Nazi-looted books at the INHA library – Investigation results and new research perspectives

by Stefano Sereno

It was not until the mid-1990s that the subject of Nazi-looted cultural property became topical again in France, after fifty years of silence and, sometimes, oblivion. However, within the context of Jacques Chirac’s speech on the occasion of the commemoration of the Vel’d’Hiv roundup in 1995 and the creation of the „Mission Mattéoli“ in 1997, public institutions nevertheless did not carry out the research needed to better identify possibly looted works in their collections.

Twenty years later, in 2018, a new impetus was given to the search for and restitution of cultural property looted during World War II. The 20th anniversary of the Washington Principles, celebrated by an international conference in Berlin between November 26th and 28th, 2018, provided not only an opportunity to evaluate the restitution practices adopted by the 44 signatory states, but also to make a number of proposals: strengthen international cooperation, increase the resources dedicated to provenance research, facilitate the procedures for claimants and reduce the time it takes to resolve cases. The passage of the JUST Act (Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today) in the United States on May 9th, 2018 instructs the US State Department to prepare a report on the measures taken by the 46 signatory countries of the Terezín Declaration1 that supports the restitution of property of Holocaust victims and their indemnification.

Faced with the new international demands for reparations for looted cultural property, France has decisively stepped up its actions in this field with Decree No. 2018-829 of October 1st, 2018, which laid the foundation for a new governmental organization dedicated to the restitution of looted cultural property. Two administrative bodies became responsible for the implementation of this policy: the Mission for Research and Restitution of Cultural Property Looted between 1933 and 1945 (Mission de recherche et de restitution des biens culturels spoliés entre 1933 et 1945) and the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from the Anti-Semitic Legislation in Force during the Occupation (Commission pour l’indemnisation des victimes de spoliations intervenues du fait des législations antisémites en vigueur pendant l’Occupation , CIVS). The Mission, created in 2019 within the Ministry of Culture, is responsible for investigating cases of spoliation of cultural property, but also for raising awareness among the public and professionals about the property conserved by public institutions like museums or libraries. In connection with the work carried out by the Mission, the CIVS, created in 1999, has been given broad authority, can act on its own initiative, and may propose to the Prime Minister any measures of reparation for looted property that has been entered into public collections2.

The National Institute for Art History (Institut national d’histoire de l’art, INHA) plays an active role in this new international dynamic on the history of cultural property looted during World War II. Since 2017, the INHA has been conducting the RAMA (Répertoire des acteurs du marché de l’art en France sous l’Occupation) research program in collaboration with partners in France and Germany, the aim of which is to gain a better understanding of the involvement and the networks of certain French art dealers regarding the looting of cultural property.

In 2018, the INHA library started to work on identifying books that had been looted during the occupation and which were deposited in its collections at the end of the war. Indeed, French libraries and archives were themselves the object of Nazi looting, which was initiated by authorities of the Third Reich in 1940, mainly targeting the Jewish population of France. It was a raid of considerable proportions: Jenny Delsaux, who headed the book sub-committee of the Art Recovery Commission after the liberation, estimated in 1949 that the two million books that had been recovered represented „barely 20% of the volumes looted by the Germans in France3.

At the end of 1949, when the book sub-committee, which had been responsible for identifying, returning and restoring looted collections, was dissolved, a selection committee (Commission de choix) was set up with the aim of distributing the books whose owners could not be traced to public libraries. In a circular the institutions were instructed to enter these works into a provisional inventory, which was to be made available to those whose collections had been looted until the expiry of the legal claim period: for three years, no marks of ownership were to be attached to these items4.

The Depots of the Commission de choix

The Commission de choix met four times between 1949 and 1953. The Library of Art and Archaeology (Bibliothèque d’art et d’archéologie, BAA), which was inherited by the INHA library, had received a large number of contemporary books from the looted libraries of art lovers, as well as a few sets of precious manuscripts. It was in 1950 that the library received the largest deposit, namely seven collections of old prints, three manuscripts, some 582 books, 696 periodicals and 536 sales catalogs. In total, some 1,825 items were deposited at the BAA by the Commission de choix5.

