Documents reveal how French bilked Jews in WWII

The discovery of the documents, along with the release two weeks ago of a 100-page report detailing Vichy's systematic looting of Jewish property, provides evidence of widespread looting of French Jewish property during the war.

Henri Hajdenberg, president of CRIF, France's umbrella for secular Jewish organizations, said in an interview that the documents could provide new evidence in sorting out restitution problems.

After receiving the orders, the banks transmitted the instructions to official brokers, who zealously carried them out, often within 24 hours. They were sold under the process of Aryanization that the Vichy government put into place through a series of laws to "eliminate the Jewish influence on the national economy."

The documents from 1941, 1943 and 1944 — some are dated even after the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 — bear the letterheads of some of France's most prominent banks.

The warehouse in the Normandy port of Le Havre that stored the documents was destroyed in a fire last August. Liberation did not say how it was able to recover the documents.

The Liberation article came on the heels of the release of the 100-page report conducted by a government-appointed commission charged with investigating the seizure of Jewish property.

The report, which was released Jan. 12, details Vichy's systematic looting of Jewish property, but stopped short of recommending compensation, saying it was too early to estimate the monetary value of the property seized. Hundreds of thousands of archives as well as files from government ministries have yet to be examined.

Hajdenberg accused the Culture, Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries of deliberately dragging their feet in opening their wartime archives to the commission.

"Everyone says they want to help the commission make progress, but no one is making a move," he said.