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Jewish collections, looted after being entrusted to French museums

On September 6, 1940, by decree signed by Marshal Pétain, the main members of the Rothschild family, holders of very important collections and generous donors to national museums, as well as David David-Weill, also a collector, were declared deprived of French nationality. donor and, moreover, president of the council of national museums. This is only the beginning of a very long series of forfeitures, but these fall victim to the owners of some of the most prestigious collections.

On that date, these had already been « visited » by the Gestapo and ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg) agents. This « intervention team », an emanation of the Nazi party led in 1933 by Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946), is responsible for looting Jewish collections in defeated countries, including France. In Paris, it began in July 1940, often with the complicity of the French police.

Anticipating the defeat, part of the collections of Maurice and Robert de Rothschild were moved in the fall of 1939 to the Ingres museum in Montauban, with the cases of the Louvre and Guimet. Georges Wildenstein’s cash registers are at the Château de Moire, in the Sarthe region. Others, from less famous collections, are scattered in the many repositories of national museums, including the châteaux of Chambord, Montal or Valençay.

Aware of the weakness of these precautions, Jacques Jaujard (1895-1967), then director of the national museums, proposed on November 2, 1940 to the Secretary General of Industry and Commerce to assign provisional administrators « Aryans » to the collections of « Israelites deprived of French nationality » or about to be, in order to preserve them from German attacks. Jaujard draws up a first list containing the names of David David-Weill, Alphonse Kann or Paul Rosenberg.

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This attempt to take advantage of an armistice provision was all the more ineffective since, three days later, on November 5, Marshal Hermann Göring was in Paris. He went to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume and, above all, published the ordinance which determined the order of the plunderers: the Führer first obviously, himself in second rank, the ERR relegated to third. The hunt for works is open.

Jewish collections, looted after being entrusted to French museums

The deposits of national museums are no more protected from « visits » than are banks and private property. They multiply from 1941. Example bank side: April 28, 1941, probably on denunciation, the safe of the Bank of Commerce and Industry of Libourne (Gironde), where Paul Rosenberg had placed some of his leaders -work before crossing the Spanish border, is emptied of its content – works by Ingres, Corot, Manet, Matisse, Picasso. Example on the deposit side: on July 7, then on August 6, an ERR team went to Chambord and seized the works of the Reichenbach couple. On August 12, a letter was sent to them from the castle: « The German commission responsible for the seizure of Jewish property (…) took possession of the three boxes belonging to you and which you had deposited in the national museums in October 1939. » The « More express reservations » that the French conservatives would have expressed have remained without effect, notes the letter …

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