Conference Proceeding: Rescue or Theft? The Postwar Transfer of French Jewish Archives to the U.S.

Historian Zosa Szajkowski (1911-1978) was responsible for the transfer of French-Jewish archives to a number of research libraries in the United States after the Holocaust. While some see these transfers as a form of rescue from certain destruction in the war and its wake, others see them as a form of theft, carried out at a time of crisis for French Jewry. This paper seeks neither to condemn nor to exculpate Szajkowski. Instead, Ms. Leff situates these transfers in the tumultuous aftermath of World War II, when vast quantities of Judaica were being moved across the Atlantic for political and economic reasons. Szajkowski had a complex set of motivations, shared with other refugee historians - the desire to preserve and study the Jewish past; to defend the Jewish people using documentation; and to establish the preeminence of American Jewish research institutions in the wake of the Nazi genocide. In putting these transfers in their historical context, the paper raises questions about why archives mattered in the aftermath of the war, and what effect the archive transfer has had on our conception of French Jewish history.