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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

100,000 paintings stolen..from Jewish families in WWII.

What a remarkable coincidence! While Pascal Bonitzer recently created a video about a painting that was taken during World War II and surprisingly reappears in Mulhouse, the Louvre has announced the return of two Dutch artworks that were taken from a Jewish family in 1944. These two pieces, which the Nazis brought to Germany, are among the 2,200 items kept in French public collections under the designation "National Recovery Museums" (MNR), which are still awaiting the families whose ancestors these artifacts belong to. were severed.

An estimated 100,000 pieces of art were taken from Jewish owners during World War II (many of whom perished in deportation). However, there were very likely a lot more. David Zivie, the leader of the Mission for Research and Restitution of Cultural Property Looted between 1943 and 1945, notes that of this total, 60,000 were returned to France at the time of the Liberation and 45,000 were returned before to 1950.

After then, the State didn't start looking into potential right holders until the 1990s. following the delivery of a report by a panel headed by Jean Mattéoli that was founded in 1997. The Ministry of Culture established a committee in 2019 to oversee the topic. Since then, 188 more paintings have been given back to the families of their true owners.

Over 100,000 paintings taken in total

 Peter Binoit created this so-called "chicken" still life. It was once credited to Floris van Schooten, but in 1944 the Nazis took it from Mathilde Javal with the help of the French government.© DR

The two paintings that have been returned are signed by Peter Binoit and Floris van Schooten and are labelled MNR. Émile Javal, an engineer who made his wealth creating an optical inspection device that ophthalmologists still use, had acquired these still life paintings. His private residence on Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg, in the 7th arrondissement of the city, was furnished with these pieces of art. After his death in 1907, Émile Javal gave them to his daughter Mathilde, who passed away childless in 1947.

Originally from Alsace, the Javal family made a name for itself in the commercial world in the 1800s by starting a bank and subsequently a significant textile firm. She had also been involved in the construction of railways in the eastern region of France. A number of its members received decorations for their valor in the First World War.

During the Second World War, Émile Javal's five children and grandchildren were killed because they were Jewish. Notably, Alice Javal, Mathilde's sister and Lazare Weiller's wife, is an inventor of multiple telecom-related technology. Additionally, his brother Adophe Javal, a medical professor, together with his wife and two daughters, were deported. Fall of 1943 saw the murder of everyone of them at Auschwitz.

These individuals had a high degree of social integration. They stood out for their generosity in funding medical equipment for the underprivileged and conducting research in a variety of sectors. The Holocaust ate them whole. As the victims' great-nephew, François B., a retired bridge and road engineer, puts it, "We owe it to them to honor their memory." He was unaware of the existence of these paintings, as were the other 48 family members (who do not want their identities to be disclosed).

See also the repatriation of stolen artwork"We picked it up gradually. The yoga instructor Marion B. says, "I was first called in 2015 by a genealogist hired by the Ministry of Culture to see if I was actually connected to Mathilde Javal. The forty-year-old adds, "We were then contacted again in 2020, when the list of rights holders was definitively finalized. At that time, I learned that I had cousins that I did not know." His maternal uncle, François B., analyzes, "The trauma of the Shoah had contributed to disrupting the links between the different branches."

According to Cédric Dolain, head of the Généalogistes de France association, which the ministry has contacted six times in the past five years regarding situations identical to this one, "the investigation took two years, the average time necessary for us to be able to conduct our investigations in this type of case."

Display at the Louvre

The Javal family's descendants made the decision to give these two paintings to the Louvre in order to preserve the memories of their relatives who perished during deportation. "It is crucial that this tragedy be remembered in order to prevent this tragedy from happening again in the future, especially at a time when we are witnessing a horrifying form of anti-Semitism resurface on campuses," argues François B. "The memory of the departed was passed down within our family. Isabelle, a tourist worker, continues, "This is how my sister and I have the first names of two children who were killed at Auschwitz who were the children of our great-aunt Alice, who herself died in the camps with her husband."

 On January 19, 1944, Floris van Schooten's panel was taken from Mathilde Javal in Paris by the Nazi "war damages settlement" organization, Dienststelle Westen. © DR

David Zivie notes, "To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that a family has donated paintings that have been returned to them." These pieces, the market value of which is unknown, will be on display until January 6, 2025, on the second floor of the Richelieu wing of the Louvre. "Our institution is committed to the donation that was made." According to Laurence des Cars, president of the public establishment, "it is a constant call to action, a commitment to transmit this memory, and a call to never forget."

Director of the Louvre's paintings department Sébastien Allard said, "Our museum will be keen to present these paintings with a label recalling their provenance and the history of the family who acquired them." The entire family feels that these paintings are a means of raising awareness of the tragic deportation story, according to Isabelle.

For Marion B., it is the end of a protracted journey to reclaim a traumatic family past. This hasn't been heard in a while. She claims, "Our grandparents didn't talk much about the past." Despite being Catholic, she got in touch with Rabbi Olivier Kaufmann to ask that a prayer be offered for the missing. The rabbi promptly answered his call; he was in charge of the deportee synagogue, which was set up at the Libération in Place des Vosges in Paris. The names of Alice, Adolphe, Mathilde (née Heilbronner), Sabine, and Isabelle Javal will be honored at a private event in September of next year.

seen in Le Point ©



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