17 April 2011

French loot in Poland

Between the plundering ways of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in German-occupied France and the numerous ‘procurement’ offices run by parallel organizations, an untold number of looted cultural objects ended up east of the Oder River and especially in the wartime, Nazi concoction known as the General-Gouvernement.

One of the most nefarious pairs of plunderers were the Muhlmann brothers who, not content with having despoiled Holland, plied their wares in Paris during the Vichy years. Headquartered at 5, rue Mayran, they used their Paris address as a processing center for all sorts of goods to be sent eastward to one of their best clients, Gauleiter Hans Frank.

According to studies and correspondence produced by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry in the late 1940s and early 1950s, most of the objects that passed through rue Mayran went to Krakow to furnish the offices and residences associated with the General-Gouvernement. The Wawel Castle was used as a depot.

André Maurois’ library ended up in Ratibor/Raciborz, as did the libraries of Simon Petlura and Léon Blum, former French Prime Minister who was tried at Riom by Vichy and ended up in Buchenwald.

One of Heinrich Himmler’s houses at Glawa in Silesia served as an erstwhile depot for select French libraries before being transferred to the University of Poznan, which was also used as a depot for tens of thousands of books belonging to French Freemasons and rare books removed from countless churches and monasteries.

Prince Pless’ castle near Klodzko/Glatz in Lower Silesia was used as a book depot.

War-making items from the “Musée de l’Armée” in Paris ended up in a local museum of Wroclaw/Breslau.

Objects associated with Frédéric Chopin were stolen from a society dedicated to the memory of Chopin in Lyon, France, and placed by the Germans in a museum in Krakow.

Gauleiter Hans Frank used the Palace of Count Potocki as one of his residences in Kreszowice where he brought in countless items from German-occupied France. The question remains: how many of these objects was he able to take with him on his hasty retreat to southern Bavaria in mid-January 1945?  What happened to the objects that remained in Kreszowice?

Last but not least, a priceless stamp collection looted by the Germans from a Postal Museum in Poland, fell into the hands of French occupation authorities in postwar Germany.  It was valued in 1950 at 40 million francs, a staggering sum which would make it one of the most expensive stamp collections in the world today. Officials at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposed that the stamp collection should be used as a bargaining chip with the postwar Polish authorities to sway them into exchanging it for the libraries and countless objects forcibly removed from French institutions and households.

Did they?