It was an open secret that the Principality of Monaco welcomed all the Jews who sought refuge from the Holocaust during World War II. However, a few years later, under heavy German pressure the Monégasque Government deported the Jews and allegedly took away their wealth and assets. 73 years later, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco publicly apologised for the country’s role in World War II, and as a significant step, the Sovereign Prince opened the State archive to provide some kind of closure for the relatives of the victims.
Before the Second World War and the German occupation, the Principality of Monaco was home to about three-hundred Jews. It also hosted an unknown number of Jewish refugees.
The Principality of Monaco welcomed the Jews from all around. Many of those who had sought refuge from the Holocaust, thought that Monaco was a safe and neutral land. This was actually true, because at the beginning of the war the Principality of Monaco was officially neutral. The problems started only later, when it was occupied by Italian and then German forces.
At the time, Monaco was ruled by HSH Prince Louis II of Monaco, who spoke fluently German and he was also well connected to the German aristocracy by growing up at the court of the Grand Duke of Baden.
The German Nazi regime had been aware of the advantages of an independent and neutral Monaco as a centre for German international banking and commerce. Already back in 1936, Hjalmar Schacht, the Minister for Finance for Germany visited HSH Prince Louis II and started setting up companies. Before the start of the war, HSH Prince Louis II suspended the constitution and reigned by decree.
Under heavy German pressure, HSH Prince Louis II passed a law on 3rd July 1941, to register all Jews in Monaco.
On the night of August 27-28th 1942, the Monégasque authorities driven under pressure from Nazi collaborationist leaders in France, rounded up at least 66 Jews who were deported to concentration camps.
Some say that in the light of the new situation, the Monégasque Government took advantage of resident Jews by taking away their wealth and assets. However, there is no actual proof supporting this theory.
In August 2015, 73 years later, the Sovereign Prince, HSH Prince Albert II publicly apologised for the Principality’s role in deporting Jews to Nazi camps during World War II. He asked for forgiveness.
“To say this today is to recognize a fact. To say it today, on this day, before you, is to ask forgiveness,” – HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco said.
He spoke facing Monaco’s chief rabbi and other Jewish figures including Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, renowned Nazi hunters and Holocaust researchers who encouraged Albert’s father, Prince Rainier III, to examine Monaco’s role during World War II.
”We committed the irreparable in handing over … women, men and a child who had taken refuge with us to escape the persecutions they had suffered in France,” – HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco said.
The Sovereign Prince also unveiled a monument at the Monaco cemetery, carved with the names of Monaco’s deported Jews.
In the same year in 2015, the Monégasque Government released a report stating that there were about 90 people deported from Monaco, or Monégasque residents deported from neighbouring France, during the Second World War. From all the women, men and a child, only nine survived.
“We did not protect them. It was our responsibility,” – HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco said. – “In distress, they came specifically to take shelter with us, thinking they would find neutrality.”
HSH Prince Albert II also acknowledged that the Monaco government has approved nine requests for compensation for property of deported Jews, seized by Monégasque authorities.
However back in 2015, the truth was not yet complete, since the Principality of Monaco was not ready to open its historic archive for historians in order to get a full picture of the country’s role in World War II.
The positive change came only in February 2020, when HSH Prince Albert II finally agreed to open the state archive.
This highly significant decision allows historians to examine state documents on the deportation of Jews to death camps. It seams, the Principality of Monaco is open now to provide some kind of closure for the relatives of the victims.
Today, an estimated number of 1000 Jews live in the Principality of Monaco. There is a Synagogue, a Chabad center, a Jewish Cultural Center of Monaco; as well as a small Jewish section in Monaco’s cemetery.