Last Thursday, as part of the CBS’ Spring 2019 Lecture Series, Dr. Sandy Ott presented a new and fascinating paper, fruit of her archival research last summer in France. There’s no need for fiction with the trove of documents she has found throughout her years rummaging through piles of dossiers.
Dr. Ott began by telling us that her next step in research on the Nazi occupation of Iparralde is to explore more Jewish cases, which she has done with Evelyne Lang’s incredible story of inheritance.
Evelyne’s grandfather, Adolph Lang, was a wealthy land owner with properties throughout France. When transfers of Jewish property to “Aryans” began in occupied France, Lang did his best to circumvent the laws. His son, Robert, had married a Basque heiress, Eliane Etxeberry and together had baby Evelyne. Lang decided to transfer his property to his granddaughter who was just four months old at the time. Casteig, the provisional administrator for the transfer of this property, requested just that from Xavier Vallat, head of the General Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, who granted the deed of inheritance. The question is, what motivated them to make this exception?
Within the case, Basque inheritance traditions play a major role. When Robert and Eliane married, they signed a deed of separation of goods, making Eliane the sole owner of her household. According to the Jewish statutes of the time, Evelyne was considered 3/4 Aryan, and since her mother was full Aryan, Eliane could administer the property. Casteig therefore argued that a legal transaction had occurred, aryanizing this Jewish property by putting it in the hands of baby Evelyne. Vallant never tried to stop the process, even though he was known as a raging anti-semite. Although we may never know what else went on between the Langs, Casteig, and Vallant, Evelyne’s story provides a glimpse into some of the strategies Jewish families carried out to maintain what belonged to them.
As usual, I can’t wait to hear more about Dr. Ott’s research. For those of you interested, make sure to check out Living with the Enemy, her latest book.