Locating these works in the library’s collections has proven to be complex for several reasons. The lists of titles held at the National Archives are often imprecise and incomplete: 429 books are listed without further detail as „museum catalogs“ or „exhibition catalogs„, and the sales catalogs are unidentifiable because the data provided in the lists of the Commission de choix is very cursory and there are no listings for this type of record in the INHA library’s inventories.

We have little information on the processing of looted books, which seems to have taken place over a very long stretch of time. In fact, a correlation between titles deposited by the Commission de choix and the BAA inventory registers, which include both rare and everyday items, could be established in the 1964 register: it lists 353 inventory numbers associated with the mention of „recovery“ or simply „R“, marked in pencil. The reasons for the temporal discrepancy remain unknown.

The accession numbers found in the 1964 register concern only books, manuscripts and prints that had been looted. As for periodicals, the INHA library no longer keeps accession records for this type of material. The identification of looted issues of periodicals had to be made using the lists of the Commission de choix, which only mention the titles of the periodicals and the number of issues deposited, without indicating the volumes. Only a systematic manual examination of the serials made it possible to identify the looted volumes by the note „Rec.“, written in pencil on the covers. This way we were able to identify 296 looted items.

A total of 649 looted volumes have been identified in the BAA’s collections. These items were extensively examined in order to outline a profile of such deposits, identify marks of provenance and determine the possibilities of identifying their owners. Most of the works were published in the years 1890 to 1930 and deal with topics from all fields of art history. Among them are numerous museum and collection catalogs, both in French and other languages. The vast majority of these books do not include any marks or specifics that would allow us to find out more about their provenance.

Among the most valuable documents is a collection of 528 prints by Jacques Callot and Stefano Della Bella, pasted in watercolor frames, which is one of the 40 sets of engravings collected by the publisher Charles Bance between 1789 and 1792 (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Jacques Callot, La noblesse, etching, Paris, Charles Bance, between 1789 and 1792. Paris, INHA library, BAA collection, Fol Est 125.
Figure 1: Jacques Callot, La noblesse, etching, Paris, Charles Bance, between 1789 and 1792. Paris, INHA library, BAA collection, Fol Est 125.

Another remarkable piece, particularly because of its uniqueness, is the set of 50 original drawings by Léo Lelée that were used to illustrate La louange du cyprès, published in 1928 by Plantin (fig. 2).

Figure 2. Léo Lelée, study for La louange du cyprès, watercolor, set of 50 original drawings. Paris, INHA library, BAA collection, Ms 424.
Figure 2. Léo Lelée, study for La louange du cyprès, watercolor, set of 50 original drawings. Paris, INHA library, BAA collection, Ms 424.

Only one object bears a mark of provenance linked to the spoliation network: the hand-drawn ex-libris of Oktawian Jastrzembski (1899-1982), a painter and minister of the Polish government in exile in Montreal, bearing a deaccession stamp of the book sub-committee from February 1st, 1950. Although his name is not mentioned in the database of individuals and institutions whose property was looted, which was compiled by Martine Poulain and is available on the website of the Mémorial de la Shoah, Jenny Delsaux sent a letter to O. Jastrzembski in Montreal on June 29th, 1950, informing him that the book sub-committee had identified eleven objects bearing his name among the books that had been returned from Germany 6. The handwritten listing of these eleven items7 reveals that the books were eventually not sent to Canada and are now kept at BULAC 8.

The purchases at the Domaines

The information on the depots of the Commission de choix has already been the subject of in-depth studies by Martine Poulain. The research conducted by the INHA library at the National Archives and the Center for Diplomatic Archives (Centre des Archives diplomatiques) in La Courneuve, as well as a review of the library’s inventory records, has made it possible to understand that the lists of allocations made by the Commission de choix were not the only source for trying to shed light on the mechanisms and rationale behind the integration of looted books into public collections.

