when 40,000 Parisian Jewish households were handed over to the Nazi raid


The plundering of works of art by the Nazis during the Occupation is now known and widely documented by conferences, books, documentaries and cinema films intended for the general public – in particular Monuments Men (2014), by George Clooney, or The woman on the board (2015), by Simon Curtis.

Monuments Men, not always accurate on the historical level, however has the merit of having brought to the fore the discreet but essential figure of Rose Valland, a resistance fighter attached to conservation who worked at the Jeu de Paume, “main repository of works of art looted in France by the Nazis, mostly from Jewish families”, as Ophélie Jouan writes in her essay Rose Valland, a life at work (Museum of resistance and deportation of Isère-Grenoble, 2019).

If Rose Valland provided an essential contribution to the tracing of thefts by secretly noting their origin and their destination, other looted objects did not have this chance. Certain musical instruments and sheet music, sometimes rare and precious (such as those in the collection of the great harpsichordist Wanda Landowska), were irremediably lost during the Second World War.

compensate for losses

This subject is now of interest to researchers and is at the center of the association’s activities. Music and plunder, led by Pascale Bernheim and lawyer Corinne Hershkovitch, and this is the very purpose of the reference book on the subject, Commando Music. How the Nazis plundered musical Europe, published in 1996 in English by Willem de Vries, and now available in French (Buchet-Chastel, 2019).

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers Corinne Hershkovitch, a lawyer hired for the restitution of works of art

The goal of the Nazis, after the establishment in 1942 of the “final solution”, the last stage of the genocide of the Jews of Europe, was not only to eliminate all traces of the latter, whom Hitlerian doctrine held responsible for the war world, but also to compensate for the loss of ordinary property in Germany by requisitioning everything that was in the apartments left “vacant” (the official term) by the Jews who had fled the raids.

Thus, in Paris alone, nearly 40,000 apartments were completely emptied of their contents, from numerous upright pianos to the most modest effects, through the intervention of the furniture action, the “Furniture Operation” which gives its title to the documentary that Cyril Denvers devotes to the looting of Jewish apartments in the capital.

The Germans ordered the municipalities to locate them (helped by numerous whistleblowers and neighbors) and to finance the removals by entrusting them to specialized companies. Their turnover will greatly benefit from the windfall provided by this officially “forced” activity…

Gigantic warehouses

To classify, put in boxes and store these objects and furniture in gigantic depots (that of the Warehouses and General Stores at 43, quai de la Gare, in the district of the Gare d’Austerlitz, which in 1943 became an internment camp to that of Drancy), were referred to as “half-Jews” and “spouses of Aryans”. A private mansion will even serve as a showcase where dignitaries and their wives will shamelessly help themselves…

Using reconstructed scenes – which do not always seem necessary but which were shot with as much tact as possible – this documentary shows the activity and daily life of these warehouses, based on numerous memorial testimonies, in particular that of Maurice Wolf, Es Brennt, a fighter in turmoil, 1939-1945 (The Harmattan, 2012).

Historians, Sarah Gensburger and Jean-Marc Dreyfus (historical adviser to the film), in particular co-authors of Camps in Paris (Fayard, 2003), as well as survivors, like the Behr brothers, who essentially say whatwrote sadly Maurice Wolf about the Jews who escaped deportation: « [Ils] were on their own. Only the political deportees received any consideration. The Jews were second class survivors…”

The Looting of Jewish Apartments: Operation Furniture, documentary by Cyril Denvers (Fr., 2020, 52 min). On demand from May 23 to 30 on France.tv

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