Jean-Claude Kuperminc has directed the library of the Alliance Israelite Universelle for more than thirty years. He was the privileged witness of the return from Moscow of the archives looted by the Germans and then by the Russians. He has published several articles on the issue. Interview.
Caroline Cassin: What is the mission of the Universal Israelite Alliance?
Jean-Claude Kuperminc : When it was founded in 1860, the Universal Israelite Alliance clearly aimed to defend persecuted Jews around the world. Very quickly, she used the weapon of education to restore hope and pride to the Jewish populations of the Ottoman Empire. This is characterized by the creation of a school network that will reach more than 180 schools in 18 countries on the eve of the First World War. The Alliance also intervenes diplomatically and is the interlocutor of states in discussing the status of Jewish minorities. After the two world wars and decolonization, the Shoah and the creation of the State of Israel, the picture changes. Other bodies have risen to represent world Judaism. The Alliance continues its educational role and develops cultural activity, with its library among the most important in the Jewish world, and numerous educational programs for adults. Over time, what guides the Alliance is the promotion of a modern Jewish identity, anchored in its environment, and able to dialogue with all Nations.
Tampon de la bibliothèque nazie Bibliothek zur Erforschung der Judenfrage de Francfort-sur-le-Main, présent sur des centaines de livres de la collection de l’AIU
What are the Alliance's plans?
The ambition of the Alliance in the 21st century is to provide the material for open Jewish education, for both adults and schoolchildren. With particular attention to social issues, particularly in Israel, and to the themes of Eastern and Sephardic Judaism, particularly with its library.The Alliance in the world, where are you and what is its main role? The Alliance is now mainly established in France and Israel, with schools in Morocco (the only Muslim country to host them today), Switzerland and Canada. In addition to maintaining schools of excellence training young boys and girls proud of their identity and perfectly integrated into their nation, it contributes to the development of the fight against poverty and the emancipation of young girls.
One of your partners is the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah (FMS), can you explain us its mission and its link with the spoliation?
The Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, which constantly supports us, was born from the dynamic initiated by the speech of French President Jacques Chirac at the Vel d'Hiv in 1995. For the first time, France recognized its responsibility for the crimes committed against the Jews during the Vichy period. Particular attention was paid to the question of spoliations, a mission established the fact that enormous sums had been spoliated from the Jews arrested and deported, and among the property of the Jews diverted by the legislation of Vichy. An agreement between the state and representatives of the Jewish communities in France resulted in a co-managed body, which has in capital the sums found in banks, insurance companies, the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, etc. The FMS thus created, originally chaired by Mrs. Simone Veil, manages these funds and distributes aid for projects which make it possible to expand knowledge about the Shoah, to come to the aid of survivors in difficulty, to pass on the legacy of Jewish culture, to fight against anti-Semitism and to promote intercultural dialogue.
Where are the libraries looted by the Nazis?
The question takes the title of a colloquium held in Paris in 2017. Much of the books looted by Rosenberg's teams between 1940 and 1944 were found and returned by American troops from the Offenbach sorting site in Germany. Many other books are still found today mainly in Eastern Europe, in the libraries of the former USSR, notably in Moscow, Minsk, Lviv or Vilnius, which have been allocated funds by the Nazis and have kept them ever since. In Western Europe, too, Jewish-owned books can still be found in the holdings of national, university or municipal libraries. Leibl Rosenberg, from the Nuremberg City Library in Germany, does a remarkable job of research and has already been able to restore more than 800 volumes https://www.nuernberg.de/internet/stadtbibliothek/sammlungikg.html
Do you help or guide you when looking for looted property? Do you have any books in the Alliance library?
The Alliance Library alone is an example of libraries that have suffered all attacks. It was looted by the Nazis from the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in 1940, and much of its books and archives went to the infamous Bibliothek zur Erforschung der Judenfrage in Frankfurt am Main. These documents, as has been said, were partially returned from Offenbach, or Tanzenberg in Austria for those found by the British. But a series of documents were recovered by the Red Army, and this batch of archives ended up in the special secret Moscow archives. It was not until 1992 to find any trace of it, and 2000 to see these papers return to their original shelves.
But since things are never straightforward when it comes to history, it turns out that the premises of the Alliance library in Paris were used as warehouses for books and musical instruments looted by the Germans in Paris. At the end of the war, the Alliance must therefore both be concerned with recovering its own collections, thanks in particular to the help of the French services (Office of Private Property and Interests, Center for Artistic Research, book), and deal with a few thousand books not belonging to him lying on his shelves due to Nazi looting. Most of these books will be donated to French services. However, there are a few hundred books left in German whose origin is questionable. We are in the process of establishing an inventory, with the names and marks of belonging when they exist, in order to allow potential beneficiaries to claim them. If the case arises, we will return them without qualms.