In the early 1950s, when the restitution proceedings were concluded, nearly 300,000 books were handed over to the Administration des Domaines (State Property Authority)9, of which some 87,000 volumes were purchased by public libraries on advantageous terms10. The lists of acquisitions made by the Domaines, although known and listed in the directories of the National Archives, add a new element to the panorama of sources on the post-war accession of looted books into collections, as they had not yet been thoroughly researched.

The collections of the INHA library were impacted by these purchases, as the Library of Art and Archaeology may have made plans to acquire 1,050 items, and the library of the Louvre may have bought 770 books and 607 volumes of periodicals11. The reliability of the lists of works purchased by the BAA was called into question because the items could not be located in the collections and no trace of this acquisition could be found in the inventory registers. Different observations can be made for the purchases of the library of the Louvre, later called the Central Library of National Museums (Bibliothèque centrale des musées nationaux, BCMN), whose collections were added to the INHA library in 2016. Matches between the lists of acquisitions and the inventory registers of the BCMN were identified in the 1951 and 1952 registers: there are 425 accession numbers associated with the mention „Acquisition Récupération“. The lists of items purchased from the Domaines, such as those of the Commission de choix, are sometimes very brief and do not allow a definitive identification of the books: approximately 200 items are indicated without any further detail as „museum catalogs“ or „exhibition catalogs„, or simply „catalogs„. As far as periodicals are concerned, 97 volumes could only be identified through their accession numbers. In total, the number of looted objects purchased from the Domaines and identified in the BCMN collections amounts to 522.

Included in this set of works are monographs published between the 1840s and 1930s, 23 catalogs of the Louvre’s Salon from 1738 to 1789 and a few rare publications, such as the Méthode pour apprendre le dessein by Charles-Antoine Jombert, published in 1755 (fig. 3).

Figure 3: Joseph-Marie Vien after Raphael, plate no. 18 of the Méthode pour apprendre le dessein by Charles-Antoine Jombert, etching and engraving, Paris, 1755. Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, Res 4 D 0624.
Figure 3: Joseph-Marie Vien after Raphael, plate no. 18 of the Méthode pour apprendre le dessein by Charles-Antoine Jombert, etching and engraving, Paris, 1755. Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, Res 4 D 0624.

The search for ownership marks has revealed some traces of the processing of these books, particularly during the restitution efforts after the end of the war: four books with accession numbers on the front pages, preceded by the penciled indications „ERR“ or „Tzb“, suggesting that they had been part of collections seized by the ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg), intended for the central library of the Hohe Schule and having been found at the end of World War II by the British Allies in the monastery of Tanzenberg 12.

A few marks of provenance linked to victims of spoliation were found among the purchases made at the Domaines:

  • an autographed envelope to Jules Martha (1853-1932), bearing the cancellation stamp of the book sub-commission. Martha’s name does not appear in the database of persons whose books were looted which is available at the Mémorial de la Shoah website. However, a filed claim was found at the Diplomatic Archives Center (Centre des Archives diplomatiques) in La Courneuve: it contains a list of books belonging to Martha that were looted by the Germans and found in Austria. This inventory, neither dated nor signed, was „drawn up by the book sub-commission according to the declaration of the person spoliated„.13 Since Martha died before the war, we can assume that her descendants were the victims of the looting;
  • the ex-libris of Hélène Paraf (1893-1943), bearing the cancellation stamp of the book sub-commission dated February 1st, 1950. Hélène Paraf and her husband Henri Albert Kahn (1892-1944) were killed in Auschwitz14;
  • the ex-libris of Marc Bloch (1886-1944). The presence of this book among the purchases from the Domaines is surprising, since Marc Bloch’s library had been looted during wartime and a claim was submitted after WWII to the Office for Property and Private Interests (Office des biens et intérêts privés, OBIP). Although this claim was honored by a partial restitution, the book in the INHA library must have eluded the attention of the book sub-commission, despite the ex-libris.

