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Effects’ Return in France

The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen could return the wedding ring of his grandmother Hélène to the Frenchman Francis Nautré. The Nazis had seized the ring from her in August 1944 after her deportation to the Concentration Camp Neuengamme. “Is has moved me deeply to received my grandmother’s ring”, said Nautré.

As a Communist his grandmother had actively taken part in French Résistance activities. On 18th May 1944, she was arrested by the Secret State Police in Paris (Fort Romainville) and deported to Concentration Camp Ravensbruck. Four months later, the Nazis moved Hélène first to Concentration Camp Neuengamme and then to Bergen-Belsen where the British Army freed her on 15th April 1945. “She has never talked about her confinement”, explained Nautré.

He had no idea that effects still exist at all. “I thought that all personal belongings had either gone lost or been purloined by the Nazis”, said Nautré. The ITS still keeps in its archival premises about 2,900 effects of which the former owners could be identified. These wallets, identity papers, photos, letters, instruments and sporadically fashion jewellery, cigarette cases, wedding rings, wristwatches or pens mainly belonged to inmates of the concentration camps in Neuengamme (2,400 items) and Dachau (330 items).

“I was deeply stirred, astonished and speechless”, Nautré recalled his feelings at the moment when he came to know of his grandmother’s wedding ring. “I will give this ring, a symbol of what happened at the time, to my granddaughter.” The 60-year-old remembers his grandmother to be a very optimistic person. “She enjoyed life right to its end”, he knows. “She suppressed her deportation and was as politically active and committed as ever, she even had a seat in the local parliament.”

“Amicale de Neuengamme” in France checking all the French names on the ITS effects list found Nautré. They broke the news of his grandmother’s wedding ring to him. Apart from Nautré, four other family members of former prisoners and one survivor from France received back effects from the ITS archives last year. In May 2011, the ITS had published a list of the effects on the Internet. The organisation strives to hand back as many personal items as possible to the survivors of Nazi persecution or their next-of-kin.