740.00119 EW/11–1745

The French Chargé (Lacoste) to the Secretary of State

No. 929

The Chargé d’Affaires of France ad interim in the United States presents his compliments to His Excellency the Secretary of State and, referring to the note of the Embassy, No. 898, under date of November 8,33 has the honor to invite his attention to the following matter:

The Division of Reparations and Restitution in Berlin, in its session of November 12, studied the question of deliveries of factories as payment on account of reparations.

The draft submitted to the Division by the Representative of the Government of the United States provides:

That equipment not previously claimed by the plundered State shall be delivered with the factory to which it belongs, when the said factory is allocated under the head of reparations;
Whenever a factory, which is available for delivery to one of the Allies under the head of reparations, has not been allocated, the plundered and identified equipment shall be returned to the owner [Page 1393] State if it claims it before the dismantling and on condition that the absence of such equipment does not seriously reduce the productive capacity of the factory;
The allocation of compensation in case restitution, after having been justified, cannot be made.

In view of the inability of the French Authorities to send to the spot, within a very brief time limit, experts to search for and identify the plundered equipment, the French Government deems that these conditions render illusory in fact the restitution provided for.

The French Government feels obliged, under these conditions, to call attention to the observations which this Embassy was charged with presenting in note No. 898 of November 8. It takes the liberty of emphasizing again in this connection that the Declaration of January 5, 1943,34 to which the United States and France are signatories, stipulated that all the property of which Germany took possession by pillage or through transactions which were apparently legal, must be returned to the United Nations. The French Government deems that the said Declaration, based upon a respect for law and justice, was not modified by the Potsdam Agreements.

The French Government contests the principle according to which only the equipment taken from the United Nations by force must be returned, to the exclusion of that which the Reich acquired for a consideration and by contract. It points out in this connection that it is not possible to establish differences between these two methods of acquisition, force having usually been employed directly or indirectly in the second case. It continues to think that reparations cannot have priority over restitution. It deems it contrary to equity to contemplate the retention in the German factories of stolen equipment, the absence of which is cruelly felt by the economy of the occupied countries. The maintenance in Germany of a minimum standard of living, provided for by the Potsdam Agreements, cannot be achieved, it feels, at the expense of the countries that have been pillaged by the Reich. The French Government deems it pertinent to point out that the plan set forth on November 12 by the American Delegate in the Division of Separations and Restitution would, if it were put into effect, arouse considerable agitations, not only in France, but also in the other countries formerly occupied.

The Representative of France in the Division in Berlin has already agreed to limit requests for restitution to identifiable property, and to renounce claiming compensation for property which is not recovered. To go farther in this direction, the French Authorities feel, would be to compromise the right to restitution which was guaranteed to France by the Declaration of January 5, 1943.

[Page 1394]

The French Government does not doubt the attachment of the American Government to the principles that dominated the Declaration of January 5, 1943 concerning the restitution of stolen property. Under those conditions it charged the Embassy of France with insisting again and in the most pressing manner that there be sent to the American Delegate in Berlin, if possible before November 20, instructions which, taking into consideration the ideas advanced by the French Representative, would permit France and other plundered countries to regain, in larger measure, possession of the property of which they were despoiled in open or thinly disguised disregard of international law.

Mr. Francis Lacoste is happy to avail himself of this occasion to renew to the Honorable James F. Byrnes the assurances of his very high consideration.

  1. Not printed; in this note M. Lacoste reviewed the discussion which had taken place concerning restitution at the seventeenth meeting of the Coordinating Committee on October 29, a report on which is contained in telegram 883, October 30, 5 p.m., from Berlin, p. 1364. The note also reiterated the French proposal that restitution take precedence over reparations and requested that in drawing up any inventory of equipment for reparations delivery, a distinction be made between material of Allied and German origin so that the former might be treated as subject to restitution. (740.00119 EW/11–845)
  2. See footnote 14, p. 1379.