What are your favorite books from the Library?
Difficult question! Of course, the prestigious Manuscript 24, a 15th century prayer ritual for Tishri. richly illuminated stands out as the most precious and spectacular piece. But I also really like this copy, coming from the impressive legacy of Mr. Elie-J. Nahmias, from the "Minutes of the sessions of the Assembly of French deputies professing the Jewish religion" of 1806, richly bound, and offered to Mr Fauchet, Prefect of the Gironde by MM. Furtado and Roderigue Aîné, two notable Jews from Bordeaux and Bayonne, who symbolize the appetite of the Jews of France for integration into the state.
I also really like the series of sentimental little romances, in Judeo-Spanish, published in Istanbul in the 1930s, curated by the great linguist Israel S. Revah. There he found occurrences of words from the popular language which he incorporated into his research. We have digitized them, with the help of the Aki Estamos association, to make them accessible to everyone. The story is even better since our friend Karen Gerson from Istanbul took the initiative to repost them for 21st century audiences.
What books have you just acquired?
Here again the list would be long, despite the budget cuts which force us to reduce our acquisitions. I am thinking of several books from the “Jewish Lives” collection, on Barbra Streisand or Stanley Kubrick for example. But also the very pretty book by the artist But also the very pretty book by the artist Joëlle Dautricourt, L’Ecriture heureuse (Paris, Sens Public, 2020), which plays on the representations and meanings of the Hebrew letter. http://www.joelledautricourt.com/l-ecriture-heureuse
Couverture du roman en judéo-espagnol de la collection Révah La Ermoza Janeta entre dos amantes par Eliya Gayus, Istanbul, 1932.
Our sites, radio shows, films or book references on the theme of spoliation?
I have a particular fondness for the book by Swedish journalist Anders Rydell The book thieves: the Nazi looting of Europe's libraries and the race to return a literary inheritance, New York, Viking, 2017, because the author makes me intervene directly , and that on the cover there is a photograph of one of the books in the collection of the Universal Israelite Alliance library bearing a stamp from the Bibliothek zur Erforschung des Judenfrage created by Alfred Rosenberg in Frankfurt / Main during the war.
All of American historian Patricia Kennedy Grimsted's work on the Nazi looting of the ERR is generously posted at https://www.errproject.org/guide.php. Martine Poulain's book Looted books, supervised readings: French libraries under the Occupation, Paris, Gallimard, 2013, is the founder of French research on the subject. Sylvie Harburger's extremely detailed family research on the fate of the works of her father the great painter Francis Harburger is remarkable, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her at the Alliance library https://akadem.org/ contents / themes / history / shoah / reparations-and-archives / francis-harburger-painter-of-daily-24-11-2015-75748_102.php ?.
The 2014 film Monument Men, by Georges Cloney, is entertaining even if it does not quite represent historical reality. I prefer La Femme au tableau by Simon Curtis, 2015, which cleverly chronicles Maria Altmann's quest to recover a painting by Klimt looted from her family, with the help of lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg.
The proceedings of the aforementioned conference Where are the French libraries looted by the Nazis ?. Villeurbanne: Presses de l'ENSSIB, 2019, take stock of the current situation and the initiatives of many libraries around the world to find traces of looted books.
Sophie Cœuré's book The Spoliated Memory: French Archives, Nazi and Soviet War Booty, 1940 to the Present Day. Paris: Payot & Rivages, 2013, is essential to understand the fate of French archives stolen by the Nazis and then the Soviets.
The French public radio has looked at our theme on numerous occasions, in quality programs, notably "Spoliation of Jewish cultural property: a too slow repair" on https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/grand- report / spoliation-of-Jewish-cultural-property-too-slow-to-repair via @radiofrance
"Between spoliation and restitution, this strange desire to own works of art (1/4): Art as spoils of war, little chronicle of stolen thieves" on https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/lsd -the-documentary-series / this-strange-desire-to-own-works-of-art-14-art-as-spoils-of-war-little-chronicle-via @radiofrance
"Objects of desire. Trophies, conquests and artistic spoliations: an anthropological constant? 2/4" on http://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/l-eloge-du-savoir/les-objets-du-desir- trophees-conquetes-et-spoliations-artistic-a-0 via @radiofrance