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Plundered Books: the "Shocking Dispersion"

Published on , by Camille Noé Marcoux

Furniture and artworks were not the only items plundered during the Second World War. Books were also targeted and on a much larger scale.

Harrÿ Seligsohn's ex-libris and a strip of paper concealing his name, removed in... Plundered Books: the

Harrÿ Seligsohn's ex-libris and a strip of paper concealing his name, removed in 2020 during identification work on plundered books.
Book: Karl Voll, Memling: Des Meisters Gemälde in 197 Abbildungen, Stuttgart, Leipzig, 1909. Paris, INHA library, BCMN collection, 4 D 0229 (14). The book entered the BCMN collections through a donation by France's National Museums department in 1946.

The figures speak for themselves: while specialists estimate that 100,000 cultural artifacts and items of furniture were stolen between 1940 and 1945 in France, the number of books plundered from thousands of private libraries and several hundred community libraries could amount to between 5 and 10 million out of a total 12 million books plundered and displaced throughout Europe, according to researcher and librarian Martine Poulain. In the immediate post-war period, 60,000 objects returned to France from Germany, but no more than 2 million books were actually recovered by the end of the 1940s: barely 20% of the volumes plundered during the Occupation. Between 1945 and 1950, a sub-commission for books attached to the Art Recovery Commission was set up, headed by Camille Bloch, a historian and member of the institute, and organized by librarian Jenny Delsaux, who in 1976 recalled this "shocking dispersion of books". Over five years,…
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