All of the looted items that are kept at the INHA library are included in the Union catalog of France (Catalogue collectif de France, CCFr). In the Directory of CCFr’s holdings, the index sheet „items looted during World War II“ enables libraries which have reportedly identified looted books in their stock to give visibility to this particular collection, through a description of its content, its history and the circumstances under which it was assembled. For the INHA library, the reporting of looted items in the CCFr pertains to both the BAA and BCMN collections.

A German collection in the INHA library

A review of the inventory registers of the Library of Art and Archaeology from 1945 to 1964 identified 295 titles, the vast majority in German, that were accessioned between 1950 and 1954, indicated as „Récupération Allemagne“. Processing them made it possible to understand that the term „Récupération“, used at the time mainly to indicate looted property that had been recovered after the war, could have various meanings. The methods that were used to accession this collection are not documented anywhere, but efforts made to identify collections of other French libraries nevertheless make it possible to suggest some paths of analysis.15.

The books that make up this collection originate from a large number of sources, as evidenced by the multitude of stamps found in them. Indeed, 195 of these titles bear the stamps of the Nazi schools „Ordensburg Sonthofen“ or „Adolf Hitler Schulen“. Most of these stamps do not relate to subjects of art history, but rather to works glorifying pan-germanism. They are probably books seized in Germany at the end of World War II as reparations: the Ordensburg, located on the southwestern edge of the American zone, had been used from 1937 to 1945 to house students of “Adolf Hitler schools“, who were training to be the future elites of the Nazi party. While the presence of works from Nazi schools in the La Contemporaine library is justified by its vocation as an establishment specializing in the documentation and study of the world wars, one may wonder about the accession of this German collection into the INHA library. Among the titles listed as „Récupération Allemagne“, there are also 100 books on art history stemming from German libraries outside of Germany that had been liquidated after the war by the Inter-Allied Commission in Lisbon, as can be deduced from the presence of their stamp on the majority of these items. The fact that these books belonged to German libraries in Portugal is corroborated by numerous stamps found in the books.

Included in this German collection is a book that the Nazis had confiscated from a holding company, the Konzentration AG, a company founded in 1925 by the SPD in Berlin and then dismantled in 1933 after the party was banned by the Nazis. This book on cartooning in the 19th century bears the stamp of the Konzentration AG and the later mark of ownership of the Reich Ministry of People’s Education and Propaganda, which controlled the entire cultural sector in order to use it for Nazi propaganda.

Ernst Saulmann’s library: an eventful journey

At the INHA library, a review of the post-war inventory records revealed some very interesting information directly or indirectly related to the history of spoliation. This is the case for a large batch of works that entered the Library of Art and Archaeology in 1947 as the „Saulmann purchase“. The stamp on some of these books indicates that they were part of the collection of the Jewish entrepreneur Ernst Saulmann (1881-1946) and his wife Agathe (1898-1951), a pilot and daughter of the architect Alfred Breslauer. Persecuted, they were forced to escape from Germany in 1935 and to take refuge in Florence, where they had a second home. The following year the Nazi government seized their property16: more than a hundred works of art, as well as the entire library, were sold under duress in Munich in 1936. The provenance of the works was not specified at the time of the sale, as was common for property looted from Jewish people17. In 1938, the couple left Fascist Italy and took refuge in France, which was defeated two years later by Nazi Germany. They were then interned in the Gurs concentration camp, which had a lasting effect on Ernst Saulmann’s health. After the war, he tried to recover his belongings, to no avail. For several years, his descendants have been trying to find the lost works and some have already been restituted18.

