and his family, as well as information concerningthe despoiled victims and the goods stolen from them. At the start of 2001,this standard form was entered on the Study Commission’s website ( Copies of this form were also made available in some of themain Belgian embassies (the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France,South Africa, the United States, Australia, Brazil, …).
In addition, an agreement was reached with the Jewish organisations (the Belgian section of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation, in themeantime transformed into the National Commission of the Belgian JewishCommunity for Restitution) that would ensure that applications received bythem would be forwarded to the Study Commission.
These applications make up the lion’s share of the total of 1.029 claims (registration was closed on April 5, 2001) that were registered andentered into our databank. The tables below present a summary of, respec-tively, the geographic origin of the applicants and the nature of the posses-sions that were submitted in the applications.
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Table 52 : origin of the individual claims Table 53 : nature of the possessions submitted in the claims In 1999, the Study Commission decided that it could not devote itself to the research work that is inherent in these individual applications (cf.
Second interim report to the Government). Nonetheless, it did ensure - bystandardizing the applications (that significantly increased in numbersduring the months of April, May, and June 2001) and by computerizing theprocessing – that the work of the Commission for restitution was properlyprepared.
5.1.4 Total evaluation of the unclaimed stolen posses-
As already mentioned in the introduction, the Study Commission chose tofocus its efforts on those sectors where the likelihood existed of trackingdown the existence of unclaimed stolen possessions. For that reason, it wasdecided not to retain in Part 4 of this Final Report any further data relatingto the Möbelaktion, enterprises, the diamond, and the real estate sectors.
It was ostensibly impossible at this late stage to restore the stolen household effects and furniture that were shipped off to Germany. This partof the despoilment was in the sixties only partially indemnified by Germanywithin the framework of the BRüG-law. The same is true for the diamondsector and the enterprises. For the diamond sector, the Study Commissionreached the conclusion that the restitution during the post war years hadbeen substantial, owing to a constructive approach to the problem. Thesums of money that through Belgian efforts at securing restitution were re-ceived, when added to the indemnifications on the part of Germany, ap-proximately covered the estimated losses incurred during the war. With 464 – Study Commission Jewish assets
respect to the issue of despoiled enterprises, as far as the Study Commissioncould determine, certainly 18.8 million BEF (wartime currency value) ofextorted “management compensation fees” were transferred to Germanyand never restored. When questioned about this, the Ministry of ForeignAffairs informed the Study Commission that the post-war German-Belgianagreements on this point could no longer be revised.
In the real estate sector, the Study Commission, on the one hand, found itself faced with the problem of “compulsory” sales during the occu-pation for non-payment of mortgage debts and, on the other, a post-warrestitution plan of little uniformity. With respect to the ‘compulsory’ sales,often the result of individuals going in hiding or being deported, the StudyCommission was obviously not in a position to turn back the clock onevents. In what concerns the restitution of real estate property, both the De-partment of Sequestration (Brussels) and private ‘temporary trustees’ des-ignated by the Courts (Antwerp) were involved. With reference to the lattergroup, the Study Commission determined that it was impossible to carryout systematic searches. The management activities of these ‘temporarytrustees’ were not placed under the control of any official authority (as wasthe case in the Netherlands), which resulted in the absence of necessarysources to assist with the research. By sheer coincidence, the Study Com-mission managed to pick up the trail of a property in Antwerp that in theyear 2000 continued to be managed by a ‘temporary trustee’ (the son of a‘trustee’ appointed at the time of the liberation). It managed to track down arightful claimant and informed the latter of the existence of the property.
The Study Commission was unable to determine if similar trusteeshipsituations are still existing elsewhere.
In the public sector, as well as in the arts and culture, insurance, and financial sectors, the Study Commission can point to significant successes.
In the Belgian public sector, the total amount of the restitution was calculated at nearly 74.2 million BEF (in 1945 values). The lion’s share of thisamount originated, either directly or indirectly, from : (1) the sequestrationof the German management company Brüsseler Treuhandgesellschaft and thepossessions of the German-Jewish ‘enemies’, (2) the ‘unclaimed’ assets ofthe Giro Services Executive and (3) heirless estates fallen to the Crown. Thisresult may be taken as indicative but is nonetheless incomplete, owing tothe absence of necessary archival records and the lack of a systematic searchof certain areas.
