Between 1940 and 1942, Hitler’s deputy Heinrich Himmler made twenty trips to Paris to select for his personal collection a total of 594 paintings and other cultural property looted from Jews and being warehoused at the prestigious Jeu de Paume gallery off the Champs Elysees. Some 22,000 Jewish and so-called “degenerate” art works were concentrated there throughout the war.
From 1959 to 1991, the late President Mitterrand totally refurbished the building, as if to cleanse it from the swastika. This week, until September, the museum readopts the dark stain of evil by hosting “Phantom Home: Death” – a photo exhibition honoring Palestinian suicide bombers, whom it rebaptizes as “freedom fighters”, comparing them with French World War II resistance maquis.
The Palestinian photo subjects are indiscriminate in featuring murderers from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah’s Al-Aksa Martyrs’ Brigades and Hamas’s Izzadin Kassam Brigades – all three organizations on the European Union terrorism list.
This “event” follows an Israel Independence Day counter-event organized by the Paris suburban city of St. Denis, which hosted six such murderers as its “honorary citizens”.
Their very presence on French soil violated Paris’ obligations as an EU member.
The current exhibition is of equal concern, as the Jeu de Paume – visited by millions of tourists each year – is funded by the Culture and Communications Ministry. This may be construed, particularly by some Jihadist elements, as an endorsement by France – whether by commission or omission – of suicide terrorism.
The museum website indicates that the exhibition is part of its “Young Visitor Tuesday Tours led “by a Jeu de Paume lecturer”. We know from previous such displays – for example, the Book Fair – that these attract visits by student groups from mosques, led by their Imams, as exercises in incitement.
In August 1944, a trainload of looted art on its way to Berlin was stopped by the Resistance just outside Paris, at Rosny-sous-Bois.
Around the same time, the last convoy of Jews left France for Auschwitz; it was never stopped.
This paradigm, applied to the Jeu de Paume – whether as a tool of Himmler in the looting of Jewish property or as a shop window for Jihadi suicide terrorists – evokes a Latin proverb: “ars longa,vita brevis” –“Art is long, Life is so short.” For the Jeu de Paume, it seems, life is of so little value, if the victim happens to be a Jew.
The writer is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris.