Economy

Renault Heirs Sue France For Forced Nationalization, Stir Questions About Nazi Ties

Seven grandchildren of French carmaker Louis Renault are challenging the confiscation of property from the company’s 1945 forced nationalization. As the courts decide whether to hear the case, historians raise old questions about French industry’s role in

A post-War Renault Juvaquatre (Houbazure)
A post-War Renault Juvaquatre (Houbazure)

PARIS - Heirs of the French automobile founder Louis Renault are seeking damages for the nationalization of the company that was imposed by the state in 1945, reopening decades-old debates over collaboration with Nazi Germany by the carmaker and other big businesses in France.

Seven Renault grandchildren have launched a legal challenging to the nationalization that was imposed after France was liberated from the German occupiers. The nationalization was "unique and unprecedented," insists their lawyer, Thierry Levy. "No other company was treated this way, even among those whose directors were convicted of collaborating."

Louis Renault was arrested in September 1944 and died a month later in prison before being tried.

Without giving an estimate of the damages they're seeking, Renault's heirs have made a list of all the confiscated goods. Louis Renault owned 96.8% of the company he'd founded in 1898 with his brother. Renault owned the carmaker's main factories around Paris, as well as buildings and land in eastern France, patents, the company's Belgian branch in Vilvorde, administrative buildings on the Champs-Elysees and factories in Le Mans, southwest of Paris.

But even before the legal validity is determined, and whether the claim can actually go to trial, the case has already rekindled old questions about Renault's behavior in German-occupied France. Labor union activists and survivors of Nazi camps alike have argued that Renault collaborated voluntarily and actively with the Nazis, and warn against "a falsification of the history of Nazi occupation" and an "attempt at rehabilitation" that the case could provoke.

Henry Rousso, research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research concedes that Renault was "definitely treated differently" when it was nationalized, but that it may have indeed warranted the harsher measures. "Renault worked for the German war economy," Rousso says. "To what extent and with what degree of constraint? That remains to be studied."

For another researcher, Denis Peschanski: "Peugeot and Michelin created ties with the Allied Forces and the French Resistance, and set up intelligent sabotage, underground actions and even secretly negotiated their way out of having their factories bombed. That's something Renault definitely did not do."

Read the original article in French

Photo - Houbazure

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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