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
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."
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