In the arts and culture sector also, a number of concrete research re- sults were achieved. In museums and cultural institutions in Belgium, 331unclaimed objects and artworks were found that, on various levels of identi-fication, may be considered to be the stolen property of Jewish owners. But,as already mentioned, the study in this area has remained very incomplete.
In the sector of life insurance plans, the Study Commission calcu- lated a total of 10.9 million BEF (in 1945 values) in non-remitted benefits toJudeocide victims. In this, it is nonetheless necessary to make allowances forthe incompleteness of archival records at certain companies.
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With respect to the financial institutions, an end result of 88.5 million BEF (in 1945 values ) was arrived at. This amount, as has been explained ingreater detail previously, is not the result of an exact addition but – in theStudy Commission’s firm conviction – nonetheless represents a reliable al-beit more flexible interpretation of the magnitude of the total.
In closing, it needs to be pointed out that, for the absence of time and means, there has been no research conducted in the activities of the sector ofcurrency exchange bureaus and notaries public.
5.2 Proposals
Having reached the conclusion of its inquiry, the Study Commission offers
to the Government some of its proposals with respect to the follow-up of its
activities and presents certain specific problems that it deems should be
brought to the Government’s attention.
5.2.1 Future follow-up of the Study Commission’s activi- Completing the process of redress As mentioned in the conclusion of Part 3 of the report, the government didin the years immediately following the war pay due attention to the restitu-tion of possessions of victims of despoilment, also with respect to victims ofJewish persecution. This restoration of rights, however, remained incom-plete, as during that particular period there was an insufficient under-standing of what, in essence, was the true depth of meaning of racial perse-cution; no effective measures were taken to look after the unmanaged pos-sessions left behind by the victims of judeocide.
In the public sector, as well as with the insurance companies and fi- nancial institutions, efforts were made to trace ownership of possessionsand assets left behind. Later on, the dossier was removed from circulation.
With the establishment of the Study Commission, the Government has brought renewed attention to bear on the problem of restitution. TheStudy Commission notes that the Government has already taken the initia-tive in drawing up a bill that will ensure that the question of restitution beconcluded on the basis of the findings proposed by the Study Commission.
On June 14, 2001, the Study Commission was invited to present its findings on the said bill. The advice pertaining was voiced during themeeting of June 20.
The Study Commission once more wishes to point out the impor- tance of setting up the planned Commission for indemnification in such away that it may have recourse to all the necessary support in order to com-plete its assignment in the shortest possible term and with the greatest pos-sible efficiency. The bill quite justly provides that the databank set up by theStudy Commission on persons that have been victims of anti-Jewish meas-ures be transferred as a working tool for the use by the new Commission.
The Study Commission also advocates the careful selection of the personnel 466 – Study Commission Jewish assets
that will be chosen to provide the necessary support to the Commission forindemnification, stressing that the expertise gained by its own personnelcan be a valuable added asset to future undertakings in that regard. A continued search for missing cultural objects and artworks In the brief period during which the researchers-art historians engaged inJune 2000 were active in museums and cultural institutions, significant re-sults were already realised (cf. Chapter 4.4 of this report).
These results were entered in a separate databank (Jewish Cultural Assets-Belgium), wherein all relevant information - until then distributedacross the Management of War Damage, the Department of Economic Re-covery, the German archives of the Einsatztab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, and theMöbelaktion - were stored. The record consists of more than 4.000 entries thatdescribe art works stolen from more than 225 Jewish collections.
For the lack of time and means, this research was not completed.
From a meeting that was held on June 15, 2001 between the policy administrators of the federal government and the Communities, it has be-come obvious that the necessity for further tracking down missing Jewishcultural and art works is being felt as a general concern.
In this respect, the Study Commission emphatically proposes that the mandate of the two researchers-art historians made available to thestudy be confirmed, in order that they may continue their research andfurther assist the Commission for indemnification with their advice whereand when needed.
