We rarely think about the owners of the wineries when choosing champagne with which to celebrate New Year. We should.
Consider the French champagne house Taittinger, and its’ California Domaine Carneros estate.
Pierre Taittinger, the well-known champagne maker and hotelier called in 1943, in Le Journal de Saintes, for “the creation of a new European order upon which France must work in close collaboration with Germany.” At the same year, papers he owned celebrated both the 10th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and Hitler’s 54th birthday. His papers also carried advertisements proclaiming “Germany will prevail, France will, and Europe will unite through work,” as well as “For a clean France rid of Jews and Freemasons.”
The Vichy government was behind the October 1940 laws, prohibiting Jews from holding public offices and almost all professions; it was behind the laws permitting the “Aryanization” of Jewish property; and was behind the decision to eliminate 30,000 to 60,000 Jewish soldiers from its military ranks, imprisoning them or sending them to labor camps where they were kept until most were deported by the Germans to Auschwitz in August 1942. It was also the Vichy government that turned over tens of thousands of foreign Jews to the Germans and sent tens of thousands more as forced laborers to Germany. Altogether, 90,000 out of 350,000 French Jews were exterminated.
According to documents in French archives, Taittinger, who was well off before the war, become a titan through his involvement in the despoilment of Jews and the Aryanization of Jewish property. Correspondence between Taittinger and the German Occupation authorities reveal that throughout the war, until February 1944, he used his political connections with the commissioner of the General Commissions for Jewish Affairs not only to enrich himself but also to recommend that his friends and family be given Jewish property. Taittinger wrote letters to the general commissioner suggesting that his brother-in-law, Louis Burnouf, who “was looking for a managing position in Jewish businesses, [would be] able to obtain something interesting in the near future.” The general commissioner complied by handing over 27 Jewish companies to Taittinger’s brother-in-law. Taittinger also obtained the Aryanized 1930s famous Art Deco beach-front Hotel Martinez in Cannes, until it was sold in 2005.
Since drinking champagne was extremely important for the German occupation forces, Taittinger obtained forced French labor to facilitate the production of the bubbly beverage throughout the war. The fortunes he made during World War II allowed him to expand his business after the war.
French anti-Semitism is nothing new. However, now, for the first time since the Vichy regime, the French government has adopted laws discriminating against Jewish (Israeli) products (BDS), directly contributing to the escalation of ant-Semitic attacks against its Jewish citizens.
France was the first country in Europe to extend citizenship to Jews in 1791, it is also the country that falsely convicted Captain Alfred Dreyfus for treason, sanctioned the use of forced labor to produce champagne for the German occupation forces during the Second World War, and even after ISIS attacks has done little to stop Muslim-mostly anti-Semitic and physical attacks on the Jews.
The 2016 Top Ten Worst Global Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israeli Incidents report, which was published on December 27, by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, ranked France as the third-worst. (The United Nation, with 20 anti-Israeli resolutions, earned the top ranking).
The report criticizes the French government for its failure to prevent and stop “continued targeting of French Jewry, and reports of the refusal of some Muslim police officers to guard synagogues.” If this was not enough, the report points out that the “French government became the first member of the European Union to implement the requirement of labels on all Israeli goods produced beyond the Jewish state’s 1967 borders. Labels such as “Product from the “Golan Heights” or “West Bank” must now include from “Occupied Areas.” However, goods from those areas not produced by Israelis may continue to say “product of Palestine”. The Israeli Foreign Ministry blasted the unfair double standard saying, “It is puzzling and disturbing that France adopts a double standard in relation to Israel while ignoring 200 territorial conflicts currently taking place around the world…”
The French government’s anti-Israeli/anti-Semitic policies have been coupled with strong anti-American sentiments. In fact, French President François Hollande even blamed the United States for his government failure to stop Islamist terrorist attacks – in France. The French animosity towards the U.S. runs so deep that French officials attributed the wave of violent anti-Semitic attacks on French Jewry in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on Israel’s and America’s foreign policies regarding the Palestinians, the war in Iraq, and the war on terrorism.
On November 18, 2003, after a series of arson attacks on Jewish establishments, including schools, President Chirac summoned a special Cabinet meeting and issued a statement saying that “the French Republic can tolerate no anti-Semitic acts, and schools more than any other place, must be a place of tolerance and respect.” What about other institutions? What about individual Jews? The perpetrators of the violence against the Jews have been identified by the French government as mostly Muslim immigrants. However, government officials excuse these attacks, claiming that Israel’s policies with regard to the Palestinians are the cause. Clearly, these attacks could not have escalated over the years without the tacit complicity of the French authorities.
Helped by the French people, about 78% of the 340,000 Jews in France survived the Holocaust (one of the highest survival rates in Europe). It was the Vichy Regime, which collaborated with the Nazi occupiers (1940 and 1944), that deported some 75,000 French Jews to Nazi concentration camps and death camps in Germany and Poland. Less than 3,000 survived. On December 24, 2015, the French government opened some, but not all of its archives related to that period. Information deemed “sensitive” has not bee released out of “respect” to individuals and companies who collaborated with the Nazis. Tattinger was one.
(Information on Taittinger’s collaboration with the Nazis, was never readily available and it has become even more difficult to find, especially on the Internet).
With this in mind, consider champagne – other than Tattinger – to celebrate 2017.
Happy New Year!
*This is an updated version of an article that was first published in the New York Sun, on December 31, 2003.