The books that were entered into the Library of Art and Archaeology in 1947 had not been part of the library that was looted by the Nazis and sold at auction in 1936: it was in fact a sale by Agathe Saulmann to the BAA, one year after the death of her husband, and the record of this sale was located in the National Archives19. Although the record mentions 507 volumes and brochures, as well as an inventory of the purchased titles, which has not yet been located, only 173 titles are listed as „Saulmann purchase“ in the BAA’s inventory register. It seems unlikely that Saulmann was able to assemble this library after the liberation. The means by which he was able to keep these books until his death, through persecution and internment in Gurs, remain unknown to this day.

The analysis of this collection highlights the perceptiveness of Saulmann as a collector of antiquarian books. Some rare and precious items have been identified in this collection. Notably the 1550 and 1568 editions of Vite de‘ più eccellenti pittori, scultori et architettori, by Giorgio Vasari, with a variation on the title page of the first volume of the second edition that is well known to collectors: the page is indeed presented in its second, rarer state, in which a woodcut representing an allegory of Renomée is framed in the middle of the page20 (fig. 4).

Figure 4: Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori, Florence, 1568, 3 vols. I, title page with allegorical xylography on fame. Paris, INHA library, BAA collection, 8 Res 148 (1).
Figure 4: Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de‘ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori, Florence, 1568, 3 vols. I, title page with allegorical xylography on Renomée. Paris, INHA library, BAA collection, 8 Res 148 (1).

Propagandastaffel books at the INHA library

Like the BAA’s inventory records, the CNBC’s post-war records have also been thoroughly examined at the INHA library, with unexpected results.

In September 1944, a few weeks after the liberation of Paris, a small batch of 20 works were brought from the Propagandastaffel, located on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and added to the collections of the BCMN. This entry in the inventory register is confirmed by a list of titles found in the National Archives, dated September 11th,  1944 and signed by Jacques Jaujard, Director of the National Museums and the École du Louvre 21. A Nazi propaganda and censorship bureau, the Propagandastaffel, had four offices in France, including one in Paris. The latter was in charge, among other things, of registering books that had been banned in France during the occupation: censorship was applied on the basis of the ‚Otto list‘, which specified the banned titles and was distributed to all bookstores, publishing houses and libraries in the occupied zone 22. The works kept in the INHA library provide concrete examples of both Nazi propaganda and Propagandastaffel censorship. Indeed, one can find a copy of Die neue deutsche Malerei by Fritz Alexander Kauffmann, a detailed analysis of what the Third Reich expected of painting, with an apologetic perspective: artists should reject modernism and intellectualism, and represent a healthy and natural order, as defined by the aesthetic values of classicism. The link to the classical tradition explains the presence of a copy of Chapelain-Midy by Bernard Champigneulle among the items from the Propagandastaffel: the artist was in fact appreciated by the Nazi hierarchs for his accessible and open style, which was far removed from the work of the contemporary avant-garde23. The censorship function of the Propagandastaffel, which could be exercised on the subjects of the books but also on their authors, is also represented among the works found in the INHA library, notably by a copy of Philipp II oder Religion und Macht by the censored author Reinhold Schneider.

Donations from the directorate of the National Museums

During the processing of looted books kept in the INHA library, the discovery of an ex-libris in a book that had been donated to the CNBC in 1946 led to the identification of a previously unknown batch of looted books in the library’s stock. Indeed, based on this first indication, analysis of the inventory registers of 1946 and 1947 revealed a substantial donation of approximately 300 works on art history and sales catalogs, published in the first half of the 20th century and registered as gifts from the management of the National Museums before 1944.

