The Banality of Robbing the Jews

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: World War II, Holocaust

Sarah Gensburger is a social scientist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research and the author of “Images of Plunder: An Album of the Looting of Jews in Paris.” This article was translated by Edward Gauvin from the French.

PARIS — The recent discovery of more than 1,400 prized paintings in the Munich residence of Cornelius Gurlitt, an art collector whose father collaborated with the Nazis, has brought the pillage of the Jews back into the limelight. Yet the bulk of anti-Semitic looting during World War II was at once much more banal and more widespread.

In Paris, the plunder of Jewish possessions began with the arrival of German troops in June 1940. At first, it applied only to art collections. But as soon as the Final Solution was devised in January 1942, the confiscations spread to the entire Jewish population, most of which comprised poor immigrants from Eastern Europe. Stripping Jews of their belongings was part and parcel of the effort to destroy them; pillage was an essential tool of extermination.

But what would be done with these items? Could they be reused, or were they too Jewish for that? Were the dishes and the blankets that had been touched by Jews fit for use by Aryans?...

Read entire article at New York Times

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