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The French Police Surveillance Dossiers of the Interwar Period - les Fonds de Moscou - Have an Index Online

Secrets

Very exciting news on the indexing front. For a vast collection of the dossiers of some 650,000 people on whom the French security police were spying, for the most part between the two World Wars, there is now online an index to all of the names contained therein. The index was created in Russian, for this collection has travelled more than many of us ever will.

During the occupation of Paris in World War Two, the Nazis collected a great many things, including artworks, books and archives, and sent them to Germany. Among the archives so taken were the private papers of the French branch of the Rothschild family, the library and archives of the Alliance Isréalite Universelle, as explained here, the Masonic archives and membership records of the Grand Orient de France, which we discussed here, and the police surveillance files of the Directorate for National Security in the Ministry of the Interior. All of these collections are called the "Fonds de Moscou", the "Moscow Collection". This is because one of the conquerors of the Nazis was the Soviet Union and, dutifully following the claim by a nineteenth century American Secretary of War that "to the victor belong the spoils", the Red Army stole from the Nazis what they had stolen from the French and took it all to Moscow, where (words not being minced) they were known as the "Trophy Archives". No one conquered the Soviet Union but itself; when it collapsed, word got out that archival treasures that France had thought lost forever were not so. It took some "discussion", but this is something at which the French are unparalleled, so the Russians bowed and the collections were returned, or mostly so.

The surveillance files part of the Fonds de Moscou are in the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine and a full research guide has been published on the website. Unfortunately, it has not yet been translated into English. 

The files cover the types the police found suspect and worthy of surveillance:

  • Anarchists
  • Anti-military or war agitators
  • Communists
  • Political militants
  • Foreign residents requesting an identity card
  • Foreign spies or those suspected of aiding foreign intelligence organizations
  • Foreigners who had been in prison or expelled from their countries
  • Gamblers banned from casinos and those authorised to work in casinos
  • Foreigners whose requests to remain had been denied and who were expelled
  • Foreigners who requested to be naturalized
  • French who requested passports to travel and foreigners who requested permission to remain in France
  • Jewish people

Quelle liste!

The website warns that using the index is not easy.

  1. In essence, the first index is a partially alphabetical (through the first three letters only) listing of names, mostly but not all of them French, made by Soviet archivists in Russian, in notebooks that have been microfilmed and those images digitized. 
    1. This was made by archivists to be a simple name index to the named files or dossiers.
    2. The index of names refers to a dossier's number.
    3. There are numerous linguistic issues that require that a search for a name be tried many times in many ways:
      1. Articles are treated as the first letter of a name. All names beginning with "de" will be under D. All those beginning with "le" or "la" will be under L.
      2. All those beginning with "van" or "von" will be under V or W (see below). This presents real problems when one recalls that the names are in alphabetical order only through the third letter.
      3. "Mac" is usually seen as a middle name. Thus William MacCabe is under "Cabe, William Mac"
      4. No spaces between components of names were permitted. Thus "Le Blanc" will be treated as "Leblanc" (actually a help under the third letter limit.)
      5. The original dossiers, created by the French bureaucrats, may but not necessarily will have foreign names altered to be more French. Thus, "Karl" might have been altered to "Charles". (Clearly, the bureaucrats were not trained as genealogists.)
      6. The Cyrillic alphabet of the indexers did not accommodate the names written by the creators. Thus, V and W are often confused; Q and X come after Z.
    4. Some files were missed out in the indexing so, there being no way to insert them, there is a supplementary index that also must be searched.
  2. There is also a microfilmed and digitized card index, made by the Directorate of General Security, in French, of all of the two million names mentioned in the dossiers.
    1. This was made by the original creators for their own use in surveillance and covers all of the types of files.
    2. The cards do not always refer to a file or dossier.
    3. Some cards may refer to dossiers that were not taken to Moscow but are in the Archives nationales, such as
      1. Foreigners who were expelled between 1889 and 1906, which are in the Police series of F/7
    4. Some files were closed and destroyed but the card might remain, with the word "détruit" written on it.
    5. The cards contain some biographical information and, in a few cases, photographs.

Searching the Indices and Finding the Code In Order to Request a Dossier

 

In order to request a dossier, one needs:

  1. The number of the archival series. This is a random accession number, as is the way with archives. They all begin with 1994, followed by more numbers, then by a slash.
  2. The number of the carton comes after the slash
  3. The number of the file "dossier no. x"
  4. The name on the file

Numbers 1 through 3 can be found by entering the name, surname first, in the main "Advanced search" form  of the Salle des Inventaires Virtuelle page of the website. At the moment of writing, the search facility is down, so we cannot fully test searching a name on the main page.

One had better hope that it will be possible because the alternative of having to scroll through the images of the indices in order to find the codes is fraught with innumerable, irritating flaws. For example, one can click to see the filmed images for one code, then scroll onto those of the following code without realizing it, which the automatically presented code does not change, though now wrong, and the handwritten code at the top of the page is indecipherable.

Considering all that these archives suffered (let alone what was suffered by the poor souls who were its subjects) and all of the various indignities of shuffled provenance, perhaps we should accept the irritations and be grateful that they have survived, are available, and can be accessed at all.

Once again, we genealogists really must thank the archivists at the Archives nationales.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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