The fact that attempts were made to anonymize the provenance of these works (ex-libris torn off, erased or glued over with pieces of paper) and the presence of ex-libris pertaining to looted books suggests that these works did not go through the book sub-commission’s processing cycle. Two very interesting documents found in the BCMN files at the National Archives 24, seem to confirm this hypothesis: two letters from Pierre Schommer, deputy director of the National Museums, to Lucie Chamson, archivist and librarian at the library of the Louvre, in which he recalls a transfer of 20 boxes of books that had been abandoned by the Germans at the Jeu de Paume and in 1945 had been sent to the Direction des Musées de France by the Direction des Domaines. These books were eventually deposited in the Louvre library, and he asked Mrs. Chamson to give him the inventory numbers of these books „as a matter of extreme urgency„. He asked the librarian twice in a very short period of time, on August 11th and 20th, 1948. Lucie Chamson’s reply was not included, however, a search of the Archives des Musées nationaux-direction des Musées de France (National Museums Archives – Directorate of the Museums of France) revealed that on August 21st, 1948, a letter from the Louvre library containing a „list of volumes from the Jeu de Paume25 had been registered. Among the marks of provenance identified in this set of looted books are the following:

  • the engraved ex-libris „Comitis Nákó“. This is the mark of ownership of a family of the Hungarian nobility. Countess Erzsébet Nákó (1922-1978) was a member of Raoul Wallenberg’s team in Budapest in 194426. The municipal library in Tours lists two books with the same ex-libris among the works deposited by the Commission de choix27 (fig. 5);
Figure 5 Ex-libris " Comitis Nákó ". Gustav Pauli, Max Liebermann : des Meisters Gemälde in 304 Abbildungen, Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1911, Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, 4 D 0229 (19).
Figure 5 Ex-libris “ Comitis Nákó „. Gustav Pauli, Max Liebermann : des Meisters Gemälde in 304 Abbildungen, Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1911, Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, 4 D 0229 (19).
  • the engraved ex-libris of Ernst Hirsch (1869-1938). He was the owner of the Viennese furniture factory D. G. Fischel & Söhne, the Hirsch family emigrated to Paris in 1933. Ernst’s son, Richard (1903-1938), was killed in a plane crash. During the war, Richard’s wife Erica (1912-1946) was interned in Drancy. Richard and Erica’s daughter Evelyne, already an orphan, was adopted after the war by her grandmother Martha Hirsch née Lang, and the two emigrated to New York28 (Fig. 6) ;
Figure 6 Ex-libris of Ernst Hirsch. Hermann Schmitz, Das Möbelwerk : die Möbelformen vom Altertum bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts, Berlin, 1929. Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, 4 M 0070.
Figure 6 Ex-libris of Ernst Hirsch. Hermann Schmitz, Das Möbelwerk : die Möbelformen vom Altertum bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts, Berlin, 1929. Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, 4 M 0070.
  • the engraved ex-libris by Carl (1878-1942) and Thea (1883-1971) Sternheim. The history of this family is linked to Paris and Nazi persecution. After divorcing Carl in 1927, Thea emigrated to Paris in 1932 and was interned in Gurs in 1940. Her daughter Dorothea „Mopsa“ Sternheim (1905-1954) was a resistance fighter in Paris and was deported to Ravensbrück29 (Fig. 7);
Figure 7. Ex-libris of Carl and Thea Sternheim. Alfred Lys Baldry, Sir Joshua Reynolds, London, 1903. Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, 8 H 0841.
Figure 7. Ex-libris of Carl and Thea Sternheim. Alfred Lys Baldry, Sir Joshua Reynolds, London, 1903. Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, 8 H 0841.

What next for looted assets held in public collections?

The various provenances of looted books that have been identified in the INHA library raise the much debated issue of how to deal with works in public collections that have been entered there without their origin or dubious history being known. Indeed, while the items deposited in museums and libraries by the Commission de choix have retained their provisional status as objects not belonging to the State that can therefore be removed from the collections, there are a number of works that turn out to have been the object of theft or spoliation between 1933 and 1945, which may have been acquired or received as gifts or inheritances from patrimonial institutions. These assets, which are part of public collections, are therefore considered to be non-transferable30 and the French heritage code does currently not allow for them to be removed from public inventories or withdrawn from collections.

