Mr President, dear Eric de Rothschild,

Dear Jacques Fredj,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

It is always a moment of emotion, solemnity and gravity, to tread the soil of the Shoah Memorial.

It is particularly so, I believe, in the times in which we live.

Anti-Semitism – which some had wrongly believed to have disappeared – harshly reminds us: uninhibited, or in the disguised form of anti-Zionism.

Let us make no mistake: when a «dirty Zionist» assène man, like an insult to Alain Finkielkraut, it is not the latter’s attachment to the State of Israel that is targeted.

I will use that example, but I could use so many others, unfortunately.

For there are so many others who suffer this hatred every day.

An anti-Semitic hatred whose resurgence and upsurge calls for strong actions. Sharp. Concrete.

The President of the Republic mentioned them in his speech to the CRIF.

He reminded us of the role of culture and education in this fight.

He recalled the admirable commitment and essential action of the Shoah Memorial.

The State will support it even more.

The Prime Minister came here, just yesterday, to announce it, on the occasion of the week of education and action against racism and anti-Semitism.

I want to tell you how proud I am that the Ministry of Culture supports the Shoah Memorial.

Proud that this place of memory that welcomes us has been linked, for several years now, to my department.

Proud that it is about to be even more so, thanks to the new convention signed yesterday by the Prime Minister on behalf of the entire government.

Proud that this support contributes to the preservation and transmission of the traces and testimonies of the Shoah; to the valorization of the unfailing and inextinguishable bond that unites Jews and France.

You show it through your archives centre…

But also through your exhibitions: that’s why I’m here tonight.

With the exhibition we have just visited, it is a little-known part of the history of the Shoah that you make us discover: that of the art market during the Occupation.

A market in full effervescence, fueled notably by plunder.

More than works of art, it is all the property of the Jews who were confiscated, stolen, monopolized by the Nazis and their French accomplices.

The extermination of a whole people and its History, the destruction of its past and its future, then passed through the appropriation of its goods.

Admittedly, and fortunately, all the activity of the art market during the Occupation is not entirely linked to the plunder and anti-Semitic politics.

The sellers were numerous, the buyers too and all the transactions are not flawed.

But the vitality of the moment is obviously nourished by persecution, indifference and the most cynical opportunism.

It was important to remember, in these places, what that specific moment was.

I would like to commend the work of Emmanuelle Polack, curator of the exhibition, who made us understand this turbulent vivacity.

The exhibition has benefited from many private loans but also from many loans from national cultural institutions – and I want to thank them for this.

Above all, for the first time, two national museums, the Louvre Museum and the Orsay Museum, lent works to the Memorial.

This is the sign of the rapprochement that I mentioned, and that continues, between the Ministry of Culture and the Memorial.

It is above all, with the loan of these drawings bought during the war, a way of showing that museums have no problem in evoking the fact that acquisitions were made during this period.

These loans signal the willingness of all our museums to continue researching the circumstances of such acquisitions.

To shed light on the provenance of the works they preserve.

The exhibition shows us all the necessity, also the difficulty, of the research of provenance.

All the work, all the efforts required to understand the path of the work, the passage from owner to owner; to identify the one of them that was possibly plundered.

What are the questionable works?

What are the dispossessing transactions?

Who are the still unknown owners of works recovered after the war in Germany?

Faced with the scope of these questions, the workshop of the researcher of origin is full.

And he’s not ready to fill.

Because we need to amplify our work on restitution.

Over the past twenty years, France has stepped up its efforts:

First, by acknowledging his responsibility.

By gathering important means to accompany this recognition, to compensate families.

This is the role of the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Dispossession, which depends on the Prime Minister, and whose work I commend and the President, Michel Jeannoutot.

By committing, also, to improve our knowledge of the works called «National Museums Recovery», the «MNR», given to the custody of the national museums during the Liberation, and still waiting to be restored.

A hundred or so restitutions were made thanks to the involvement of researchers, museum and archives professionals, who were able to trace the history of these works.

In 2013, the ministry expanded its research, trying to identify the owners of these works, and searching for their rights holders, without waiting for a possible referral of families.

But the work is still important.

And time goes by.

That is why the Prime Minister called on us collectively, a year ago, to “do better”.

To give a new impetus to a public policy of reparation for «artistic» dispossession – if reparation is ever possible.

In the coming weeks, the Ministry of Culture will create a “Mission for the Search and Restitution of Looted Cultural Property between 1933 and 1945”.

It will be an ad hoc structure that will take over, by amplifying it, the action carried out, for several years, by the Service des musées de France.

It’s a matter of memory.

It is a question of justice.

And that’s one of my priorities.

The new Mission, the implementation of which was entrusted to David Zivie, will work in close collaboration with the Commission for the compensation of victims of spoliation.

The latter will now examine almost all the restitution files, previously examined by the new department of the Ministry of Culture.

The Mission will have a budget to fund additional research conducted by external researchers.

The objective of this Mission is clear: to seek, and to restore.

To shed light on the origin of a number of works preserved by our museums, and to hand them over to the descendants of despoiled families.

You can count on my determination.

I want more rights holders found, and more works returned.

More works, such as the «Portrait de femme» by Thomas Couture, which I was moved to admire; a painting that, in 1940, was hung by Georges Mandel.

As early as the summer of 1940, the apartment of the one who had refused the armistice and had wanted, with some, to continue the fight against the enemy, had been looted.

And that Portrait had been stolen.

Just a few weeks ago, the German government returned it to Georges Mandel’s granddaughter and son-in-law.

They are here with us tonight, and have kindly lent it immediately to the Memorial.

I want to tell you how much this gesture honours and touches us.

This painting was one of the 1500 works discovered in 2012 in Munich and Salzburg by Cornelius Gurlitt, who had been living for decades in the midst of works acquired by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer working for the Nazis.

Some of these works came from dispossession; others were of dubious origin.

After a long investigation, the identification of the owner was possible, and the restitution was finally possible.

And today, you are among us.

With this painting, which belonged to your family before you, and which now, again, belongs to you.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Many other works by Georges Mandel are waiting to be found.

Many other works that we preserve wait to see their provenance clarified; and to be able to be restored.

This exhibition is an important step.

It must commit us even more to progress in this direction, to obtain more results, to find the rights holders.

It must involve all of us collectively: museums, libraries, holders of private archives, historians, genealogists and researchers of origin.

Time passes but it is not too late.

The archives are still there; there are still clues to decipher.

It’s up to us to make those tracks talk.

We owe it to the victims of spoliation.

It is a question of justice.