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French court blocks Roma bid for restitution under Jewish Holocaust victim laws

Top court says it’s legal to differentiate between victim groups, because only Jews were subject to a ‘policy of systematic extermination’

Retired schoolteacher Jacques Sigot shows photos taken of unidentified inmates of a camp where thousands of French Gypsies were interned in the village of Montreuil-Bellay, in the Saumur wine region, during World War II,  Sept. 8, 2010 (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Retired schoolteacher Jacques Sigot shows photos taken of unidentified inmates of a camp where thousands of French Gypsies were interned in the village of Montreuil-Bellay, in the Saumur wine region, during World War II, Sept. 8, 2010 (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS — France’s top administrative court on Friday rejected a claim by two Roma advocacy groups for restitution of goods looted during the country’s World War II occupation.

Representing roughly 1,000 surviving Roma who had been detained during the war, the organizations, the UDAF and FLV, had asked the Council of State to annul or expand provisions of a 1999 decree that provided compensation for “victims of looting under the anti-Semitic laws” in force at the time, wording that excluded their community.

But in a ruling that stuck close to past decisions, the court found it legal to differentiate between victim groups, because only the Jews were subject to a “policy of systematic extermination” under the Nazi occupation and its laws.

“No kind of compensation has been created for the [Roma],” Olivier Le Mailloux, the lawyer representing the groups, told AFP earlier in September.

A view inside the remains of a camp where thousands of French Gypsies were interned in the village of Montreuil-Bellay, in the Saumur wine region, during World War II, Sept. 8, 2010 (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

A decree of April 6, 1940 placed so-called “nomads” under house arrest for the entire war, and up to 6,500 Roma were locked up in camps run by French authorities until 1946. Some were deported to death camps.

Meanwhile French police confiscated their belongings, including caravans, fairground rides and personal possessions.

Henriette Theodore, an 88-year-old member of the Roma community who was detained with her family between 1941 and 1945, attended a September 9 hearing at the Council of State.

“We were treated like animals in the camp at Montreuil-Bellay” in western France, she told AFP. “By the time we got out we had nothing left. They took everything from us.”

For Theodore, the case before the Council of State was “a symbolic measure, for the memory” of that time, she said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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