Although this legal obstacle has always been the subject of criticism regarding government policy on the issue of looted cultural property, the new impetus given by the French state is intended to provide strong commitment and governmental coordination regarding the search for and the restitution of looted objects that are currently held in public collections. Indeed, as highlighted in the report published on July 29th, 2020 by the U.S. Department of State in response to the JUST Act of 2018, France is today the only country, among the signatory states of the Terezín Declaration, where efforts to identify and return objects that were looted during World War II are within the purview of the Prime Minister31.

In order to establish a network of those involved in the recovery of looted cultural property, France, through the CIVS, has taken the initiative of setting up a cooperative body with the commissions of the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. Since January 2019, this has led to the creation of the Network of European Restitution Commissions, a new approach to increase the effectiveness of provenance research.

European cooperation is also the basis of the resolution which the European Parliament adopted on January 17th, 2019 on cross-border restitution claims of works of art and cultural goods looted in armed conflicts and wars32. The document stresses the need to create a comprehensive listing of all cultural property looted by the Nazis and their allies, from the time of their spoliation to the present day; to set up a cataloguing system that can be used by both public institutions and private collectors and that will gather data on the situation of looted cultural property; the need for digitization projects that would make it possible to establish digital databases or to connect existing ones, in order to facilitate the exchange of such data and provenance research.

The question of looted books is much less present in the French public debate than the issue of looted art, not only because the majority these books have no significant monetary value, but also because the possibilities of restitution are very limited, since the vast majority of books do not have marks identifying their owners. The identification of looted books that were deposited at the end of World War II in many public libraries, which has now largely been completed, will make it possible to renew the debate on this important documentary source for the memory of the people and institutions that were victims of spoliation.

A new framework for the reparation of spoliations is being built, both in France and internationally. More than ever, it is a race against time, to recognize, after more than seventy-five years, the victims of spoliations and their heirs, and an attempt to right the wrongs suffered by persecuted individuals and institutions.

* The author would like to thank Anne-Élisabeth Buxtorf, Éric de Chassey, Juliette Robain, Ines Rotermund-Reynard.


Stefano Sereno is part of the INHA’s Department of Studies and Research. Previously he was working at the Library and Documentation Department of the French Heritage Service.

First published online on November 16th, 2020 on Bulletin des bibliothèques de France (BBF), original title: „Les documents spoliés conservés à la bibliothèque de l’INHA : les résultats d’une enquête et de nouvelles perspectives de recherche „.

Translation from French by Barbara Thumm


1 In the Terezín Declaration, signed at the Prague Conference held from June 26 to 30, 2009, 46 countries pledged to help all victims of Nazi persecution to meet their specific social and medical needs, as well as to assist them in the recovery of their lost heritage.

2 See the CIVS‘ 2018 activity report. Online: http://www.civs.gouv.fr/images/pdf/lacivs/RAPPORT-CIVS-2018-vDef-2.pdf

3 M. Poulain, Livres pillés, lectures surveillées. Les bibliothèques françaises sous l’Occupation, Paris, Gallimard, 2013, p. 379.

4 M. Poulain, «De mémoire de livres. Des livres spoliés durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale déposés dans les bibliothèques : une histoire à connaître et à honorer», in Bulletin des bibliothèques de France (BBF), 2015, n° 4, p. 176-190.

5 The lists of the items awarded by the Commission de choix are kept at the Archives nationales, file numbers F/17/17993 and F/17/17994.

6 AN, F/17/17976, dossier «CRA, sous-commission des livres, courrier doubles, 1950».

7 AN, F/17/17982, dossier «Correspondance 1950, convocations des spoliés et réponses de ceux-ci. Demandes de convocation».

8 See B. Guichard, «Les livres spoliés déposés à la Bibliothèque des langues orientales : une source pour l’histoire de la destruction des diasporas d’Europe centrale et orientale en France», in: Où sont les bibliothèques françaises spoliées par les nazis?, under the direction of Martine Poulain, Villeurbanne, Presses de l’Enssib, 2019, coll. «Papiers», p. 149-161.