To avoid all confusion, it is not necessary that they should join the Commission for indemnification for, indeed, this Commission is not em-powered to assign financial compensation for stolen artworks and culturalobjects. The Study Commission therefore advocates an assignment by theServices of the Prime Minister– scientific, technical, and cultural affairs, orby the Royal Institute of Artistic Heritage, as functionally more appropriate.
Their research work needs to encompass the following areas: Identification of the legal claimants of the identified objects at muse-ums and cultural institutions; Identification of the legal claimants of the objects recuperated andsubsequently sold by the Belgian authorities after the liberation; systematic search relating to the private markets and the privatecollections; systematic search relating to artworks recuperated after the libera-tion in foreign countries (mainly France and the Netherlands, butalso in the United Sates of America and various East Europeancountries).
With respect to the final destination of artworks and cultural objects that can with certainty be designated as Jewish possessions stolen duringthe war years , only some provisional rules of thumb can be formulated, infunction of essentially two possibilities.
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The original Jewish owner is known and legal claimants can beidentified: in this circumstance, the only correct procedure is to in-form the beneficiaries about the results of the searches in order thatthey may determine the proper avenues for proceeding that seemmost appropriate to them; The despoilment of the artwork or of cultural object within theframework of the anti-Semitic war edict is not in doubt but theoriginal Jewish owner is not known or no legal claimants can betraced: objects or artworks that relate to Jewish public worship orthat are inherent to the Jewish community and culture in Belgiumneed, in principle, to be returned to the Jewish institutions; for otherworks of art, specific solutions can be worked out in time, for in-stance where it concerns museum collections, the explicit mention oftheir wartime record. The destination of objects that are kept in the safes and sealed en- A number of financial institutions are still holding sealed envelopes thatcontain the content of safekeeping boxes whose depositors are subject of theStudy Commission’s scope of investigation.
Some of these safety boxes were forcibly opened by the Germans; sometimes, an inventory was drawn up.
When the indemnification process cannot identify the depositors or the legal beneficiaries of these envelopes and safety deposit boxes,there is the problem of assigning a definitive destination to their contents.
The Study Commission thus proposes the following: ¾ That in the first instance and as of the going into effect of the Law of Indemnification, a legal mechanism be put in place for drawing up theinventory of the content of these safety deposit boxes and sealed enve-lopes in order that they may become part of the protocol that needs tobe concluded with the financial institutions; ¾ That parallel to the globally proposed solution, the contents of these safety deposit boxes and sealed envelopes, at the latest two years afterthe coming in force of the Law of Indemnification, be entrusted to thecare of the Foundation (of the Jewish Community of Belgium) and that alegal framework be created in order to allow this Foundation to under-take the obligations that are now resting with the financial institutions. The destination of the documentation kept by the Department of With regards to documents originating from the Dossin Military Barracks inMalines and kept by the Department of War Victims, the Study Commissionproposes that :¾ the Commission for Indemnification, in active collaboration with theDepartment of War Victims, take for its objective the restitution of 468 – Study Commission Jewish assets
documents and personal items of remembrance to as many individ-ual legal claimants as possible, and that, in the meantime, the docu-ments be kept by the Department of War Victims and be handedover by that Department to the rightful owners; the Government decide that, at the latest two years following thestart of activities by the Commission of Indemnification, the still re-maining documents be transferred to the Jewish Museum of Depor-tation and Resistance in Malines, on the basis of an administrativeaccord.
5.2.2 Specific problems
In the course of its inquiries, the Study Commission happened upon anumber of specific problems that did not exclusively pertain to the destina-tion of the Jewish possessions but that nonetheless did indirectly hamper itsresearch.
In essence, it concerned : 1/the system of the dormant accounts and other unclaimed assets, 2/the state of preserving and the opening up ofofficial archives and 3/the control over the ‘temporary trustee’ of unclaimedgoods. The Study Commission feels it needs to draw the Government’s at-tention to these points. The system of dormant accounts and other unclaimed assets The Study Commission’s own research confirms the findings of many othersources : there is no specific ruling with respect to the manner in whichdormant accounts need to be managed.
