Cornelia Li for NPR
In April 1945, Mrs. Mados Roos wrote a letter to the French authorities describing her piano, in which she hoped to return. Roos, who was 72 years old, was Jewish and her piano was stolen when the Nazis emptied their apartment in Paris.
A similar fate befell many of the 75,000 French Jews deported to concentration camps during World War II.
“It would take me too long to name piece by piece what was taken,” the letter said, stating only the author’s last name. “But it seems to me that my piano is still in Paris, maybe my furniture.”
Roos described a “brown Hanel piano” with a piano chair and a dust cloth for keys covered with the same yellow cloth.
Roos, who described herself as weak, had to leave her apartment in June 1943, when her two daughters were convicted and deported according to the letter. “I couldn’t eat or survive on my own, so she had to leave everything behind,” she wrote.
Her note is one of thousands of papers studied by French archivist Caroline Piketta while examining plundered pianos.
During World War II, much research was carried out in Europe on the looting of Nazi looting of Jewish works of art in Europe, although much less attention was paid to looting tools. However, several scientists have focused on exposing this aspect of Nazi crimes.
Piketty was among many professionals who attended a conference in January in Paris called Looted Music, Source and Research Method. The meeting, organized by the Center for the History of the Paris Institute for Political Studies, was also attended by historians, musicologists and lawyers.
“Even seamstresses and corsets had a piano”
Piketty says that in the spring of 1945, when Paris was liberated, but the war in Europe was not over, French authorities opened three warehouses to the public to exhibit hundreds of pianos stolen by the Nazis. Those who lost the tool were invited to write a letter to the meeting.
“I was amazed to find that there were pianos in so many Jewish houses, even the most modest,” says Piketty. “Most Jewish families were not on the right track. But even seamstresses and corsets had a piano and a taste for music. “
Musician and historian Willem de Vries, who also attended the Paris conference, wrote defining works on Nazi looting of musical life in Western Europe. The title of his book, Special music for employees, denotes German specialized units for looting music. De Vries says that from 1935, the Nazis began documenting European Jewish property in the fields of art, literature and music.
“When Germany invaded France in May 1940, the commandos were ready to confiscate and steal all the cultural belongings of the Jews in France,” he says.
De Vries claims that the Nazis quickly emptied the apartments of important musicians who had already fled. Another wave of looting came with the deportation of ordinary Jews in 1942.
“It was really a very sophisticated organization,” he says. hereinafter referred to as ” Special music for employees gathered all the musical instruments they found, music books and records. And the Jews were, of course, sent to concentration camps, and all their property was cataloged and invented and systematically sent to Germany, especially to the Germans, who had suffered from Allied bombings since 1942. “
Piketty explains that when a person was deported to France, the rest of the family usually fled. The Nazis would then seal the apartment and return with trucks to pick up not only the piano, but everything – tables, chairs, sheets, bed linen and dishes. He says the electrical outlets were even pulled out of the walls.
The story of a music publisher
In 1998, 44 countries gathered in Washington, DC, pledging to help descendants of Jewish owners identify and restore art and other property looted by the Nazis. Since then, tens of thousands of works of art, books and cultural objects have returned, ending up in museums around the world.
Carla Shapreau, a senior member of the University of California, Berkeley Institute of European Studies, has been working on Nazi looting tools for more than a decade.
He says there are many families who are still looking for musical instruments, but they are difficult to track down because government records, merchant records, claims, confiscation records – everything that needs to be compared when looking for an instrument – are scattered across many countries.
“Every nation has a story that translates into this overall story,” says Shapreau. “Everything comes together and without doing global research, it’s very difficult to put all these pieces together.”
Shapreau’s research helped 72-year-old Danièle Enoch-Maillard fill in the gaps in his own family’s past.
The Enoch-Maillard family
Enoch-Maillard, a Jew, is the fourth generation to run her family’s music publishing house in Paris. A year and a half ago, Shapreau contacted her with a complete list of what had been looted from her grandparents’ apartment when the Nazis arrested them and deported them to Auschwitz in 1943.
“I never knew what they took,” says Enoch-Maillard, who considers Shapreau’s work tremendous. She says her father never talked about it.
The playlist includes an extraordinary music library of her grandparents and the historical piano Erard, once played by composer Emmanuel Chabrier.
“Shapreau found the piano numbered,” says Enoch-Maillard. “So if it is ever found, it can be identified.”
Enoch-Maillard says her father never tried to get the tool or anything else back. He remembers having a coupon to get the piano for free.
“You went to buy one at the warehouse, where he put all the pianos that came back,” he says. “You took an ordinary piano and brought it back to the house. I learned to play it.”
Thanks to a survey by Shapreau, Enoch-Maillard says she found out how much one of her non-Jewish friends of her grandparents did protect and preserve her music business. When the Nazis tried to Aryanize Jewish interests, her grandparents entrusted their company to a friend. He postponed and blocked his sale, which allowed her father to get back into business after the war. “I never knew that,” he says.
Her father, Jacques Enoch, hid the war in an alpine village. Young and athletic, she says he escaped from Paris in 1940 and walked about 600 kilometers south.
Unheard of thefts and resale
Scientists say it is difficult to say how many tools the Nazis stole and there are various estimates.
Shapreau claims that in France, immediately after the war, Holocaust survivors were named about 1,500 instruments. This list did not include musical manuscripts, books, scores, music libraries, and other musicals looted by the Nazis.
The French government’s 1997 commission, which examined looted Jewish property, recorded 8,000 pianos after the war, of which 2,221 were acquired.
The archivist Piketta says she does not know how many pianos were in these three warehouses in the spring of 1945, but she studied the letters of 3,000 Parisians looking for their pianos. He says about half of them got their tools back.
Swiss hussar Mark Wilhelm, who also attended the Paris conference, says that his country’s sellers of tools further complicate matters by not checking the origin of probably looted tools and then selling them on a large scale.
“We see that there were fewer good tools at the forefront and there were many good tools in Switzerland after the war,” says Wilhelm. “We were quite a kind of hub for tools as well as for looted art.”
“You put money, you put jewelry in a case”
The Paris workshop on looted tools was organized by Pascale Bernheim, who runs a French association that seeks to track lost tools. He says the tool was often among people’s most valuable possessions.
“When someone has to leave their house in a hurry, they take their most valuable things with them,” he says. “A violin or instrument is often considered a very special part. And you usually put money, you put jewelry in a suitcase and you lived with it. And then you either keep them with you as long as you can or you sell them. because you desperately need money, or you give it to someone you trust to save. And then the question is, what happens to this tool if you’re not there so you can claim it back? “
Piketty says going through the correspondence of people hoping to find their pianos was heartbreaking.
“These letters were almost all written at the same time as the deportees began to return home,” he says. “People wondered if their children or their parents, who had left for two, three and four years, would return. There was great hope. There was also hope of finding a precious tool that was at the center of good times and family memories before the war. “
Piketty says Madame Roos didn’t get her piano back or she heard it from her two daughters again.
It reads from a letter from another woman, Madame Chwatt, who was looking for the piano of her husband, who had been deported. Chwatt said she could not imagine the composer returning home and not finding his instrument.
“My husband can’t be without his piano,” she wrote. Finally, Chwatt returned to the piano. However, her husband never returned.