351.115/261: Telegram

The Chargé in France (Matthews) to the Secretary of State

1371. From Paris. Department’s 1594, October 17.

As of general background interest please see our 992, October 1.28
In the early days of the occupation the Embassy received informal official and also private assurances that it was the desire of the German Government that American property should be respected. Many individual Americans also received such assurances in private contact with the German authorities. By informal agreement with the former diplomatic German liaison officer, it was agreed that the Embassy would first seek through local Kommandanturs to have American property released in cases where it had been occupied in disregard of the desire of the central authorities. Only cases where these efforts failed were to be brought to the attention of the diplomatic liaison officer. In about one fourth of the cases which have been brought to our attention for action we have obtained redress from the local Kommandantur. In about a similar number of cases we have received the reply that the properties could not be evacuated at the moment because of military necessity. These latter cases have been taken up in principle with the present liaison officer who has expressed the view that perhaps the principle of freedom of American property from occupation no longer obtains. He has referred this question to higher authorities. The remaining 50% of the cases we have not yet received replies from the local Kommandantur. While we are still awaiting reply from the local liaison officer on the question, we have been assured through other and more informal channels that it continues to be the desire of the German Government to conciliate [Page 562] American opinion by not interfering with American property. This seems to be borne out by several recent instances in which property has been released or announced intention to occupy has been abandoned. On the other hand in one instance at least the German military authorities have informed the local French authorities that no distinction is to be made henceforth in favor of American property; that in fact a circular order to this effect has recently gone from the central authorities.

However it seems likely if such were really the case many of the hundreds of unoccupied American apartments in Paris would have been taken over for use by the German military authorities.

Under the circumstances it seems best for the time being not to press for a statement in principle unless the Department is prepared to make at the same time a strong démarche in Berlin in support of the principle of non-interference with neutral property. Otherwise it would be better for the present to leave us to our own devices here.

On the whole the amount of American property occupied by the German authorities is extremely small in relation to the really incredible number of properties owned or rented by Americans in occupied territory. Out of about 13,000 properties recorded in the Embassy through the issuance of protection certificates we have been called upon to intervene actively in not more than 30 cases of actual occupation.

In some instances we have taken preventive action, such, for example, as posting an officer on the property at the time of announced visits of inspection. In a number of instances of actual occupation (perhaps 50 cases that we know about) American owners or their representatives have not seen fit to request the Embassy to take any action.

With respect to the requisition of goods in contradistinction of the requisition of property the Embassy has limited its intervention to rendering assistance where necessary to ensure that requisition is effected legally and that compensation is paid or receipt issued.

Protection certificates for motor cars have proved 100% effective. Such motor cars as have been taken were not covered by certificates of American ownership. In these cases the Embassy has not been able to make any headway looking to the return of the cars. Barnes.

  1. Ante, p. 448.