Only in the public sector were or are a number of rules in effect. The Deposit and Consignment Bank, after the expiration of a 30-year period andfollowing its compliance with the legal obligations vis-à-vis the owners ortheir legal assigns, is expected to transfer the assets entrusted in its care tothe State Treasury. In the past it was customary for the Post and the ASLK,in keeping with legal provisions, to close out non-active accounts after acertain period of time and to transfer the eventual positive balance into theaccount to the State Treasury or, in the case of the ASLK, to enter it into itsown assets.
For the rest, the practice is divergent and regulations are hardly con- clusive. Prior to the decree of June 25, 1992, the private sector insurancecompanies could appeal to the statute of limitations three years after thedeath of the insured party or after the expiration of the policy. Since thattime, the statute of limitation on a life insurance policy is 30 years for whatconcerns the legal claim on the actuarial reserve (which is in effect on thedate of cancellation or on the policy’s closing date). The law does not, how-ever, state what shall happen to the amounts that have reached the statuteof limitation date. In 1952, the Insurance Control Department issued its rec-ommendation to the insurance companies to deposit the relevant sums withthe Deposit and Consignment Bank. In practice, this recommendation seemsto have been largely ignored. Furthermore, no special provision has been Final evaluation, conclusions and proposals Final report - 469
made with respect to the keeping of archives. The Insurance Control De-partment recommended that documents be kept for 5 years, basing itself onthe term that is valid for all general commercial documents.
Within the financial sector as well, clear directives are lacking in what concerns the identification, the accounting practices, and the ultimatedestination of the unclaimed assets. This point became quite evident duringthe February 1998 seminar at the Université Libre de Bruxelles dealing with“the banker’s obligations in the matter of restitutions”.
There is, first of all, no conclusive definition as to what is to be un- derstood by the term ‘dormant accounts’. Furthermore, many banks do nothave a specific accounting system to deal with the unclaimed possessions.
Thus, the discrepancies between the release date with respect to the statuteof limitation, on the one hand, and the fixed term for the storing of archives,on the other, have led to the creation of a hiatus in the archival records. TheBelgian Banking Federation (BVB) has nonetheless issued the recommenda-tion to its members to retain for at least thirty years the identify of holdersof unclaimed accounts (those with a balance that would justify the particu-lar accounting of it), but the question remains if this is sufficient to solve theproblem.
Through repeated calculations of management fees, while eventually on the grounds of the banking regulations no more interests are added, oneultimately arrives at the final tally of the unclaimed possessions. In her al-ready mentioned report, professor Simonart does not hesitate to denouncethis sort of practice as abusive.
With the exception of some three specific instances (for instance, an unclaimed legacy) the financial institutions, like the insurance companies,have no obligation to make transfers to the Deposit and Consignment Bank.
In the light of its findings, the Study Commission opines that such a transfershould become the designated procedure.
When these considerations are taken individually and knowing that the Commission for the Banking and Financial Services also does not exer-cise any controls over the unclaimed assets (except in the case of complaintsand suspected irregularities), the Study Commission is forced to concludethat a kind of “grey zone” exists around the unremitted insurance policiesas well as around the unclaimed bank accounts and that legal provisions todeal with them are lacking. The keeping and opening up of current public archival recordsWith respect to current public archival records, the Study Commissionmade the following general observations in the course of its inquiry:¾ Notwithstanding the legal mandate of the State Archives, most ofthe documents of the ministerial departments and services are keptdistributed across several records departments; The documents in question have been kept there in a relatively com-plete condition (there is no evidence of any selective destruction); onthe other hand, it is noted that they are not kept classified (let alone 470 – Study Commission Jewish assets
inventorised) and are stored in rather abominable conditions (whichmakes them subject to decay); In the instances where the archives in question were transferred tothe State Archives, the documents were found to be in disorder andhad not been subject to any effort at inventorising; in those circum-stances, the documents could only be consulted after an emphaticappeal to the legal obligations imposed by the decree relating to theStudy Commission’s activities.