9 293,646 documents, according to the final report on the activity of the book sub-committee. AMAE, 209 SUP 1134.

10 AN, F/17/17977.

11 AN, F/17/17995.

12 P. Kennedy Grimsted, „Les pistes paneuropéennes des livres pillés par les nazis: trop d’ouvrages encore en exil,“ op. cit. at note 6, pp. 25-47. The ERR was a special unit whose objectives included the seizure and processing of the books and archives of enemies destined for the Hohe Schule, a training center for the Nazi elite. As early as 1939, the Hohe Schule’s central library was opened in Berlin, and in 1942 it was transferred to Carinthia, Austria.

13 AMAE, 209 SUP/1124-123.

14 JORF n° 63 of 16 March 1993, p. 4112 (decree of 4 February 1993 adding „Death during deportation“ to death certificates, NOR: ACVM9340007A).

15 See in particular D. Bouchery, «Le “Fonds Séquestres” de la BDIC, histoire d’une spoliation invisible», op. cit. in note 6, pp. 163-174.

16 On the looted collections of Ernst and Agathe Saulmann, see : Eindeutig bis zweifelhaft. Skulpturen und ihre Geschichten [exhibition, Frankfurt am Main, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, May 4th – August 27th, 2017], under the direction of Eva Mongi-Vollmer, Frankfurt am Main, 2017, p. 30-32.

17 The Weinmüller sales catalogs of the Saulmann estate (26 June and 11 September 1936) were digitized by the University of Heidelberg. The Saulmann collection is marked „S. in R.“, i.e., „Saulmann in Reutlingen“, which indicates the intention of anonymizing the provenance of the looted works.

18 The history of the Saulmanns was the subject of a recent documentary entitled Geraubte Kunst – Jüdische Sammlungen im Nationalsozialismus, broadcast by the German channel 3sat on December 14th, 2019.

19 AN, AJ/16/8393, dossier « Mémoires fournisseurs français et étrangers 1946 à 1953 ».

20 C. A. Girotto, (Ré)écrire les vies dans l’atelier typographique. Quelques questions bibliographiques dans l’édition giuntina des Vite (1568) de Giorgio Vasari, disponible dans Hyper articles en ligne (HAL).

21 AN, 20150538/27, dossier «Livres saisis à la Propagandastaffel et remis à la Bibliothèque du Louvre».

22 M. Kühlmann, «Les bibliothèques dans la tourmente», in Histoire des bibliothèques françaises, tome IV,« Les bibliothèques au XXe siècle, 1914-1990 », under the direction of Martine Poulain, Paris, Promodis – Éditions du Cercle de la librairie, 1992, pp. 223-247.

23 M. C. Cone, «French Art of the Present in Hitler’s Berlin», in The Art Bulletin, vol. 80, n° 3, pp. 555-567.

24 AN, 20150538/17, dossier «Cession d’ouvrages provenant de la récupération, à la bibliothèque des Musées nationaux».

25 AN, 20150333/1117.

26 Michael O’Sullivan, Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania, Budapest-New York, Central European University Press, 2018, p. 50.

27 Both documents can be found in the municipal library of Tours under C 7.962 and C 7.963..

28 The genealogy of the Hirsch family has been traced through Evelyne Lang’s petitions to the Claims Resolution Tribunal of the Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation in the early 2000s. The files are publicly available on the CRT website.

29 Ruth Schwertfeger, In Transit. Narratives of German Jews in Exile, Flight, and Internment during „The Dark Years“ of France, Berlin, Frank & Timme GmbH, 2012, p. 115, note 31.

30 Article L. 451-7 of the heritage code : « Les biens incorporés dans les collections publiques par dons et legs ou, pour les collections ne relevant pas de l’État, ceux qui ont été acquis avec l’aide de l’État ne peuvent être déclassés. »


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