15 June 2018

A "Goering bible" with a provenance full of holes

by Marc Masurovsky

In April 2018, a Bible (Tanach) printed in the 1630s in Amsterdam by Menasseh ben Israel, including Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim, and containing 369 “leaves”, sold for 12,300 US dollars, as lot Nr. 133 at Kedem Auction House, in business in Jerusalem since 2008. That sale would be uneventful except for the fact that this particular Bible was removed from the home of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering in the Bavarian Alps by French troops.

According to Kedem, this bible bears an inscription stamp inside it which tells us that the Second [French] Armored Division took possession of this artifact after some of its members “broke into” Goering’s compound near Berchtesgaden in early May 1945. The French inscription carries a date of removal, May 4, 1945. According to Kedem’s proud description of this unique item, Goering’s residence and nearby facilities were looted by Allied soldiers following the departure of the SS. No comment.

The provenance supplied by Kedem indicates the following list of owners:

Dr. J. N. Pellieux, Beaugency, France

Confiscated in 1940

Hermann Goering

With a French pastor attached to the Second Armored Division

Gift to Dr. Rosenfeld, London, by said pastor, 2005

The Israel National News edition of April 11, 2018, informs us that the said French pastor was an Army chaplain working with the Red Cross and that the bible in question had been discovered “in recent days.”

The French Jewish online emagazine, “Alliance,” repeated everything that the Israel National News had indicated about the bible but was kind enough to supply a photograph of the actual item.

According to an April 17, 2018, Times of Israel report on this “Goering Bible”, Dr. J. N. Pellieux was a Jewish doctor from whom the Bible in question was stolen. Unfortunately, the journalist for the Times of Israel dated the German invasion of France to 1945! A "fake news" fact which should have called into question the entire story, no?

It’s arduous to make sense of complex events like cultural plunder.  Nowadays, it goes without saying that journalists--and auctioneers looking for a bang for their buck!--do not spend enough time researching facts in order to help readers understand the twisted details surrounding a looted object’s tortured history which preceded its grateful discovery, in this case, through the art market.

A 60 minute "Google" search adventure yielded the following information:
city hall of Beaugency

1/ Beaugency is a small town in the French “département” of the Loiret which sits southwest of Orléans and 155 kilometers from Paris or a clean two hour drive from Beaugency to the French capital.

2/ How about Dr. J. N. Pellieux? According to a number of Israeli news outlets, Dr. Pellieux was a Jewish doctor. Can that be verified? A quick “Google” search creates more puzzlement than clarity. The Pellieux name is well-known in Beaugency. As far back as the late 18th century, a Mr. Pellieux, ainé, was the town historian. He was also referred to as “docteur Pellieux” being an accomplished medical doctor. Mr. Pellieux published in 1805 an “Essai historique sur la ville de Beaugency et ses environs” which was lauded as a thorough and incisive piece of research.

In fact, Dr. J. N. Pellieux was none other than Dr. Jacques-Nicolas Pellieux (1750-1832), who lived in Beaugency as a distinguished local scholar and notable. One of his achievements was to have partaken in the American War of Independence across the Atlantic Ocean. After the French revolution, Pellieux served for a time as deputy mayor of Beaugency.

In sum, the mystery of the “Goering Bible” remains whole. Dr. Pellieux was not a Jewish doctor. His bible meandered about and most likely ended up in a Jewish collection somewhere between Beaugency and Paris, where the most likely candidate to have plundered it would have been the specialized library looting units of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). There is no other way for Hermann Goering to have gained access to that 17th century bible unless it had come from the ERR.

Last but not least, the Israeli press was apparently unimpressed by the acts of plunder performed, in this instance, by French troops at Goering’s Bavarian dacha. Could it be that our Israeli friends condone plunder by military elements? Or is this another case of “rescue” by Allied forces?