The Study Commission thus notes shortcomings in the preservation and the opening up of current public archives. It notes herein both a lack ofmeans and a problem in the management of the documents. The control over the temporary trustees Quite by accident, the Study Commission in the course of its inquiries hap-pened to come upon a rather special case : the fact that in the year 2000 theson of a temporary trustee appointed at the time of the liberation continuedto manage a Jewish real estate property.
In complete conformity with the Civil Code, certain Courts of the First Instance did after the war appoint temporary trustees to undertake thetrusteeship of real estate property belonging to Jewish deportees. Thesetrustees could not, of course, themselves dispose of the property in questionbut were appointed to administer and maintain them in good order. Fur-thermore, they were not assumed to take the initiative in trying to locate theabsent owners of the property.
On the return of the legitimate owners, these trustees were expected to be accountable for their administration of the good. Awaiting the owner’sreturn, there did not, however, exist any obligation on their part to give aregular accounting of their trusteeship, for instance, to a Judge,. In otherwords, there did not exist a control over the trustees’ management which,by way of speaking, remained ‘open ended’. Here also one may speak of a ‘grey zone’ because of the absence of 5.3 Final conclusion
The Study Commission has herewith concluded its mandate and submits
the results of its inquiry and its findings to the attention of the Government.
The Study Commission has executed its inquiry to the best of its ca- pabilities but, owing to the de facto term of only 2 years within which itslimited research team had to operate and because of the lacunae encoun-tered in a number of sources and archives consulted, it cannot guaranteethat it managed to cover the subject in every possible detail.
Where it concerns the historical reconstruction of the material as- pects pertaining to the persecution of the Jewish population during the oc-cupation and to the instruments of restitution thereafter, the Final Report is Final evaluation, conclusions and proposals Final report - 471
indeed very complete and may be considered as a work of reference to servefuture researchers.
The size of the figures of what precisely was despoiled, indemnified or restored afterwards and, in the end, could not be restored to rightfulownership, must for obvious reasons remain only a responsible and justi-fied estimate on our part. All our efforts in conducting a most thorough,precise, and serious scrutiny notwithstanding, we were not entirely success-ful, sixty years after the facts, in unearthing all of the data.
In its attempt at reconstructing the possible total magnitude of the non-restored Jewish possessions, the Study Commission has in the areaswhere it was forced to have recourse to extrapolation resorted to the con-scious use of parameters that should lead to a realistic estimation of thefacts. In other words, in its choice of what coefficients to use, the StudyCommission has always opted for a cautious approach in its interpretation.
It is in that light that the Final Report and the conclusions contained in this Part 5 need to be interpreted.
The present Final Report was approved by the meeting held on July 472 – Study Commission Jewish assets
End notes Part 5
1 Letter from L. Coene, Cabinet Chief of Prime Minister Verhofstadt, to the chair-man of the Study Commission, 14/VI/2001.
2 L’obligation de restitution du banquier. De restitutieverbintenissen van de bankier. Thebanker’s obligations in the matter of restitution. Texts for the seminar of February 13,1998, organised by the Centre de Droit Privé de la Faculté de Droit de l’ULB and theEuropean Association for Banking and Financial Rights - (Belgium), CahiersAEDBF/EVBFR-Belgium, Brussels, 1999.
3 VALERIE SIMONART, “Les limites à l’obligation de restitution”, in De restitutieverbin-tenissen van de bankier, op. cit., p. 73. (« The Limits to Restitution Obligations ») inThe banker’s obligations in the matter of restitution4 Question in Parliament by P. Segin, M.P., on April 2, 1998. Belgian Chamber ofMembers of Parliament, Question and Answer period, regular session 1997-1998, p.
5 See note 3, p. 114.
6 Mr. Simonart arrives at the same conclusion. idem, p. 115.
7 In the private institutions, even in the banking institutions that have fulfilled animportant historical and societal role and are continuing to do so, the archival rec-ords – for reasons that have already been stated– were found to have been keptonly very indifferently. It struck the Study Commission that (with the exception ofthe only Dutch bank with which it collaborated during the study) not one singleBelgian institution has recourse to its own archival service managed by a profes-sional archivist.
Final evaluation, conclusions and proposals Final report - 473


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